Restaurant Workers Explore Careers in New Industries During COVID-19

May 27, 2020

The economic pain of the COVID-19 pandemic is not being borne equally by American workers. Among those experiencing coronavirus-induced career shakeups, those in the restaurant industry have been hit particularly hard. There were more than 2.6 million restaurant servers working in the United States in 2018, according to the BLS, and many of them now face widespread COVID-19-related layoffs and dim prospects for near-term dining demand as businesses comply with local mandates and ongoing health concerns. 

As these servers search for work in today’s tough market, their hunt has inevitably exposed them to new career paths. This trend makes way for a potentially permanent shift in the labor market, one in which workers in one field easily shift to jobs in another, or what economists call “occupational mobility.” If that shift occurs, the COVID-19 pandemic may leave a lasting imprint on the U.S. labor market, permanently changing the hiring landscape both for restaurants and for the other industries hiring the millions of former food service workers that have flocked to new roles during and after the pandemic. 

Restaurant Servers’ Shifting Job Searches

We are only a few months into the sweeping business shutdowns marking this public health crisis and there’s already early evidence on Glassdoor of occupational shifting by restaurant workers. What jobs are workers who once looked for restaurant server jobs on Glassdoor looking for now? The figure below shows a sample of jobs that are being sought out more now by workers who previously looked for restaurant server jobs on Glassdoor prior to the COVID-19 crisis.


As expected, restaurant servers are pivoting their job searches toward roles that are less impacted during the pandemic, but that require similar skills to restaurant work. Searches for “Amazon”, “driver”, “warehouse” and “supply chain” jobs are all up sharply among this group on Glassdoor, ranging from roughly 150 percent to more than 600 percent increases compared to a year ago. Job searches for “remote” and “work from home” are also up 301 percent and 95 percent, respectively. Similarly, searches for “medical assistant” — a healthcare job that’s booming during the pandemic — are up 126 percent. 

Just as restaurant workers are shifting their job searches more heavily toward certain opportunities, they are also dramatically pivoting away from other roles that have been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The figure below shows a sample of jobs that workers who previously looked for restaurant server jobs on Glassdoor are pivoting away from during the COVID-19 crisis.

Job searches for human resources (“HR”) roles among this group on Glassdoor are down 87 percent, a reflection of hiring freezes across the country. Job searches for “server bartender” and “restaurant server” are down 63 percent and -60 percent, respectively. Searches for other in-person service jobs are down sharply as well including “flight attendant” (-57 percent), “event coordinator” (-36 percent), “banquet server” (32- percent), and “bank teller” (-27 percent).

“Panic” Job Searches on the Rise

One alarming trend we’re seeing on Glassdoor is a sharp rise in job searches for very broad categories of jobs. This attempt to cast a very wide net may indicate that many more restaurant workers are “panic searching” or searching for immediate work in essentially any open job available today. 

The figure below shows the recent surge on Glassdoor in “panic” job searches by restaurant servers. During normal times, job seekers tend to search for very specific job titles that match their skills. But during crisis times, they tend to relax their standards and search for any open job — either searching for terms like “any,” “all,” and “full time,” or by simply entering a blank search on Glassdoor to see all open jobs in their metro location. 

Both “blank” job searches and searches for any full-time role are up sharply during COVID-19 among restaurant servers on Glassdoor. The share of job searches for any full-time role is up 253 percent compared to a year ago, while blank job searches for any open role in a metro area are up 66 percent. That’s another indication that, with the U.S. labor market facing millions of layoffs, many impacted restaurant workers are changing how they look for work. 

A Bright Spot

While restaurant servers are changing how they search for jobs on Glassdoor during COVID-19, one bright spot is that they’re not searching for jobs much more aggressively than during normal times. This is what economists call “job search intensity,” and it hasn’t changed much compared to a year ago for restaurant workers. 

The table below shows the average (mean) number of job searches per restaurant server on Glassdoor during our sample period, as well as the median, both today and compared to a year ago. The average user searched for 24.4 jobs during the early months of COVID-19, up slightly from 23 jobs a year ago. Similarly, the median number of job searches is largely unchanged. 

Average Number of Job Searches Per User on Glassdoor 2019 2020 (COVID-19)
Mean Job Searches Per User on Glassdoor (Restaurant Servers) 23 job searches 24.4 job searches
Median Job Searches Per User on Glassdoor (Restaurant Servers) 7 job searches 6 job searches
Note: Based on job searches on Glassdoor during Jan. 1 – May 12, 2020 for those who’ve searched for “restaurant server” jobs, compared to a similar group of job seekers during the same period one year ago. See methodology for details. 

This is probably good news, as it may be a sign that many restaurant workers today believe their layoffs are only temporary, or that they’re earning enough from unemployment insurance benefits to not need to aggressively search for work. In either case, it’s a sign that many restaurant workers are finding ways to make ends meet during the COVID-19 crisis for now — a potentially welcome silver lining in today’s job market. 


For this analysis we looked at a large sample of Glassdoor users who were actively searching for “restaurant server” jobs before the COVID-19 outbreak from January 1 – February 29, 2020. We then tracked those same users to see what jobs they were searching for during the COVID-19 crisis from April 1 – May 12, 2020. 

We then compared the job search behavior of those anonymized users with a similar group of job seekers from the same time period one year ago, in early 2019 before the COVID-19 crisis unfolded. That allows us to show how the share of job searches for different job titles on Glassdoor during COVID-19 has shifted from a year ago, among these workers who’ve previously searched for restaurant server jobs.