New Data Shows Promising Wage Increases For Restaurant Employees

Of all the industries to be affected by the social upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic, there's little doubt that the restaurant industry has suffered significantly. As stay-at-home guidelines were first issued at the start of the pandemic and more and more Americans preferred not to take the risk of dining out (via Bar & Restaurant), eateries spanning from casual to fine dining began to see the drastic effects of a huge drop in business. According to The Washington Post, some 70,300 restaurants permanently shuttered their doors since 2020, unable to keep up with operational costs in a near-total absence of customers. 

More recently, however, diners are finally returning to eating out, and a majority of restaurants across the country report that their foot traffic is slowly, but surely reaching pre-pandemic levels, according to PR Newswire. One important factor that's keeping eateries from fully getting back into the swing of things? A nationwide labor shortage of restaurant workers, with the industry still down about 750,000 jobs — about 6% of its workforce (via CNBC). 

This shortage is leading restaurant owners to look for ways to attract staff — including raising wages. According to the New York Post, pay for restaurant staff has skyrocketed 75% in some cases, with experienced chefs earning tens of thousands of dollars more than pre-pandemic, and even line cooks seeing hourly rates rise from $17.50 to $27.

Restaurant worker wages have been steadily increasing since last summer

According to data compiled by Tasting Table, average hourly earnings for U.S. restaurant workers have been on the rise since last summer, a time when more and more diners began to want to eat out again — and restaurants found themselves in need of staff (via Morning Consult). In July of that year, the average hourly wage for a U.S. restaurant worker was $16.65; by a year later that average wage was up to $18.71; and by June of this year, the figure was up to $19.99 per hour — an increase of more than 20% since summer 2020.

For decades, many within the restaurant business have criticized the industry for its low pay and poor benefits, according to the Economic Policy Institute. With the massive exodus from the industry spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, the challenging circumstances just might be getting restaurant owners to finally revise their policies in order to be able to hire staff and keep their businesses open. Chipotle Mexican Grill has introduced referral bonuses for its workers, for example, and McDonald's is piloting an emergency childcare program, CNBC reports.

"We're in a situation where the bargaining power and the labor market has shifted toward job seekers, especially in recent months," Nick Bunker, economic research director for North America at the Indeed Hiring Lab, told the outlet.