Behind every top chef, there's usually a top-flight restaurant manager. It's an underlying principle in culinary fixer Gordon Ramsey's "Kitchen Nightmares" reality show. And it is a reality. The wait staff and kitchen crew, or "front" and "back" of the house, may be more familiar facets of the food service industry. But skilled restaurant managers play a crucial and often indispensable role at every level, from fast-food franchises and cafeterias to fine-dining establishments, catering companies, hotels and resorts.
While a high school diploma coupled with experience in the field can lead to a career in restaurant management, the sophisticated nature of the food-service industry has created a demand for candidates with specialized vocational training. There are now over 1,100 trade schools, technical colleges, and post-graduate programs in the U.S. that offer associate and bachelor's degrees in the field.
Restaurant management specializations
Working behind the scenes and on the front lines, restaurant managers have broad responsibilities that can include hiring and training staff, overseeing inventory and finances, insuring compliance with health and safety regulations, and building customer loyalty. Many are entrepreneurs who run their own food-service businesses -- roughly 40 percent, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov) reports. Larger operations often employ a team of managers tasked with specific designations. The National Restaurant Association lists several areas of specialization:
• Dining room manager: supervises wait staff, maintains payroll, aids in menu development and monitors food and beverage costs
• Kitchen manager: oversees back-of-the-house operations, maintains health and safety standards, procures supplies and equipment, plans menus, controls food costs and coordinates kitchen staff
• Catering manager: books and plans parties and other larger group functions, on- and off-site, from menu planning and décor to staffing and entertainment
• Beverage manager: coordinates all services related to bars, lounges and other beverage-related components of the business, which can include creating bar menus, booking entertainment and hosting special events
Certifications and degrees in restaurant management
There are a number of different paths to a career in the food business, including apprenticeships and on-the-job promotions. Management candidates come from a variety of educational backgrounds, including community colleges, vocation and technical training programs, culinary schools and four-year colleges, many of which offer internship opportunities. The BLS notes, "some postsecondary education is increasingly preferred for many manager positions, especially at upscale restaurants and hotels."
Training in restaurant management sometimes falls under the larger rubric of "hospitality" or "hotel" management. It is open to students with a high school diploma, and covers everything from food prep and nutrition to business and marketing. Two-year associate and four-year bachelor's degrees programs include courses in the following:
- Food sanitation and safety
- Facilities design and maintenance
- Event planning
- Accounting fundamentals
- Strategic marketing
Restaurant manager salary & career outlook
Although the BLS projects only modest growth of 2 percent in food service management from 2012-2022, overall economic health remains strong. The restaurant industry is the second largest private-sector employer in the US, with an average annual salary of $53,130 as of May 2013. Significant growth is expected through 2022 in a number of states, including:
- Washington: 19.3 percent
- Arizona: 18 percent
- Colorado: 17.2 percent
The dynamic nature of the food service industry creates a demand for well-trained, highly motivated creatively minded restaurant managers who are ready to meet the challenges of increasingly enlightened customers looking for a diversity of dining options. Whether it's upscale gastropubs, farm-to-table bistros, quirky food trucks, or whatever the next trend in dining brings, a solid management strategy, and a manager to implement it, is a crucial ingredient for success.
Food Service Managers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, May 2012, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/food-service-managers.htm#tab-1
Food Service Managers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes119051.htm
Long-Term Occupational Projections, Food Service Managers, 2014, http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
Restaurant Careers, Jobs Outlook, National Restaurant Association, 2014, http://www.restaurant.org/Restaurant-Careers/Career-Development/Jobs-Outlook
Restaurant Careers, Job Titles, National Restaurant Association, 2014, http://www.restaurant.org/Restaurant-Careers/Career-Development/Career-Options/Job-Titles
Summary Report for Food Service Managers, O*Net OnLine, American Job Center Network, 2014, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/11-9051.00