NRA: Restaurant job growth hit 17-year high in 2012

The restaurant industry added jobs at double the rate of the overall economy in 2012, and the National Restaurant Association expects this trend to continue in 2013.

Restaurants added jobs at a rate of 3.4 percent last year, the strongest increase in 17 years, according to the NRA's analysis of new figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The restaurant industry is the third-largest private-sector job creator since the employment recovery began in March 2010.

Additionally, 2012 marked the 13th consecutive year in which restaurant job growth outpaced the overall economy. Restaurant employment currently stands 441,000 jobs above its high-point before the recession, while the overall economy is still down 3.2 million jobs from the pre-recession peak.

"The sizable disparity in 2012 job growth marked the continuation of a long-term trend," said Bruce Grindy, chief economist for the NRA. "In fact, during the last 13 years, the number of eating-and-drinking-place jobs jumped 25 percent, while total U.S. employment rose by only 4 percent."

The NRA expects restaurants to add jobs at a 2.7 percent rate in 2013, a full percentage-point above the projected 1.7 percent gain in total employment. Employment gains will continue to be driven by growth in the number of locations, as well as existing restaurants adding staff to meet an improving business environment.

"The projected 2013 gain will represent the 14th consecutive year in which restaurant industry job growth outpaces the overall economy, and the third consecutive year in which the industry registered job growth in excess of 2.5 percent," Grindy added. "In comparison, the overall economy hasn't posted job growth above 2.5 percent since 1998."

Pre- and post-Recession levels reported

With the release of the Feb. 1 jobs report, BLS included revisions that gave a clearer picture of employment trends during and after the recession. Restaurant employment fell 3.9 percent during the recession, while the overall economy lost 6.3 percent of its employment base.

"The restaurant industry was certainly not immune from the effects of the Great Recession, with job losses in 2009 and 2010 representing just the second and third years on record that the industry cut staffing levels," Grindy said. "However, the restaurant industry bounced back quickly after the recession, with January's employment level up 8.8 percent from the bottom of the cycle. In comparison, total U.S. employment is only up 4.3 percent from the recession trough."

Several segments in the industry registered strong gains in 2012. Snack and nonalcoholic beverage bars — including coffee, donut and ice cream shops — set the pace with a robust 4.9 percent employment gain. Foodservice contactors (4.8 percent), quick-service restaurants (4.1 percent) and full-service restaurants (3.0 percent) also added jobs at rates well above the overall economy in 2012.

Read more about trends and statistics.

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