New restaurants have been popping up and many are short on cooks

Cooks wanted

A look at where new restaurants are opening and how the labor market has been affected in those areas.

Ambitious restaurants have spread beyond New York and Los Angeles and are popping up in Portland, Nashville, Austin and all over the U.S. And as mini foodie meccas emerge, young cooks have more opportunities and can move up quickly, causing high turnover in an already meager talent pool.

"There has always been a limited supply of good cooks," Doug Crowell, who owns Buttermilk Channel and French Louie in Brooklyn, told the New York Times in an article about the shortage of cooks. "Once it was because a handful of high-end restaurants competed for a small pool of skilled labor. Now the labor pool and the industry have both exploded."

Where are these new foodie hotspots? How has the labor market been affected in those areas?

To help you visualize the change in restaurant establishments over the last 10 years, we've created the Tableau map below. We used color to display change in the number of restaurant establishments (a payrolled business location, meaning that a restaurant with two locations would have two establishments) across metropolitan areas. The size of the bubble corresponds to the number of jobs in the full-service or limited-service restaurant industries in 2014.

View an interactive version of the map here

While establishments across all private-sector industries grew 12 percent in the U.S. since 2004, restaurants are opening at a much more impressive rate. Both full- and limited- service restaurants grew 20 percent in establishments. The map shows that this trend is often more exaggerated at the metro level, especially in the case of full-service restaurants.

Limited-service restaurants are seeing a few more cases of decline, especially in the Rust Belt. Detroit has lost the largest number of these establishments (55, a -2 percent drop), likely due in part to its population decline over the past 10 years. Still, there has been significant growth in limited-service restaurants elsewhere, such as Florida.

Full-service restaurants are doing well in Florida, too. Of the top five metros for establishment growth in full-service restaurants, four are in the Sunshine State:

  • The Villages, Florida (437.5 percent)
  • Walla Walla, Washington (74.1 percent)
  • Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Florida (72.8 percent)
  • Sebring, Florida (71.1 percent)
  • Punta Gorda, Florida (61.4 percent)

Florida's impressive growth in restaurant establishments likely has something to do with its impressive post-recession recovery, heavy investment in tourism and rapid population growth. The Villages, which is leading the way for restaurant growth, is the fastest-growing city in the U.S.

But most of the metros listed above are fairly small, making it easier for new restaurants to impact growth rates because there weren't many restaurants to begin with. Where is growth happening in metros with at least 500 full-service restaurant establishments in 2014? As it turns out, there has been a restaurant boom in Southern states:

  • Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Florida (72.8 percent)
  • Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, Nevada (55.5 percent)
  • Austin-Round Rock, Texas (55.5 percent)
  • Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, Texas (50.3 percent)
  • Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, Tennessee (50.1 percent)

Staffing patterns

What kinds of jobs are most affected by this growth? To find out, we took a look at the national staffing pattern for full-service restaurants. The table below shows the top 15 jobs employed by this industry.

This table shows why cooks can make or break a restaurant.

Following only waiters and waitresses, cooks are the second-most employed occupation in the full-service restaurant industry. The restaurant cook occupation has also grown the fastest since 2004. That doesn't even include short order and fast food cooks, which also appear in this list.

In contrast, chefs and head cooks—which earn nearly twice as much per hour as cooks—make up only 1 percent of the full-service restaurant industry. The ratio of cooks to chefs would make it particularly difficult for restaurants that cannot attract or retain cooks. There simply aren't enough chefs to pick up the slack.

The New York Times article acknowledges the huge impact that the shortage of cooks is having on restaurants: "For some [restaurants], [the shortage of cooks] has even affected their food, forcing them to simplify dishes, to focus on basic, scalable restaurant concepts like pizza or burgers, and to hire virtually anyone who walks through the kitchen door."

The article suggests that increasing pay and benefits for cooks may help curb retention problems, although those changes would likely increase menu prices as well.

This article originally appeared on The Desktop Economist, the blog of Economic Modeling Specialists Intl. For more on EMSI data—available at the county, MSA, and ZIP code level—or to see data for your region, contact us. Follow EMSI on Twitter (@DesktopEcon) or check us out on LinkedIn and Facebook.