The restaurant industry labor crisis continues as the U.S. Department of Labor September jobs report showed that foodservice employers only added 29,000 jobs in September, changing little from last month. Meanwhile, average industry wages keep growing and passed $15 per hour for the first time this summer.

This labor growth stagnancy reflects the number one concern of restaurant operators everywhere: that it’s incredibly challenging to find workers and even more challenging to get them to stay. According to the jobs report, while employment in retail trade rose by 56,000 after two months of not much change, the gains in clothing and other merchandise sales were offset by losses in food and beverage (which saw a loss of 12,000 jobs).

The overall unemployment rate nationwide fell by four percentage points to 4.8%, while the restaurant industry’s unemployment rate is 7.5%, which is still well above the pre-pandemic unemployment rate.

“Today’s jobs numbers are another red flag that industry rebuilding has reversed in recent months,” Sean Kennedy, executive vice president of public affairs for the National Restaurant Association said. “In the face of economy-wide struggles to hire, restaurant employment levels were essentially unchanged between July and September. It’s a sharp deceleration from where we were in the first seven months of this year, and the workforce strain is having a direct impact on the ability of restaurant operators to keep their dining rooms open.”

National Restaurant Association data shows that 81% of full-service and 75% of limited-service operators say that their restaurant does not have enough employees to meet customer demand. According to Black Box Intelligence data, even though restaurant employees seem to be leaving the industry in droves, 77% of employees said they’d return if their needs (including higher wages, flexible schedules and promotion opportunities) were met.

“These strains combined with waning consumer confidence have the majority of restaurants on shaky financial ground, which is why we need Congress to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund as soon as possible,” Sean Kennedy said in a statement.

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