Restaurants, bars hiring as economy improves

Bartender Kate Chase stocks the car with olives Friday afternoon before the dinner rush at Harvely's in Tupelo. (Lauren Wood)

Bartender Kate Chase stocks the car with olives Friday afternoon before the dinner rush at Harvely’s in Tupelo. (Lauren Wood)

By Adam Ganucheau/Daily Journal

If you’re unemployed and hunting for a job, you might want to consider stopping in at a local restaurant or bar.

The U.S. Labor Department reported last week that restaurants and bars generated the most new hires in the country in June, and Northeast Mississippi and the state as a whole have seen similar trends as more people are eating out.
The report shows that one-fourth of all new jobs in the country since March came in the restaurant and bar industry, and one out of 10 American jobs in the country can be attributed to eateries and watering holes.
The report also shows that restaurants and bars added 51,700 jobs nationwide in June, the largest sector of growth within the leisure and hospitality category of the report.

“We have definitely seen an increase in the number of people coming to eat at our restaurant,” Tupelo Harveys General Manager Richard Hurt said. “I think a lot of it has to do with the economy. People have more money to spend, and they are going out to eat more often.”

Hurt said Harveys has hired more staff in the last three months than at any time in recent years.
Hurt’s thoughts about the economy were echoed by Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association Director of Education Grady Griffin, who said restaurant visits have risen in the past few months, which has resulted in more new hires.

“All the data that we have collected from the National Restaurant Association shows that consumer confidence is definitely on the rise,” Griffin said. “Any time the consumer makes more visits to our restaurants, we see a rise in the number of hired employees, and that positively affects the economy.”

In the Mississippi Department of Employment Security’s most recent employment trends publication, which covers the month of May, Mississippi showed a slight increase in jobs in the leisure and hospitality field as well.
In the accommodation and food services category for May 2013, Mississippi added 600 jobs statewide in May and yielded 4,300 more jobs in the industry than in May 2012.

“In Mississippi, we have the luxury of being a tourist destination, especially in the summer months,” Griffin said. “As a result of tourists entering the state and stopping at restaurants, the industry as a whole ramps up its employment. The summer is usually a good time for Mississippi restaurants.”

While the prospect of new jobs is being praised by some business and economic analysts, others are skeptical about the numbers because restaurant and bar owners hire part-time employees instead of full-time.
Rob Hudson, who owns seven McDonald’s restaurants in Tupelo, Saltillo, New Albany and Pontotoc, believes part-time restaurant employees are valuable to business.

“Recently, people have started to realize that part-time employees are just as valuable as full-time employees,” Hudson said. “We have been pleased with the number of applicants for employment over the past three years, which is probably an indication of current economics. But it has allowed us to be selective and hire the best employees to suit the needs of our visitors.”
Other factors can contribute to the employment data, like individual cities’ economies and situations. Oxford, a popular dining and drinking destination in Northeast Mississippi, falls into this category, according to City Grocery restaurant Assistant General Manager Meghan Scott.

“A lot of who we hire and how many customers we have is contingent upon the time of year,” she said. “We hire students and have to switch gears during summer and winter breaks, for instance, so it’s a little harder to tell.”
According to the National Restaurant Association, Mississippi restaurants employ 109,000 Mississippians in 4,304 establishments, or 10 percent of the state’s employment – which is on pace with the national averages released by the U.S. Labor Department. Mississippi is predicted to add 11,300 restaurant jobs in 2013.

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