The September jobs report looks scary at first blush, down 100,000 in the food service industry. Before sounding the alarms, look at the context surrounding the report itself; it may not be so bad.
— Kristen Hawley
Restaurant labor is a hot topic, from minimum wage laws to no-tipping policies to touch screens and automation. Last week, amid a Bureau of Labor Statistics report that U.S. jobs were down in September by 33,000 — and some 100,000 food service jobs were cut. Even given the major hurricanes that hit the country last month, that’s a huge decline for a single industry. Bloomberg dug deeper into the numbers, and came up with one plausible explanation:
“In the survey, employees who are not paid for the pay period that includes the 12th of the month are not counted as employed. If food services workers are more likely than those in other sectors to miss out on a paycheck when their workplace is closed for the week — which seems reasonable to assume — then their payroll employment numbers would be more likely to take a big hit from a hurricane,” writes Justin Fox.
The survey — and potentially this anomaly in its reporting — spotlights the precarious state of food service labor. Tens of thousands of workers affected by a weather event and not receiving a paycheck can sway the entire report into the negative, even though a similar survey, one that does count workers even if they didn’t receive a paycheck spanning the 12th of the month, showed gains in employment, according to the Bloomberg piece.
Hiring and retaining talent is a struggle for any restaurant, large or small. Some are betting on technology to help here — San Francisco-based Seasoned, for example, just announced a $20 million Series A round to build out its job-posting and -seeking site for the culinary industry. New York-based five-year-old Culinary Agents offers a similar service, all aimed to match talent and restaurants, and ultimately helping restaurants with bottom lines.
Even with all of this innovation, the September surveys (and whatever actually happened, regarding jobs numbers) indicate lack of job security for a critical industry. While companies, like Seasoned, are working to make inroads in the market, costs, automation, and technology could prove a real threat to employment for many.
This article originally appeared in the October 9, 2017 Skift Table newsletter. Subscribe to get the latest in your inbox.