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How to Become a Food Service Manager

Experience in the food services industry—as a cook, waiter or waitress, or counter attendant—is the most common training for food service managers. Many jobs, particularly for managers of self-service and fast-food restaurants, are filled by promoting experienced food service workers. However, a growing number of manager positions require postsecondary education in a hospitality or food service management program.


Although most food service managers have less than a bachelor’s degree, some postsecondary education is increasingly preferred for many manager positions. Many food service management companies and national or regional restaurant chains recruit management trainees from college hospitality or food service management programs, which require internships and real-life experience to graduate.

Almost 1,000 colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degree programs in restaurant and hospitality management or institutional food service management. For those not interested in a bachelor’s degree, community and junior colleges, technical institutes, and other institutions offer programs in the field leading to an associate’s degree or other formal certification.

Both degree and certification programs provide instruction in subjects such as nutrition, sanitation, 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 and thus provide on-the-job training and experience. In addition, many educational institutions offer programs in food preparation.


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 get instruction and work experience in all aspects of how to run a restaurant or institutional food service facility, including food preparation, nutrition, sanitation, security, company policies and procedures, personnel management, recordkeeping, and report preparation. Training on the use of the restaurant's computer system is increasingly important as well.


The Foodservice Management Professional (FMP) designation is a measure of professional achievement for food service managers. Although not required, voluntary certification shows professional competence, particularly for managers who learned their skills on the job. The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation awards the FMP designation to managers who meet several criteria, including passing a written exam, completing coursework, and meeting experience requirements.

Important Qualities

Customer-service skills. Food service managers must have good customer service skills when dealing with patrons. Satisfying customers and exceeding their needs is critical for success and ensures customer loyalty.

Detail oriented. Managers must deal with many different types of activities at the same time. They deal with workers, customers, making sure there's enough food, taking care of records, making sure the place is in good condition, and more.

Leadership skills. All managers must establish good working relationships to ensure a productive work environment. This may involve motivating workers, resolving conflicts, or actively listening to complaints or criticism from customers.

Managerial skills. Food service managers may deal with budget matters; they also coordinate and supervise workers. Choosing the best people for a job is important, as is the need to guide and motivate employees.

Organizational skills. Food service managers keep track of many different schedules, budgets, and people at once. This becomes more complex as the size of the restaurant or food service facility increases.

Problem-solving skills. The ability to resolve personnel issues and customer-related problems is imperative to the work of managers. As a result, they must be creative and practical when solving problems.

Speaking skills. Food service managers must give clear orders to staff and be able to explain information to employees and customers.

Stamina. Especially for owners of small establishments, food service managers may spend a lot of time on their feet, often working long hours. They need stamina to handle the physical and other stresses of the job.  

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition