Food and drink places added 108,000 jobs in January, on top of a recent big jump in December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

There were 11.38 million workers on payroll during the month, compared to 11.27 million in December, when about 103,000 jobs were added. The industry is still about 900,000 short of where it was in February 2020, just prior to the pandemic.

Overall, the U.S. added 467,000 jobs, with 25 percent of that coming from food services and drink places. The results surpassed expectations of economists, particularly because of the expected impact of rising Omicron cases. However, the results appear in line with what some of the bigger restaurant chains have reported. 

In late January, McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski said only 1 percent of U.S. stores are operating with limited hours, an improvement from 10 percent in mid-December. Also, the fast-food giant ended 2021 with a bigger employment roster than it started with. About 80 percent of dining rooms are open, and the CEO believes that number will keep rising. In the casual-dining segment, Chili’s CEO Wyman Roberts said restaurants have more employees on a per store basis than before COVID. Managers are now receiving 10 job applications at a time, instead of two or three. 

However, the Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC) makes it clear that restaurants as a whole are still struggling to regain their pre-pandemic status. According to the organization, the unemployment rate among leisure and hospitality workers is 8.2 percent, which is double the U.S. rate.

“When people working in leisure and hospitality are more than twice as likely to be unemployed, it’s hard to argue the economy is thriving,” Erika Polmar, executive director of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, said in a statement. “More than 90,000 restaurants have closed during the pandemic, taking hundreds of thousands of jobs with them. This industry employs over a million single moms, is America’s favorite first job, and provides management positions to people of color more than any other industry.”

The IRC recently found in a survey of nearly 1,200 independent restaurant and bar operators that 42 percent of businesses that didn’t receive grants from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) are in danger of filing for bankruptcy. Among that same group, 49 percent were forced to lay off workers because of the growth in Omicron cases. In another survey, the National Restaurant Association found that almost half of restaurants that didn’t receive RRF grants don’t feel confident about surviving the pandemic without more aid. 

Nearly 300,000 restaurants and bars applied for $28.6 billion in RRF grants, but only one in three applicants received relief. 

“The Restaurant Revitalization Fund has helped more than 100,000 restaurants recover the losses they’ve accrued during the first year of the pandemic and helped them avoid laying off their staff,” Polmar said. “If Congress does not restart this relief program soon, restaurants that need help will be forced to make tough choices that will cost thousands of more people their jobs.”

Consumer Trends, Story