Restaurant job losses surged to 372,000 over the holidays in largest employment decline since April

Restaurant job losses surged to 372,000 over the holidays in largest employment decline since April
A restaurant worker wears a protective face mask and gloves in midtown as the city continues Phase 4 of re-opening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on August 13, 2020 in New York City.Noam Galai/Getty Images
  • The restaurant and bar industry has shed over 2.4 million jobs since the coronavirus pandemic started.
  • December job losses represent a dramatic increase from the 17,000 jobs lost by the restaurant and bar industry in November.
  • Workers at restaurants and bars made up 74% of the unemployment numbers for December.

Over 372,000 restaurant and bar workers lost their jobs during the holiday season, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The industry has shed over 2.4 million jobs since the coronavirus pandemic started last year. Leisure and hospitality unemployment is 157% higher than the national average, as restaurants, bars and other venues were forced to temporarily close or limit service, according to a press release from the Independent Restaurant Coalition.

During the winter holidays -- a season typically known for leisure activities and increased spending -- December job losses represented a dramatic increase from the 17,000 jobs lost in the restaurant and bar industry the previous month. In December, restaurant and bar workers made up 74% of job losses and were the leading industry for pandemic unemployment for the 11th straight month.

The loss of restaurant jobs in December came as the wider US economy saw a surprise decline in payrolls. American businesses shed 140,000 nonfarm payrolls last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday. Analysts had expected a gain of 50,000. The country's unemployment rate stayed steady at 6.7% in December.

Read more: How restaurant owners can cash in on PPP loans and get up to 3.5 times their monthly payroll


Lockdowns and increased restrictions since the pandemic started have forced many restaurants to shut down, with roughly 17% of US restaurant's closing their doors. Some companies have found creative ways to get around state orders banning in-door dining by setting up tents and temporary structures, but restaurant and bar capacities have yet to meet pre-pandemic levels.

Workers could find some relief as the Small Business Administration and the United States Treasury Department announced plans Friday to reopen the Paycheck Protection Program on January 11 -- five months after its first two rounds of funding ended. The program is designed to help employers retain staff without pay or staff cuts.

Read more: PPP UPDATE: Women, veterans, and BIPOC business owners will get first dibs on stimulus funds

In July, the Federal Reserve and MIT researchers said in a study that loans made through the Paycheck Protection Program saved between 1.4 million and 3.2 million jobs during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. However, many small businesses in the hospitality industry criticized the program for providing large scale funding to companies like Ruth Chris, while smaller businesses struggled to obtain the loan.

In response to skyrocketing unemployment numbers, the Independent Restaurant Coalition, a group representing over 11 million restaurant employees, called for the government to release a Real Economic Support That Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Needed To Survive (RESTAURANTS) Act which would provide $120 billion in relief through a grant program administered by the Treasury Department.


"New changes to the Paycheck Protection Program will be too little, too late for hundreds of thousands of people left without a paycheck this holiday season," said the Independent Restaurant Coalition in a press release. "...A direct relief plan like the RESTAURANTS Act is vital to ensure there are places to work when restaurants can fully reopen and rehire their teams."

Read more: The pandemic caused the restaurant industry to radically reinvent itself in less than a year. Experts say these 4 trends will remain even after COVID-19 recedes.

Over 34,000 members of the independent restaurant and bar community signed a letter to Congress in December urging them to take action on the RESTAURANTS Act.

Several government officials have voiced their support for the act, including Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President-elect Joe Biden. During an economic roundtable on the impact of COVID-19 in December, Biden said regarding restaurant support, "It should not be a loan, it should be a guarantee."