As we mark half a year of grappling with COVID, one industry that has weathered major turmoil is Food Service. Looking at the data to determine the shape of the industry today, we see both positive and negative signs.
Noted in our recent monthly recap, Accommodation and Food Services was the industry that saw the biggest decline in August, down -9.29% for the month. (Utilities was the only other industry down, while the other 87% of industries saw improvement.)
Overall, food service-related occupations are down nearly 15% since the start of the pandemic, but there were some modest gains over the summer. As COVID cases continue to surge, and cold and flu season factor into the equation, it will be interesting to see how fall and winter treat these occupations.
When we look at employers with the most food prep and serving occupations, we see fast food restaurants driving the majority of labor demand. Taco Bell continues to top the ranking with over 37,000 current job listings. Bloomin’ Brands, Olive Garden, Texas Roadhouse, and several other chains offering a combination of dine-in and takeout options also figured prominently on the list. And with the nation’s ever pressing need for caffeine, Starbucks occupies the number two spot with over 20,000 active listings.
The summer proved positive for food manufacturing occupations which were up since June; as well as food and beverage store occupations, up 64% year-to-date. The beginning of the pandemic saw a massive surge in grocery sales as panicked shoppers stressed the supply chain in an attempt to stock their pantries before hunkering down. But even now as restrictions have been relaxed (and many a failed sourdough starter discarded), sales remain elevated. This translates to more jobs created as grocers invest in the necessary labor and transportation to keep shelves stocked and both shoppers and employees safe. Liquor stores saw similar gains, though many experts have raised concerns about the long-term consequences of increased consumption.
Food services and drinking place occupations were down throughout the summer, as many remain wary of engaging in public activities. This area of the food service industry has undoubtedly weather the most as a result of the pandemic, from shut downs early on to ongoing challenges with how to remain open safely. As we head toward colder months and the socially distanced patio service that has been critical in keeping many restaurants afloat is set to close, it remains to be seen how many establishments will fare. But with industry experts estimating that anywhere from 20 to 80 percent of independent restaurants will permanently close as a result of the pandemic, the outlook is dim.
As we continue to search for signs of recovery, we will be closely monitoring the food service industry. Much like the travel industry, positive numbers will signal that people feel safe enough to resume their normal daily lives. We’ll toast to that!