As Oregon’s Workforce Ages, so Does Its Eating Places Workforce

by Guy Tauer

November 26, 2019

My first sort-of-paid job was working in a concession stand that my mom ran to earn some extra family income at a softball field in the summer months. At 12 or 13 years old, I’m sure we were skirting some sort of child labor laws. But I enjoyed helping out, meeting customers, learning some work ethic and customer service skills, and eating a little of the profits on those warm Southern Oregon summer evenings. At 14 years old, I gained a legitimate youth work permit (no longer required) and got a payroll job washing dishes at a fast-paced steak and seafood restaurant. Fast forward 20 years and by the time I resigned as the lead line chef at a French restaurant in Ashland, I had populated a number of different restaurant worker age groups along the way.

Oregon’s eating places employed about one of every 13 jobs in the state on an annual average basis in 2018. The industry accounted for 7.4 percent of total payroll employment.  Let’s look at who comprises the eating places workforce, and how the eating places workforce has changed over time.

The restaurant workforce tends to be younger than the all-industry average in Oregon. As was the case for me, employment in the eating places industry is of particular importance to youth workers. President and CEO of the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association Jason Brandt echoed these sentiments in a recent blog post, “One in three Americans had their first job in a restaurant and in today’s digital age, what better way for our youth to develop crucial interpersonal skills than by getting their start professionally in a restaurant setting. Those of us at ORLA would argue there has never been a more important time for the role of restaurants in the lives of our young people.”

In fact, of the 41,350 workers age 14 to 18 employed in the third quarter of 2018, about 15,050 of those were employed in the eating places industry. Workers age 14 to 18 comprise 10.5 percent of the eating places industry but only 1.5 percent of all industries excluding eating places. As you move to the next older group, those age 19 to 21 make up 12.8 percent of the eating places workers, and just 3.7 percent of all-industry average excluding eating places. Workers age 22 to 24 comprise 10.2 percent of all eating and drinking places jobs and about one-half the share of the non-eating places industry average, at 5 percent. It’s only after you reach the 35 and older age groups that you find a higher percent of workers in the all-industries excluding eating places group than in the eating places industry.

Between 1991 and 2018, the overall share of younger workers in the eating places industry declined, while the share of workers age 45 and older increased among the eating and drinking places workforce. In 1991, nearly one out of five eating places workers were age 14 to 18. By 2018, that group comprised one out of 10 eating places workers. The share of eating places workers age 19 to 21 also fell during that time, from about 15 percent to around 12 percent. The next two age brackets, workers age 22 to 24 and age 25 to 34, maintained a relatively stable share of eating places total workers, about 12 percent and 25 percent, respectively.
The share of workers age 35 to 44 increased slightly, from about 15 percent to 17 percent between 1991 and 2018. Workers age 45 to 54 comprised about 7 percent of all eating places workers back in 1991, and increased to about 11.5 percent in 2018. Workers ages 55 to 64 saw an increase from about 4 percent of all workers to about 7.5 percent of the total. Workers in the oldest age group saw a large jump, from less than 2 percent of all workers in 1991 to just over 5 percent by 2018.

Paul C. Paz, from WaitersWorld, notes, “The recession of 2008-09 economically crushed a number of people. That caused them to remain in the workforce longer than planned. For many others, their employment lives did not provide enough income for full retirement with many having only Social Security benefits to rely upon. With the rise in cost of living this has forced many to continue working anywhere from full to part time jobs.”

Older workers are a valuable source of labor and expertise. “Many bring to the table their life experience in hospitality as seasoned travelers, diners, and lodging consumers.” According to Paz, “That gives them the immediate useful expertise with understanding guest expectations, soft-skills needed for in-person interactions, and a basic business savvy with customer service skills and techniques.” The mission of WaitersWorld is to elevate the status of waiters in America to a professional career level, a career of choice offering unlimited opportunity. WaitersWorld is designed to offer terrific tools and training; to give wait staff the opportunity to network with other professional waiters and hospitality peers around the world.
To put that rising share of older workers into net numbers, there were about 1,000 eating places workers age 65 to 99 back in 1991. By 2018, that jumped to more than 7,000, reflecting both the increasing percent of older workers, and the increase in total eating places jobs in Oregon. There are roughly double the number of eating places jobs in 2018 as there were back in 1991 in Oregon.

Looking at the all-industry age composition of workers we find similar trends playing out between 1991 and 2018. Back in 1991, those in the age 14 to 18 and 19 to 21 cohorts comprised 3.9 percent and 5.6 percent of all workers. By 2018, the share fell to 2.2 percent and 4.4 percent of all workers. On the other end of the age spectrum, in 1991 workers age 55 to 64 and 65 to 99 years comprised 8.1 percent and 2.2 percent of all workers, respectively. In 2018, the share of total workers in those age groups rose to 16.6 percent and 6.6 percent of the all-industry worker total.

The demographic trend of the large baby boomer cohort of workers aging through and slowly out of the workforce is playing out in the eating places industry and also across the broader workforce in Oregon. I didn’t age out of the eating places workforce, but did further my education and had a mid-career job change. But I am sure that those customer service and work ethic skills that I acquired during my years in that industry are still being put to use in my current position as an economist, even though I don’t worry about burns and cuts very much in this job.

For More Information

To learn more about tools for students and educators and for career and training resources, visit the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association at

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