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The Restaurant Recession

Jeremy Horpedahl, Ph.D., assistant professor of economics

One of the most visible signs of the COVID-19 recession has been the massive harm to restaurants and bars. We see it as we drive around town: Restaurants are closed, doing curbside service only, or have radically altered their layout to make their spaces safer.

We can also see the harm to restaurants in the economic data. Back in the depths of the shutdowns and labor market contraction in April, fully one-third of all job losses in Texas were centered on the “food services and drinking places” industry, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls these establishments. Pre-pandemic, this industry accounted for 8.7 percent of all nonfarm jobs in Texas.

In total, over 450,000 restaurant and bar workers were out of work, out of about 1.1 million before the pandemic. Relative to the size of the restaurant and bar industry, workers at these businesses were hit four times as hard as the average worker. While everything is bigger in Texas, these figures are closely comparable to national data, where restaurants and bars accounted for 7.9 percent of employment before the pandemic, and about 28 percent of job losses through April.

Within the restaurant and bar industry, bars and restaurants that depend primarily on dining room service were hit much harder. Fast food restaurants, for example, were already well-equipped to provide drive-thru service.

Read more at Texas CEO Magazine.