Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the Accommodation and Food Services industry has been one of the most affected when it comes to employee retention. Going by the numbers, the worker shortage is not as drastic today as it was in 2020 and 2021, but the industry has not completely rebounded. According to USchamber.com, the quit rate in the Accommodation and Food Services industry, which has consistently been above 4.9 percent, has been higher than any other industry since July of 2021.
The retail trade industry is close with a quit rate of around 3.3 percent so far this year, and the quit rate for both industries is higher than the falling national average, which was 2.6 percent in March of this year. From a first-hand perspective, I, like many other Americans, changed jobs a couple of times since 2022.
In June of last year, I decided to work at Mount Snow in Dover, Vermont full-time. I had been working there part-time for four years as a bartender during both the winters and some summers as well. When I changed my status to a full-time employee, the bulk of my hours were coming through Harriman’s Restaurant. In one of the first conversations I had with the executive chef, he said that kitchen staff had less employees that summer than it had in previous years.
In the summer of 2022, there were typically seven, but never more than eight, cooks in the kitchen preparing breakfast, lunch, and dinner for anywhere between 100-200 people that were attending weekly banquets. Beginning on Thursday through the weekend, the restaurant itself was open and two of the cooks that were helping put out the banquet dinners on Thursday nights, would then go work the line.
According to a previous article by the Brattleboro Reformer in July of 2021, Heather Hassett, who owns three businesses in Bennington, Vermont, reported she and her staff were exhausted because of the labor shortages. The conditions were the same for other business owner she knew, and a lot of the businesses in Bennington at the time that reopened were operating on reduced schedules because of the staffing shortages.
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in Vermont from 2017 through February of 2020 there was consistently between 36,500 to 38,000 jobs in the Leisure and Hospitality super sector, which includes restaurants. By April of 2020, that number had fallen to 14,600 jobs. It rebounded somewhat by October and November of 2020, but never rose above 26,800 jobs. Those numbers rose in 2021 and 2022, with 31,600 being the highest in 2021 and 33,600 being the highest point in 2022. However, those numbers were still lower than any dating back to 2013. So far this year, the numbers have seen another increase, reaching a high of 34,500 in June, but the number is still 3,500 jobs short of the apex reached in December of 2017 when there were 38,000.
In California, the Leisure and Hospitality super sector was at its height in February of 2020 with 2,057,600 jobs. It reached a low of 1,062,000 in April of that year. There has been gradual incremental growth since then and in June of this year the numbers, while still down, are close to their height with 2,051,500 in June of this year. Those numbers are also still above the number of jobs in the industry in every month throughout 2019 other than November and December.
New York showed a similar trend. In February of 2020 the number of jobs in Leisure and Hospitality, which was 968,500, was higher than at any point dating back to 2013. In April of that year, they dropped to the lowest point dating back to 2013 with 370,500. Since that point, the number of jobs has steadily began climbing again over the last two years. However, the highest number this year was 926,000 in May, which was still significantly lower than any of the months in 2019 prior to the pandemic, which never dipped below 960,000.
Texas, like California, had reached a height as far as the number of jobs in the super sector in February of 2020 with 1,417,800. That number reached a low in April of 2020 with 852,500. There has been steady progression since then and Texas exceeded its pre-pandemic numbers in September of last year with 1,427,200. That number continued to grow, reaching a new height of 1,468,800 in March of this year, though the number had fallen a bit by June to 1,454,200.
Florida showed a similar trend. Generally speaking, Florida had shown steady growth in Leisure and Hospitality since 2013. By February of 2020, the number of employees had reached its highest point to date with 1,280,300 jobs. In April, that number plummeted to 704,800. The progression over the past couple of years has been gradual, increasing month after month, with one exception from December 2020 to January 2021. Not only did the numbers rebound, but by November of 2022 the number of jobs in the industry had exceeded the height they had reached in February 2020 with 1,285,700. What’s more, they continued to rise, reaching a height of 1,314,600 in April of this year before dipping back down to 1,306,400 by June.
Nationally, the number of jobs had also reached its highest level in February of 2020 since 2013 with 16,945,000. In April of 2020, that number hit its lowest point over the same range with 8,710,000 remaining in the industry. Over the last two years there has been a steady increase, but the industry still has not reached the highwater mark set in February 2020. May 2023 was the highest mark reached over the last couple years with 16,557,00. However, the preliminary numbers for June and July 2023 are also showing upward trends with 16,576,000 in June and 16,593,000 in July, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
At the same time, part of the reason for that is because the hiring rate has outpaced the quit rate in the industry. According to USchamber.com, leisure and hospitality has kept the highest hiring rate of any industry since November of 2020 with somewhere between 6.7 and 9 percent. By comparison, the national hiring rate for July of this year was 3.8 percent. The accommodation and food sectors are among the industries with the greatest number of job openings along with health and social assistance and transportation on the national level. However, the healthcare and social assistance sector has continually had a low quit rate, whereas the accommodation and food sectors have had a difficult time retaining employees and continue to have above average quit rates, according to USchamber.com.
While the industry has rebounded considerably over the past two years, there is still more work to be done. In that time, wages have increased. According to an article by Restaurant Hospitality, which cited data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average salary of restaurant cooks from 2001 to 2018 went from $19,230 to $27,580. In 2021, the median pay for cooks was $29,120, an average hourly salary of $14 per hour. Even with the increase in pay, the numbers are still down.
Two questions that remain for the industry: What will it take to return to the pre-pandemic level? And how long?