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A Day in the Life of a Food Service Manager

If your food service aspiration is to one day make it to fry chef, you may want to choose another career. Or, you may want to broaden your sights, reach for a higher goal -- and we’re not talking about salad tosser. Think food service manager. On a daily basis, managers estimate food consumption, place orders with suppliers, schedule the delivery of food and beverages, receive and check the content of deliveries, evaluate the quality of food – before and after it is cooked – meet with sales representatives from restaurant suppliers to place orders for pots, pans, plates and other supplies, monitor the health and safety codes, and local liquor regulations. They also call in the fix-it guys when repairs on the equipment are needed and the bug guys when pest control is needed. Managers also have to interview, hire, and, when necessary, fire employees. One of the most important tasks of restaurant and food service managers is selecting successful menu items, taking into account the likely number of customers and the past popularity of dishes. Managers analyze the recipes of the dishes to determine food, labor, overhead costs and to assign prices to various dishes. Menus must be developed far enough in advance that supplies can be ordered and received in time. Food service managers must have initiative, be self-disciplined, and be strong leaders. They need to have communications skills so they can solve problems with suppliers, employees, and customers. Restaurant and food service management can be demanding, so good health is important. Some managers are assisted in their duties by one or more assistant managers. Managers are the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave, usually in the next morning. Managers are responsible for locking up, checking that ovens, grills, and lights are off, and switching on alarm systems. Food service managers are the workhorses of restaurants. The chef may get all the credit, but without a good manager the chef would just be cooking at home.

Paying Your Dues

Most restaurants or food service management companies hire management trainees from 2- and 4-year college hospitality management programs; however, some food managers may be promoted to the position after years of working in the kitchen. More than 150 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, more than 800 community and junior colleges, technical institutes, and other institutions offer programs in these fields leading to an associate degree or other formal certification. Some programs combine classroom study with on-the-job experience. Internships can help lead to better paying jobs. Some food managers strive for the designation of certified Foodservice Management Professional (FMP). Although the designation is not required for employment or advancement, voluntary certification provides recognition of professional competence, particularly for managers who acquired their skills largely on the job. Because evenings and weekends are when the people eat, long hours into the night, and booked Saturdays and Sundays, are common among managers. Some managers of institutional food service facilities (schools, office cafeterias) work conventional, daytime and weekday hours. Most managers, however, work unpredictable hours, filling in for sick workers on short notice. Restaurant and food service managers normally work 50 to 60 hours per week, depending on the restaurant. It is a highly intense occupation, with the stress of coordinating a wide range of activities extreme at times. The manager is responsible for resolving problems and minimizing disruption to customers. The job can be hectic during peak dining hours, and dealing with irate customers or uncooperative employees can be stressful. However, a calm mind and steady voice can disarm most situations. As a food manager experience grows, they can be called upon to work in more upscale restaurants and hotels.

Present and Future

There seems to be a McDonalds, Red Lobster, and Macaroni Grill on every corner. As the number of chain restaurants is expected to grow, so too will the need for food managers as few restaurant owners will manage the stores themselves. Also, food manager positions will rise in cafeterias of schools, hospitals, and as the population continues to age, nursing homes, residential-care and assisted-living facilities. As large corporations work to reduce costs, many will turn to outside institutional food service companies within the eating and drinking industry to run their cafeterias. Job opportunities should be better for salaried managers than for self-employed managers. Employment in eating and drinking establishments is 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, forcing many restaurants to close their kitchens.

Quality of Life


Most restaurants provide their employees rigorous training programs for management positions. Usually after 6 months or a year, trainees receive their first permanent assignment as an assistant manager. Some food service managers start out in small schools cafeterias, or as cooks in food service contractors, working their way into higher paying positions within the school or business system.


After five years, an employee has the experience they need to run the daily activities of their own kitchens. Some managers advance to larger establishments or regional management positions within restaurant chains.


Food service managers with ten or more years of experience may open their own eating and drinking establishments. They may also move to more prestigious restaurants or hotels. Willingness to relocate is essential for advancement to positions with greater responsibility.