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Restaurant and Food Service Managers

Eating and drinking places range from restaurants that serve fast food to those that emphasize elegant dining, and from school cafeterias to hospital food services. The cuisine offered, its price, and the setting in which it is consumed vary greatly, but the managers of these diverse establishments have many common responsibilities. Efficient and profitable operation of restaurants and institutional food service facilities requires that managers and assistant managers select and appropriately price interesting menu items, efficiently use food and other supplies, achieve consistent quality in food preparation and service, recruit and train adequate numbers of workers, and painstakingly attend to the various administrative aspects of the career.

In most restaurants and institutional food service facilities, the manager is assisted by one or more assistant managers, depending on the size and career hours of the establishment. In large establishments, as well as many others that offer fine dining, the management team consists of a general manager, one or more assistant managers, and an executive chef. The executive chef is responsible for the operation of the kitchen, while the assistant managers oversee service in the dining room and other areas of the operation. In some smaller restaurants, the executive chef may also be the general manager, and sometimes an owner. In fast-food restaurants and other food service facilities that operate long hours, 7 days a week, the manager is aided by several assistant managers, each of whom supervises a shift of workers.

Many restaurants change their menu only rarely, but other eating establishments change it frequently. Institutional food service facilities and some restaurants offer a new menu every day. Managers or executive chefs select menu items, taking into account the likely number of customers, the past popularity of various dishes, and considerations such as food left over from prior meals that should not be wasted, the need for variety on the menu, and the availability of foods due to seasonal and other factors. They analyze the recipes of the dishes to determine food, labor, and overhead costs and assign prices to the menu items. Menus must be developed far enough in advance to receive needed supplies in time. Ordering supplies and dealing with suppliers are important aspects of the work of restaurant and food service managers. On a daily basis, managers estimate food consumption, place orders with suppliers, and schedule the delivery of fresh food and beverages. They receive and check the content of deliveries, evaluating the quality of meats, poultry, fish, fruits, vegetables, and baked goods. Managers meet or talk with sales representatives of restaurant suppliers to place orders to replenish stocks of tableware, linens, paper, cleaning supplies, cooking utensils, and furniture and fixtures. They also arrange for equipment repairs.

Managers interview, hire, and, when necessary, discharge workers. They familiarize newly hired workers with the establishment's policies and practices and oversee their training. Managers schedule the work hours of employees, insuring that there are adequate numbers of workers present during busy periods, but not too many during slow periods.

Restaurant and food service managers supervise the preparation of food in the kitchen and the serving of meals in the dining room. They oversee food preparation and cooking, checking the quality of the food and the sizes of portions to insure that dishes are prepared and garnished correctly and in a timely manner. They also investigate and resolve customers' complaints about food quality or services. During busy periods, managers may roll up their sleeves and help with the cooking, clearing of tables, or other tasks. They direct the cleaning of the kitchen and dining areas and the washing of tableware, kitchen utensils, and equipment to maintain company and government sanitation standards. They monitor workers and observe patrons on a continued basis to insure compliance with health and safety standards and local liquor regulations.

Managers have a variety of administrative responsibilities. In larger establishments, much of this work is delegated to a bookkeeper, but in others, managers must keep accurate records of the hours and wages of employees, prepare the payroll, and do paperwork to comply with licensing laws and reporting requirements of tax, wage and hour, unemployment compensation, and Social Security laws. They also must maintain records of the costs of supplies and equipment purchased and insure that accounts with suppliers are paid on a regular basis. In addition, managers record the number, type, and cost of items sold to weed out dishes that are unpopular or less profitable. Many managers are able to ease the burden of recordkeeping and paperwork through the use of computers.

Managers are among the first to arrive and the last to leave at night. At the conclusion of each day, or sometimes each shift, managers must tally the cash received and charge receipts and balance them against the record of sales. They are responsible for depositing the day's income at the bank, or securing it in a safe place. Managers are also responsible for locking up and checking that ovens, grills, and lights are off and alarm systems switched on.

Working Conditions

Since evenings and weekends are popular dining periods, night and weekend work is common. However, many managers of institutional food service facilities work more conventional hours because factory and office cafeterias are often open only on weekdays for breakfast and lunch. Many restaurant and food service managers work 50 hours or more per week.

Managers often experience the pressure of simultaneously coordinating a wide range of activities. When problems occur, it is the responsibility of the manager to resolve them with minimal disruption to customers. The job can be hectic during peak dining hours, and dealing with irate customers or uncooperative employees can be particularly stressful.


Restaurant and food service managers held about 528,000 jobs in 1990. Most worked in eating and drinking establishments, but small numbers also were employed by educational institutions, hospitals, nursing and personal care facilities, department stores, and civic, social, and fraternal organizations. Nearly half were self-employed. Jobs are located throughout the country, but are most plentiful in large cities and tourist areas.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Many restaurant and food service manager positions are filled by promoting experienced food and beverage preparation and service workers. Waiters, waitresses, chefs, and fast-food workers who have demonstrated their potential for handling increased responsibility sometimes advance to assistant manager or management trainee jobs when openings occur. Executive chefs need extensive experience working as a chef, and general managers need experience working as an assistant. However, most food service management companies and national or regional restaurant chains also recruit management trainees from among the graduates of 2-year and 4-year college programs. Food service and restaurant chains prefer to hire persons 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.

