Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Measuring Changes in the Restaurant Industry

Posted by | September 28, 2016


The restaurant industry has been experiencing major regulatory, cultural, and technology changes in the past few years, which are impacting much of the status quo for workers and operators. The Washington Hospitality Association has engaged the Metro Center to track employment and operational changes in Seattle’s restaurant industry as they respond to a new reality.

Balance and Business Models

All businesses must balance income and expenses in order to remain viable. The ongoing regulatory, cultural, and technology changes in Washington has impacted many industries, including the restaurant industry. For a typical restaurant, which historically averages approximately 36 percent of their operating expenses to staffing, big changes in labor costs may require adjustments in their business model.

The Washington Hospitality Association asked the Metro Center to conduct a four year applied research study to establish benchmark data across Washington State.

cooks in a kitchen

Industry Indicators

This study will track a set of indicators and variables over time including industry benchmarks beginning in 2010, menu pricing data and overall labor cost changes for the industry through the end of the decade. The Metro Center will develop and administer a mixed-mode sampling protocol and analysis of the data. For data which the Washington Hospitality Association already collects, the Metro Center will perform an independent audit, analysis, and conclusion.

Applied Research

This study is designed to provide a comprehensive picture of Seattle’s restaurant industry, including large and small businesses in both the full service and quick service sectors, as they adapt to changes. It is not designed to assign causality nor correlation with adopted policies or municipal minimum wage rates. The study is also not designed to track or address societal issues often linked to the minimum wage; some of which are being address by a separate City of Seattle sponsored study.

Results of the Metro Center’s study may serve as a guide for other cities, and help the restaurant industry benchmark and understand the impacts of change on business and workforce success in communities across Washington.


The Metro Center will produce an annual report over the four years of the study. At the conclusion of the study, the Metro Center will train Washington Hospitality Association employees how they may conduct data acquisition and analysis in the future. The model of the study allows for expansion to King County and statewide.

Project Team: 

[widget widget_class=”WP_Widget_Search”][/widget]

a lot of cooks working in kitchen

The Metro Center

WSU Expertise

The Metro Center created a collaboration that utilizes Washington State University’s (WSU’s) broad expertise and uniquely positions the Center to conduct this study. In particular, faculty from the WSU School of Hospitality and Business Management provide the critical, contextual link between the research experts, and the restaurant industry. WSU School of Economic Sciences will provide an independent audit of the Washington Hospitality Association’s data and analysis; and WSU Division of Governmental Studies and Services will obtain and analyze new data.

Leading the Team

The Metro Center provides the integration required for a team of this size, scope, and depth – while providing the client with a single point of contact. It also provides the bridge for the practical, applied, applications of the research study. The Center is the lead for requesting and managing existing data records from the City of Seattle, Employment Security Division, and the Department of Revenue to be used in the study, ensuring confidentiality and disclosure laws are followed.

Learn More

Waist-length view of a female chef working in a restaurant kitchen and smiling at the camera

Office of Mayor Edward B. Murray- $15 Minimum Wage

Logo: Metropolitan Center for Applied Research and Extension

Contact Us

Martha Aitken

WSU North Puget Sound at Everett
915 N. Broadway
Everett, WA 98201 (MAP)

Photo credit: Students-in-barrons-kitchen.jpg by Hccougar (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *