New data shows how bad restaurants' labor plight is getting

The whole foodservice industry will need to fill about 2.6 million vacant positions every year through 2032, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Restaurant cooks will be in particularly high demand. | Illustration by Marty McCake

The foodservice industry will need to staff about a half-million more positions by 2032 if it intends to grow as expected, according to updated projections from the U.S. Department of Labor. But that’s a pittance compared with how many openings will have to be filled because of turnover and employees bailing for work elsewhere.

DOL anticipates that about 2.6 million jobs will need to be filled in each of those nine years, either because of positions being added or existing ones being vacated. Just for this year, that amounts to a 19% jump in hiring at a time when the industry is struggling to bring filled positions back to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019.

Hiring for back-of-house jobs will need to be particularly brisk, according to the DOL data. It projects that demand for restaurant cooks will increase 20.4% by 2032. With turnover factored in, the industry will need to fill 252,400 line cook jobs in each of the next nine years to meet that soaring demand.

The need will be lower for chefs and head cooks, DOL indicated. It expects demand for candidates to fill those jobs will rise by 5.3%, with employers facing 22,000 job openings per year.

What the restaurant business will need to stay fully staffed

(new hires per year, 2022 through 2032)

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

In absolute terms, job openings will be most prevalent in the limited-service sector. With turnover added to a 1.5% net increase in positions, fast-food restaurants will need to recruit 789,300 new hires every year through 2032.

That compares with a quota for bartenders, or workers not usually seen outside of the full-service sector, of 113,500 hires in each of the next nine years. Factored into that number is a 3.3% increase in positions.

The projections were contained in a blog written by Bill Lawhorn, an economist with DOL’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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