Special Reports

How restaurants have taught America to work

With about one-tenth of the American workforce in the restaurant space, there’s no denying that industry has had a hand in shaping labor in America.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The industry’s influence on the workforce has a long history that will only continue to grow. With about a 10th of the American workforce in the restaurant space—and so many people starting their personal employment history within a restaurant—there’s no denying that industry has had a hand in shaping labor in America.

Restaurant industry employment

The number of restaurant workers has grown considerably in the last decade, with one in 10 working Americans employed by a restaurant in 2018. That growth is expected to continue. (Figures for 2018 and 2028 are projected.) 

Major employer

Half of all adults have worked in the restaurant industry at some point during their lives.

1 in 3 Americans got their first job experience in a restaurant.

From entry level to fame

These political influencers and celebrities worked their share of restaurant counters.



Barack Obama (44th president of the United States) Baskin-Robbins


Queen Latifah (musician) Burger King


Chris Pratt (actor) Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.


James Franco (actor) McDonald’s


Jennifer Hudson (musician/actress) Burger King


J.J. Watt (pro athlete) Pizza Hut


Jay Leno (talk show host) McDonald’s


Brad Pitt (actor) El Pollo Loco


Eva Longoria (actress) Wendy’s


Gwen Stefani (musician) Dairy Queen


Promoting growth

8 in 10 restaurant owners say their first job in the restaurant industry was an entry-level position.

9 in 10 restaurant managers started in entry-level positions.



More than 9 in 10 restaurants have fewer than 50 employees.

Sales per full time-equivalent employee at eating and drinking places in 2017 were $79,000.

The restaurant industry is expected to add 1.6 million jobs over the next decade.


Source: National Restaurant Association

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