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Careers in Food Service Management


Food service managers held about 465,000 jobs in 2000. Most managers are salaried, but about 1 in 3 was self-employed. Most work in restaurants or for contract institutional food service companies, while a smaller number are employed by educational institutions, hospitals, nursing and personal care facilities, and civic, social, and fraternal organizations. Jobs are located throughout the country, with large cities and tourist areas providing more opportunities for full-service dining positions.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Most food service management companies and national or regional restaurant chains recruit management trainees from 2- and 4-year college hospitality management programs. Food service and restaurant chains prefer to hire people with degrees in restaurant and institutional food service management, but they often hire graduates with degrees in other fields who have demonstrated interest and aptitude. Some restaurant and food service manager positions, particularly self-service and fast food, are filled by promoting experienced food and beverage preparation and service workers. Waiters, waitresses, chefs, and fast-food workers demonstrating potential for handling increased responsibility sometimes advance to assistant manager or management trainee jobs. Executive chefs need extensive experience working as chefs, and general managers need experience as assistant managers.

A bachelor's degree in restaurant and food service management provides a particularly strong preparation for a career in this occupation. A number of colleges and universities offer 4-year programs in restaurant and hotel management or institutional food service management. For those not interested in pursuing a 4-year degree, community and junior colleges, technical institutes, and other institutions offer programs in these fields leading to an associate degree or other formal certification. Both 2- and 4-year programs provide instruction in subjects such as nutrition and food planning and preparation, as well as accounting, business law and management, and computer science. Some programs combine classroom and laboratory study with internships that provide on-the-job experience. In addition, many educational institutions offer culinary programs that provide food preparation training. This training can lead to a career as a cook or chef and provide a foundation for advancement to an executive chef position.

Most restaurant chains and food service management companies have rigorous training programs for management positions. Through a combination of classroom and on-the-job training, trainees receive instruction and gain work experience in all aspects of the operations of a restaurant or institutional food service facility. Topics include food preparation, nutrition, sanitation, security, company policies and procedures, personnel management, recordkeeping, and preparation of reports. Training on use of the restaurant's computer system is increasingly important as well. Usually after 6 months or a year, trainees receive their first permanent assignment as an assistant manager.

Most employers emphasize personal qualities when hiring managers. For example, self-discipline, initiative, and leadership ability are essential. Managers must be able to solve problems and concentrate on details. They need good communication skills to deal with customers and suppliers, as well as to motivate and direct their staff. A neat and clean appearance is a must because they often are in close personal contact with the public. Food service management can be demanding, so good health and stamina also are important.

The certified Foodservice Management Professional (FMP) designation is a measure of professional achievement for food service managers. Although not a requirement for employment or advancement in the occupation, voluntary certification provides recognition of professional competence, particularly for managers who acquired their skills largely on the job. The Educational Foundation of the National Restaurant Association awards the FMP designation to managers who achieve a qualifying score on a written examination, complete a series of courses that cover a range of food service management topics, and meet standards of work experience in the field.

Willingness to relocate often is essential for advancement to positions with greater responsibility. Managers typically advance to larger establishments or regional management positions within restaurant chains. Some eventually open their own eating and drinking establishments. Others transfer to hotel management positions because their restaurant management experience provides a good background for food and beverage manager jobs in hotels and resorts.

Job Outlook

Employment of food service managers is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2010. In addition to employment growth, the need to replace managers who transfer to other occupations or stop working will create many job openings. Applicants with a bachelor's or associate degree in restaurant and institutional food service management should have the best job opportunities.

Projected employment growth varies by industry. Most new jobs will arise in eating and drinking places as the number of establishments increases along with the population, personal incomes, and leisure time. In addition, manager jobs will increase in eating and drinking places as schools, hospitals, and other businesses contract out more of their food services to institutional food service companies within the eating and drinking industry. Food service manager jobs still are expected to increase in many of the latter industries, but growth will be slowed as contracting out becomes more common. Growth in the elderly population should result in more food service manager jobs in nursing homes and other healthcare institutions, and in residential-care and assisted-living facilities.

Job opportunities should be better for salaried managers than for self-employed managers. New restaurants are increasingly affiliated with national chains rather than being independently owned and operated. As this trend continues, fewer owners will manage restaurants themselves, and more restaurant managers will be employed by larger companies to run establishments.


Median annual earnings of food service managers were $31,720 in 2000. The middle 50 percent earned between $24,500 and $41,000. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $19,200, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $53,090. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of food service managers in 2000 are shown below.

Miscellaneous amusement and recreation services $37,000
Hotels and motels $36,460
Nursing and personal care facilities $31,400
Eating and drinking places $31,380
Elementary and secondary schools $28,310

In addition to typical benefits, most salaried restaurant and food service managers receive free meals and the opportunity for additional training, depending on their length of service.

Related Occupations

Food service managers direct the activities of businesses, which provide a service to customers. Other managers and supervisors in service-oriented businesses include lodging managers, medical and health services managers, sales worker supervisors, financial managers, social and community service managers, and first line supervisors/managers of food preparation and serving workers.

Sources of Additional Information

Information about a career as a food service manager, 2- and 4-year college programs in restaurant and food service management, and certification as a Foodservice Management Professional is available from:

National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, Suite 1400, 250 South Wacker Dr., Chicago, IL 60606.

General information on hospitality careers may be obtained from:

The International Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education, 3205 Skipwith Rd., Richmond, VA 23294. Internet:

Additional information about job opportunities in food service management may be obtained from local employers and from local offices of the State employment service.

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