As the U.S. job market continues to improve, consumers are increasingly attracted to the high energy and opportunities the restaurant industry promises, according to a debut report from the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF).

The report also notes that in addition to providing more employment options, Americans are engaged by the restaurant industry’s potential of upward mobility and long-term job security.

“Who Works in the Restaurant Industry: A Nationwide Survey of the Restaurant Workforce,” is comprised of responses from approximately 5,100 American participants who are current or former employees, restaurant owners or operators.

This is the 14th straight year that the restaurant industry has outpaced the overall U.S. economy in job growth, and “it is on target to continue,” said Rob Gifford, executive vice president, strategic operations and philanthropy, National Restaurant Association, and NRAEF. “Our projection is that the job-growth rate in eating and drinking establishments will be 2.8 percent by the end of 2014, compared to the total U.S. employment growth rate of 1.8 percent — a full percentage point ahead of this overall growth.”

The factors that are spurring candidate interest in hospitality are the energy, vibrancy and camaraderie that the industry offers, Gifford added. It is these factors that have attracted 13.5 million people — approximately one out of 10 working Americans — to the industry, the study said. Meanwhile, more than 9 out of 10 restaurant employees, ranging from supervisors and chefs to servers and dishwashers, agreed that the restaurant industry is a good place to get a first job.


And the industry is willing to compensate these employees for their productivity. While earnings vary based on position and region, restaurant managers reported a median hourly wage of $13.78, shift or crew supervisors reported an average of $10.50 per hour, and chefs and cooks earned on average $12.00 an hour. When combining salary and tips, wait staff reported median rates of $16.13 per hour, and bartenders earned $19.35, according to the report.

“While wages play an important role in employee engagement, it is vital to note that employees who accept entry-level positions often receive a pay raise after six months, which is a short timeframe,” Gifford explained. “As employees explore career paths and continue their upward trajectory, they understand we are a competitive industry that offers more favorable compensation than other industries.”

Seventy-five percent of industry employees agreed, reporting that they believe restaurants offer upward career mobility, the study said. However, recruiting and retaining the perfect mix of employees remains an industrywide struggle.

According to The People Report Workforce Index, the third-quarter index rose to 69.9 percent from 66 percent in the second quarter. This almost 4-percent increase indicates that restaurant operators continue to feel pressure due to turnover, job vacancies and recuiting difficulties.

To solve these issues, restaurants need to focus on recruitment efforts that will attract the best candidates who will help move the business forward, say industry leaders. For instance, Golden, Colo.-based Boston Market, has adopted recruitment tools that potentially engage all potential candidates, from millennials to veterans.

“We have a heavy millennial population in our workforce, and as a result, we began embracing customer-facing tools, such as mobile-enabled processes, to enhance recruitment,” Jason Lessman, senior director of human resources, Boston Market, said during “Employers of Choice Discuss Technologies of Choice,” a webinar presented by Nation’s Restaurant News, Restaurant Hospitality and Kronos. “We always look for ways to create a conversation, so we also leverage social media and online communities.”

Recruiting employees is only half the battle. Now, operators are in the hot seat to retain their best workers.

The good news is that approximately seven out of 10 restaurant employees say they will likely continue working in the industry until they retire, and the median tenure of employees holding management or business operations positions industrywide is 20 years, according to the report.