A bachelor's degree in restaurant and food service management provides a particularly strong preparation for a career in this occupation. In 1990, more than 130 colleges and universities offered 4-year programs in restaurant and hotel management or institutional food service management. For persons who do not want to pursue a 4-year degree, a good alternate background is provided by the more than 200 community and junior colleges, technical institutes, and other institutions that offer programs in these fields leading to an associate degree or other formal award below the baccalaureate. Both 2-year and 4-year programs provide instruction in subjects such as accounting, career law and management, food planning and preparation, and nutrition. Some programs combine classroom and laboratory study with internships that provide on-the-job experience. In addition, more than 100 educational institutions offer culinary programs that provide food preparation training which can lead to a career as a cook or chef and provide a foundation for advancement to an executive chef position.

Most employers emphasize personal qualities. Restaurant and food service management can be demanding, so good health and stamina are important. 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 subordinates. A neat and clean appearance is also required since managers are often in close personal contact with the public.

Most restaurant chains and food serviced management companies have rigorous training programs for persons hired for management jobs. 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--food preparation, sanitation, security, company policies and procedures, personnel management, recordkeeping, and preparation of reports. Usually after 6 months or a year, trainees receive their first permanent assignment as an assistant manager.

Willingness to relocate often is essential for advancement to positions with greater responsibility. Managers advance to larger establishments, or regional management positions with restaurant chains. Some managers eventually open their own eating and drinking establishments. Others transfer to hotel management positions, since their restaurant or institutional food service management experience is a good background for food and beverage manager jobs at hotels and resorts. Job Outlook

Employment of restaurant and food service managers is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2000. In addition to growth in demand for these managers, the need to replace managers who transfer to other occupations or stop working for a variety of reasons will create many new jobs. Job opportunities are expected to be best for persons with bachelor's or associate degrees in restaurant and institutional food service management.

Employment will increase with growth in the number of eating and drinking establishments. Population growth, rising personal incomes, and increased leisure time will continue to produce growth in the number of meals consumed outside the home. Also, continued growth in the number of families in which both spouses work should make dining out a more frequent and affordable convenience.

Employment of managers in school and college cafeterias is expected to increase relatively slowly due to the anticipated slow growth in total student enrollments. However, growth of the number of elderly people is expected to result in rapid growth of food service manager jobs in nursing homes, residential care facilities, and other health care institutions.

Employment in eating and drinking establishments in not very sensitive to changes in economic conditions, so restaurant and food service managers are rarely laid off during hard times. However, competition among restaurants is always intense, and many restaurants do not survive.


Earnings of restaurant and food service managers vary greatly according to the type and size of establishment. Based on a survey conducted for the National Restaurant Association, their median base salary was estimated to be $25,500 a year in 1990, but managers of the largest restaurants and institutional food service facilities often had annual salaries in excess of $42,400. Managers of fast-food restaurants had an estimated median base salary of $22,200 a year; managers of full-menu restaurants with table service, $27,600; and managers of commercial and institutional cafeterias, $26,500 a year in 1990. Besides a salary, most managers received an annual bonus or incentive payment based on their performance. In 1990, most of these payments ranged between $2,120 and $7,420 a year.

Executive chefs had an estimated median base salary of $32,224 a year in 1990, but those employed in the largest restaurants and institutional food service facilities often had base salaries over $42,400. Annual bonus or incentive payments of most executive chefs ranged between $1,484 and $5,300 a year.

The estimated median base salary of assistant managers was $19,100 a year in 1990, but ranged from $17,100 in fast-food restaurants to over $25,400 in some of the largest restaurants and food service facilities. Annual bonus or incentive payments of most assistant managers ranged between $1,600 and $3,700 a year.

Managers trainees had an estimated median base salary of $16,500 a year in 1990, but had salaries of more than $22,200 in some of the largest restaurants and food service facilities. Annual bonus or incentive payments of most trainees ranged between $850 and $3,200 a year.

Most restaurant and food service managers received free meals, sick leave, health and accident insurance, and 1 to 3 weeks of paid vacation a year, depending on length of service.

Related Occupations

Restaurant and food service managers direct the activities of career establishments that provide a service to customers. Other managers in careeres that sell goods or services to the general public include hotel managers and assistants, health services administrators, retail store managers, and bank managers.

Sources of Additional Information

Information about job opportunities may be obtained from local employers and local offices of the State employment service.

Career information about restaurant and food service managers and directories of 2- and 4-year college programs in restaurant and food service management are available from:

The Educational Foundation of the national Restaurant Association, Suite 2620, 20 North Wacker Dr., Chicago, IL 60606.

General Information on hospitality careers may be obtained from: Council on Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Education, 311 First St. NW., Washington, D.C. 20001.

For general career information and a directory of accredited private trade and technical schools offering programs in restaurant and food service management, write to:

National Association of Trade and Technical Schools, P.O. Box 10429, Department BL, Rockville, MD 20850.


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