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Katie Nelson is general manager at Bar Louie, where its newest workers owe their jobs to U.S. consumers who are spending more on dining and leisure.

Hospitality jobs rise as consumers spend

– Katie Nelson, general manager at Bar Louie in the River North neighborhood, recently called the chain’s headquarters with some good news: Business is booming. That bolstered her plea for money to hire 20 employees.

“We’re hiring a ton right now,” Nelson said on a Friday evening as her outdoor patio filled with diners sipping Goose Island Matilda pale ale and munching flatbread pizzas. “Whenever we get new people trained, we still need more.”

Bar Louie’s newest dishwashers, cooks and servers owe their jobs to U.S. consumers who are spending more on dining, amusement parks and other close-to-home activities. Fresh crews streaming into restaurants from Red Robin Gourmet Burgers to Domino’s Pizza lifted the number of leisure and hospitality jobs to a record 14.2 million in June, with hiring 80 percent stronger so far this year than in 2012. The sector now accounts for about 10.5 percent of the U.S. work force, also a record since the government started tracking the jobs in 1939.

“We’re definitely seeing that people are coming out more frequently and we’re seeing a growth in transactions,” said Charlie Morrison, chief executive officer of Richardson, Texas-based Wingstop Restaurants, which this year is adding about 1,000 workers and 70 locations. “This is our best year since the recession.”

The looser spending that’s lubricating date-night bar tabs and higher traffic at casual-dining restaurants also is paying off for investors. By mid-June share prices this year had risen 28 percent at Starbucks, 29 percent at Dunkin’ Brands and 52 percent at Sonic, all outstripping the 19 percent advance in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

Sales at U.S. restaurants and bars will reach a record $461.3 billion this year, a 3.8 percent gain from 2012, the National Restaurant Association in Washington estimates.

Even with the U.S. unemployment rate stuck above 7 percent, the economy has regained 6 million jobs in recent years. That’s 6 million more people who can afford to go out, said Michael Montgomery, U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Mass.

“Discretionary spending is under less stress,” Montgomery said, adding that there’s also less pressure from the price of gasoline, which ended June about the same as two years earlier. “It was harder for people to find money for food away from home when gasoline prices kept going up.”

That means more jobs for restaurant workers, amusement park employees and crews at golf courses, all of which count as leisure and hospitality industry jobs. The sector added 75,000 employees in June, including 52,000 for food service and drinking places, leading all groups, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Employment tends to drive a lot of the overall picture for restaurants,” said David Tarantino, a restaurant analyst in Milwaukee at Robert W. Baird. People with jobs “don’t necessarily have as much time to cook.”

Domino’s Pizza last month was putting final touches on its first-ever national hiring week, Patti Wilmot, executive vice president of human resources at the Ann Arbor, Mich., company, said in an interview. The pizza chain planned to advertise its hiring week on television and set up tents outside stores with hot slices of pizza and information about the company.

The chain so far this year has hired 3,000 to 3,500 workers at its U.S. corporate-owned locations, which is more than last year, she said.

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