- Canadian job postings in food preparation and service have surged in recent weeks after over a year of weakness, and on June 18 stood 37% above their pre-pandemic level.
- Food services postings are especially strong in Western Canada and Quebec, while demand has jumped for workers in customer-facing positions like servers and bartenders.
- Job seeker interest in food services has tracked pandemic trends closely, but hasn’t fully normalized, partly because workers with recent experience in the sector are looking elsewhere.
The pandemic has hit few sectors of the Canadian economy as hard as the food services industry. In May, employment in accommodation and food services was still down 30% from February 2020. However, a vaccine-led reopening is poised to drive a major turnaround and employer hiring appetite is taking off.
Food preparation and services job postings on Indeed Canada lagged the overall economy throughout most of the pandemic. They saw an outsized plunge early on, dropping 58% compared with a 46% decline in other sectors. After a brief rebound last summer, postings remained weak through the fall and most of the winter as a second COVID-19 wave gripped the country. Meanwhile, job postings in other sectors were recovering fairly steadily, passing their pre-pandemic level by mid-February.
The situation started to change as spring approached, but that was a false start. Food services postings went from well below their pre-pandemic level to slightly above it between mid-February and early April before falling back as the third wave and resulting restrictions shuttered the industry once again.
Since early May, food services job postings on Indeed Canada have surged anew, this time with no sign yet of slowing. During the week ending June 18, they were 37% above their February 1, 2020 level, more than the 28% job posting growth elsewhere. This is the first time the sector has substantially outpaced the broader economy since the start of the pandemic.
Large provinces are gearing up for reopening, with Ontario trailing but rising quickly
Food services postings are particularly elevated compared to pre-pandemic levels in Western Canada and Quebec. Alberta stands highest among large provinces, with a 65% increase from February 1, 2020, led by Calgary, where postings have leaped in recent weeks.
Ontario’s rebound to 23% above its pre-pandemic level hasn’t been quite as dramatic as elsewhere, but not for lack of momentum. Rather, Ontario food services job postings were down 37% from their pre-crisis levels in early May, the biggest drop among provinces, with notable weakness in Toronto. Since then, the reopening of patios and prospects of further relaxation of restrictions have caused demand for workers to jump past pre-pandemic levels.
What’s more, the recent rise in Ontario food services postings appears to have room to run. During the week ending June 18, the rebound in Ontario restaurant foot traffic lagged B.C. and Alberta, as measured by reservations made on the restaurant app OpenTable. Although indoor dining in Ontario is still restricted, the growing number of people fully vaccinated and ready to dine is likely to boost the need for staff to serve an eventual jump in customers. Meanwhile, in Manitoba, where restaurant dining hadn’t yet resumed in mid-June, food services postings remained weak.
Front-of-house staff finally back in demand
Positions involving serving customers are leading the surge in food services postings. Job ads for front-of-house positions, like servers and hosts, have more than doubled since early May and are now up 64% from their pre-pandemic level. Beverage servers, which include bartenders, are even further above their early February 2020 level, as they were in somewhat stronger shape before the recent surge. Restaurant support roles, like dishwashers and bussers, have also recovered rapidly in recent weeks.
In other areas, recent trends have been less dramatic, but hiring appetite is strong too. Job postings are well above pre-pandemic levels for cooks and chefs, the largest category of restaurant postings, as well as food services associate positions, which are often in fast food establishments. Meanwhile, demand has increased, but less strongly, in supply-related roles, like butchers, bakers, and clerks, as well as for restaurant managers and supervisors.
Job seeker interest in food services is coming back, but hasn’t fully recovered
Job seeker searches that include food-services-related terms have picked up as a proportion of searches on Indeed Canada in recent weeks, but that share hasn’t yet returned to pre-pandemic levels. On the eve of the crisis, 14 of every 1,000 job searches included terms related to the food services industry (see methodology). The share plunged more than half during the first wave, then partially rebounded before tracing patterns similar to trends in food services job postings, as well as the course of the pandemic, during the second and third waves.
Interest has rebounded somewhat during the most recent reopening. Searches including restaurant-related terms rose from 8.8 to 12.4 per 1,000 job searches between early May and mid-June. Nonetheless, the overall share of food services searches in total Canadian job search activity was still down 12% from before the pandemic. This lower share is evident across Canada’s large provinces.
One reason interest in food services postings hasn’t fully recovered is that job seekers with recent experience in the sector are looking elsewhere more often than they used to. In February 2020, roughly 32% of clicks by Canadian job seekers whose most recent job was in food services according to resumes uploaded to Indeed were on postings in food services. By mid-June 2021, the share was 26% despite perking up from a few weeks earlier. A wide range of sectors have been on the receiving end of this shift, including administrative assistance, marketing, and installation and maintenance.
Conclusion: Reopening and Recovery
As of mid-May, Canadian overall employment was still down 3.0%, or 571,000, from its pre-pandemic level, according to the Labour Force Survey (LFS). Accommodation and food services alone represented 364,000, or 64%, of the gap. However, employment in this sector appears set to rise quickly. Cooped-up Canadians are starting to head back to restaurants and progress in vaccination offers hope that doors will remain open.
In response, Indeed Canada job postings in food services have surged. After lagging for over a year, they now stand further above their February 2020 levels than job ads in the rest of the economy. The upswing has been especially strong for jobs that handle diners directly, such as servers and bartenders. If demand for food service workers in Ontario catches up when indoor dining resumes, job postings in the sector should continue to rise. Still, two questions linger over how much a food services recovery will help bring the overall Canadian employment rate back to its pre-pandemic level.
First, how eager are job seekers to take food service opportunities? The sector’s weaker popularity with job seekers, including those who’ve been employed in it, suggests some workers have moved to other fields and might not want to return. Still, the number of unemployed workers whose most recent job was in accommodation and food services remains elevated. In May 34,000 of these workers indicated they expected to be recalled by their former employers.
Job seeker interest in food services might also be held back by the increased generosity of government support programs. Currently, both expanded Employment Insurance and the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) program provide beneficiaries a minimum of $500 per week in pre-tax payments. That exceeds the $437 average weekly earnings in accommodation and food services in 2020, which was by far the lowest among Canadian industries. Both programs are scheduled to last through the summer, although CRB payments are scheduled to be reduced later in July. Nonetheless, the timing of the fluctuations in restaurant-related search share suggest the recent surge in opportunities and the greater safety offered by the vaccine will still help attract some job seekers.
A second question is how demand for workers will evolve once the initial surge of reopening hiring subsides. While many Canadians might be eager for weekend brunch, the number continuing to work from home remains high, limiting demand for lunchtime food services workers on weekdays. Another concern is that some struggling businesses could scale back or close permanently when government support programs like the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy wind down. Nonetheless, in the immediate term, the prospects of a return to more-normal life should generate substantial employment gains in food services and ample opportunities for those looking for jobs in it.
Job postings on Indeed Canada are categorized in food preparation and service based on an expansive list of job titles. All job posting data presented in this post are seasonally adjusted seven-day moving averages compared to their February 1, 2020 levels, while job seeker search and click data are not seasonally adjusted. Food services job postings are divided into categories based on terms included in their job titles.
Food-service-related job searches include job seeker searches on Indeed Canada that use one of 31 terms relating to the industry, including “server,” “serveuse,” “cook,” “chef,” and “restaurant.” We also track postings clicked on by job seekers whose most recent positions were in food services, according to resumes uploaded to Indeed. Unclassified job postings that these job seekers clicked on were not included when calculating their share of clicks on food services positions.