Food Service Manager Career Guide
Pop culture likes to tell us that working in food service is a dead-end job. But if you're ambitious, know that 9 out of 10 restaurant managers started their career in entry-level positions.
And the same is true for 8 out of 10 restaurant owners.
In a job market where most companies don't even consider current employees for promotion, the food service industry is one of the few places in America where you can start at the bottom and end up at the top.
Below, we'll take a close look at what Food Service Managers do, where they do it, how to become one, and just how far the job can take you if you're ambitious.
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What Does a Food Service Manager Do?
Food service managers handle the day-to-day operations of a food service facility. In smaller businesses, they're down in the trenches, directly supervising entry-level positions. In other cases, they oversee more than one location with the help of on-site assistant managers or supervisors.
Responsibilities often include:
- Employee Management: scheduling, training, hiring and firing, evaluation and discipline
- Customer Satisfaction: setting customer service standards, addressing complaints, ensuring smooth service
- Food Preparation: overseeing orders and presentation, managing delays, coordinating front and back of house staff
- Administration: ordering food and supplies, managing inventory, budgets and payroll, sanitation services, and more
- Compliance: ensuring food safety and hygiene, complying with labor laws, complying with alcohol service laws (where alcohol is served)
Essentially, Food Service Managers are responsible for keeping the gears turning. Sometimes they're responsible for managing forward-looking tasks like changes to the menu and marketing efforts. Other times, these are handled from above.
Where Do Food Service Managers Work?
Food service managers work in many different businesses, each with its own unique challenges.
Most people think of restaurants when you say "food service." Almost half of food service managers work in restaurants, which come in as many flavors as the food they serve. There's fine dining and casual dining. There's a whole spectrum of business models between limited service and full service. Then there are the odd-balls like "ghost" restaurants that only interact with customers through food-delivery apps.
Food service managers are also needed at bars or taverns, catering services, cafeterias, event spaces, schools, hospitals, grocery stores, and more.
What are the Benefits of Becoming a Manager?
Let's start with the most obvious: it pays better.
In 2018, the median annual wage for a Food Service Manager was $54,240. Compare that to the median pay of bartenders ($22,550), wait staff ($21,780), and cooks ($25,200). No contest.
Earlier, we pointed out that Food Service Managers fit into a variety of business models. That has a big impact on your salary.
Hospitals, event centers, and hotels mean money. Full-service restaurants and bars make the median. Limited-service restaurant salaries sit in the bottom 25%. At $30k, local small-town restaurants easily have the lowest-paid managers.
Benefits vary, as well. In local businesses, there may be none. But salaried managers at popular restaurants typically get an insurance package, paid vacation, 401k matching, and a bonus program.
Another upside of management is your schedule. In entry-level food service, your hours are erratic and changeable. You often receive your shift schedule just days ahead of time, and you can expect to get called in last-minute.
But 91% of managers report a regular, set schedule. They may still be called in on short notice, but normal shifts are predictable. That makes it a lot easier to plan the rest of your life.
What are the Challenges of Becoming a Manager?
The hours are more predictable, but they are long. More than half of restaurant managers say they work over 40 hours a week, and many report working 12- to 15-hour days.
Then again, entry-level workers in the business often cover a part-time schedule at multiple jobs, so that might not be much of a change as you rise through the ranks.
More importantly, there's also a high degree of responsibility resting on your shoulders. The success or failure of the business lies with your decisions.
A full 100% of managers rate their degree of responsibility for the health and safety of others as "high" or "very high." And no wonder—restaurants are the source of over 50% of foodborne illness outbreaks, according to the CDC. It's your job to prevent that, for the life of your business and public health.
You're also responsible for labor law compliance: keeping accurate records, satisfying minimum wage and overtime requirements, meeting child labor standards, ensuring workplace safety, and avoiding discriminatory hiring practices.
On top of that, you need to calm down upset customers, manage staff, replace employees in a high-turnover industry, secure the right amount of inventory, and keep the business profitable.
In other words, it can be a very stressful job.
But some thrive on fast-paced, high-pressure situations. For those people, food service management is a match made in heaven.
How Do You Become a Food Service Manager?
College degrees do exist for restaurant and hospitality management. They're worth the investment later if you want to manage an upscale establishment, own your own restaurant, or enter the top of a corporate structure.
But you need to start with practical experience.
There's a lot of variation in how you advance to a Food Service Manager: how many steps there are on the ladder, how much formal training you're given, what job titles you hold. It all depends on the type and the size of the business.
But here's a nearly-universal formula:
Step One: Become Excellent at Your Entry-Level Job
Managers can start in the front OR back of the house. Either way, you need to be great at your role. No one promotes a sloppy employee.
Even if you know you have ambition, you have things to learn. Take any constructive feedback that you can. Always strive to do better.
Step Two: Help Others Become Better
Don't rush this step. You can't tell others how to do a job you don't fully understand, yourself. It'll happen naturally.
At some point, you'll see a co-worker struggling with something you know how to do. Help them. Teach them what you know. Don't act like you have the authority to boss them around, though – approach it as support from a peer.
Played correctly, you'll eventually become an unofficial leader, meaning other employees look to you for help or consider you someone with answers.
Step Three: Take on More Responsibility
If your manager's not asleep at the wheel, they'll notice your effort and start adding more responsibility to your plate.
Maybe they don't, but they ask for volunteers. Raise your hand.
If neither happens, you'll have to ask.
Mastering additional responsibilities will give you skills for your resume and make you a natural choice for promotion.
Step Four: Seek a Promotion
Depending on the size and popularity of the business, there may be levels of leadership within a single restaurant. Titles and structures vary, but this could include:
- Team Managers/Leads/Supervisors, whose responsibility is limited to a subset of the staff
- Shift Managers/Leads/Supervisors, whose responsibility is limited by time
- Kitchen or Floor Managers, who are responsible for the back or front of the house, respectively
- Assistant Managers, who are second in command for the entire location
Each position deals with a portion of total managerial responsibility. That lets you build up your skills.
Stepping directly into a manager or assistant manager role can be overwhelming unless the business is very small. In fact, 87% of food service managers wish they'd had more training when they first took on the role.
Gradually increasing your responsibility with these other roles can give you valuable time to prepare for the big job.
Step Five: Get Formal Training Where You Need It
There are plenty of areas where you can't just wing it. Accounting, record keeping, labor law, and food safety all require a combination of on-the-job training and "book learning."
Making it up as you go along can get you in serious trouble. If your employer doesn't provide training already, ask them to cover the classes you need. Sometimes, they don't see the wisdom in the investment. That might be a warning sign that their business isn't the best place for career development.
Some training is legally required. Thirty-two states require some sort of food safety certification. Requirements vary, but most jurisdictions will accept Food Protection Manager Certification (FPMC) accredited by The American National Standards Institute Conference for Food Protection (ANSI-CFP).
Even More Ambitious?
Many managers remain in that role for the rest of their careers. You can advance by taking the same job in more complex, higher-paying establishments.
But if you're interested in studying business, then becoming a General Manager (GM) is the next logical step.
Managers oversee the daily and routine operations that keep a business running. In larger enterprises, a GM oversees the manager and makes big-picture business decisions like:
- the maintenance, repair, and upgrade of facilities
- changes to the menu and how they perform
- larger financial decisions
- promoting and advertising the business
- handling legal and regulatory matters
- planning for growth
General Managers in the restaurant industry have an annual mean wage of$77,970. You usually need a Bachelor's degree in business or hospitality.
Some people use GM as a stepping-stone into the corporate ranks. They seek promotions into positions like District, Area, or Regional Manager.
Others look at GM positions as practice for starting their own business. Hands-on restaurant owners often serve as their own GM. Serving as GM on behalf of the business owner lets you practice your skills without taking on direct financial risk.
Online training is often half as expensive and time-consuming as classroom learning, and it's easier to fit it in around your very busy schedule. Just be sure to look for reputable online course providers. With over 20 years of experience in online compliance training, Learn2Serve by 360training can give you the foundation you need to move up through the ranks!