How to Become a Restaurant Manager: Kick Off Your Career

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Industry

  • Restaurant managers have one of the hardest jobs in the restaurant, but no restaurant can run without them.
  • A restaurant manager needs to thoroughly understand the way their restaurant operates.
  • There are two paths to becoming a restaurant manager: on-the-job training or formal education.

A restaurant manager is the command and control hub of the operation: If the restaurant were a ship, the manager would be its captain.

There are as many styles of restaurant management as there are restaurants. Even within a restaurant, there are different types of managers: a general manager holds more responsibility than an assistant manager, for example.

Whatever the case, food service management is not an easy job. It usually requires long hours, laser focus, and broad knowledge of the business. But some people absolutely love it. It can be a fun, fulfilling job that can open up both the culinary and business realms to you. It’s also a deeply social role, so those that enjoy being around people can thrive.

If you want to know how to become a restaurant manager, there are generally only two ways into the career path. One route is to work your way up from within the industry, while the other is to obtain a degree related to hospitality management.

Education and Requirements

How to become a restaurant manager: Two servers look at tablet together

You don’t necessarily need a formal education in hospitality management to manage a restaurant, but in some cases it can be very helpful. We’ll explore that idea in greater detail below. Many restaurant owners will ask their managers to at least have a high school diploma, and a college degree helps too. Experience in the industry, however, is often considered more important.

Most states will have some variety of licensing requirements for managers. For example, depending on the state, a manager may need to have:

  • A food manager’s license
  • A food handler’s license
  • A liquor distribution or handling license
  • Other food safety or related certifications

If you’re already experienced or have a degree, you’ll need to make sure you’re up-to-date with your certifications before you begin applying for jobs. Many of these are fairly easy to accomplish and should not be too intimidating. Be sure to check your state’s laws for requirements.

Job Description

Man takes notes on clipboard with kitchen staff in background

Managers need to know everything about the business — or at least their segment of it. For example, a front of house manager may not need to know all the inner workings of the kitchen, but they should at least understand enough to know how it affects their area.

For our purposes, we’ll discuss the job description of a general manager, since they manage all aspects of the business.

Back of House

The general manager will need to work closely with the head chef or the culinary director to make sure the kitchen runs smoothly. After all, the kitchen is the engine of the restaurant. Responsibilities in the back of house will include:

  • Creating staffing schedules
  • Ordering and keeping track of inventory
  • Ensuring chefs, line cooks, dishwashers, and all other staff are trained on proper procedures and food preparation techniques
  • Maintaining discipline, if necessary
  • Inspecting equipment and setting maintenance schedules
  • Delegating responsibilities to the head chef as necessary
  • Ensuring proper hygiene and cleanliness in the kitchen
  • Ensuring food is up to standard before it reaches customers

The general manager will need to know the back of house like the back of their hand. They should also realistically be able to get along with kitchen staff since they will frequently interact and spend long hours together.

Front of House

The front of house and the back of house have to work together like a well-oiled machine. The two areas function very differently, but both need to be at the top of their game for the restaurant to perform well. The general manager often has greater purview over front of house. Responsibilities here include:

  • Setting schedules for all waitstaff, bussers, bartenders, or hosts
  • Making sure customers are comfortable and responding to customer complaints
  • ​Maintaining standards of cleanliness and good service
  • Maintaining lines of communication between the front of house and the back of house
  • Ensuring all payments are properly processed

The responsibilities don’t stop there, however. There’s much more to do in this dynamic role.

Other Responsibilities: Accounting and Leadership Skills

Often, the manager needs to be as familiar with the books as the owner. Restaurant accounting is its own world, and the larger the restaurant the more there is to keep up with. Managers should be able to speak the lingo of restaurant accounting and be able to use software to analyze key points with the owner to determine ways to improve the business.

Unlike accounting, leadership skills often represent a je ne sais quoi of a manager. A good leader is able to motivate people to do their best without being overbearing — a fine line, in many circumstances.

There’s a reason managers almost always need to spend significant time in the industry before they take the position: There’s a lot to know. Starting at the bottom is a common way to begin.

How to Become a Restaurant Manager

As previously mentioned, if you want to know how to become a restaurant manager, there are two ways in. One is to get your foot in the door and work your way up. The other is to pursue a degree in restaurant or hospitality management. Either can work, depending on your background, time, and resources.

​Working Your Way Up

Server points to menu while taking order from a couple

The most traditional way to become a restaurant manager is simply to have worked in the industry and gained significant understanding of how a restaurant functions. Generally speaking, being a restaurant manager does not require any formal education.

Many managers begin their careers in the food service industry working entry-level jobs. For example, many begin as servers, line cooks, or even dishwashers. Any foot in the door can get a person into the industry.

Once in the industry, an appetite for knowledge, clear display of responsibility, and general aptitude for learning will help identify an employee as someone deserving of a promotion. Employees who work their way up from entry-level jobs usually take a few years or more to do so.

One of the major benefits of taking this route is having significant on-the-job experience and knowing how to handle real-world scenarios. Veterans of the restaurant industry will have developed strong instincts for how to manage people as well as the business.

Often, smaller or independently run restaurants are more likely to promote from within. If you’ve been working at a restaurant and know the owner, be sure to mention you’re interested in moving up the food chain if you do want a promotion. Often, displaying ambition can be enough to get yourself noticed — displaying aptitude on top of it can get you promoted.

Pursuing a Formal Education in Hospitality

How to become a restaurant manager: Woman holds documents and smiles at camera

Investing in an education in hospitality can give you a big leg up on competition, if you have the time and resources to do so. Having a bachelor’s degree or even an associate’s degree in the field can prepare you for a restaurant manager job at a high level. Many fine dining restaurants, resorts, upscale hotels, or similar will try to hire those with a degree in the industry.

Plenty of universities around the United States offer degrees in restaurant management, and local community colleges do as well.

One of the key benefits of having a degree in restaurant management is understanding the theoretical side of the business. You’ll know the lingo backwards and forwards before you even begin your job, so you will have already wrapped your head around the complex inner workings.

Many of these programs will offer internships to gain real-life experience in the industry. While the academic side can be very important, the program should complement hands-on knowledge rather than attempt to replace it.

No Replacement for a Good Manager

One thing is clear: A good restaurant needs a good manager. While some restaurants may be small enough for the owner to double as the manager, eventually wearing too many hats leads to exhaustion. In that case, delegation becomes absolutely necessary.

When a restaurant has a talented manager, it can run like clockwork. Take away that key element, however, and suddenly things can go haywire quickly. Losing a manager or even having one call in sick can be devastating to a restaurant.

At least, until recently. The beacon on the horizon that is starting to save plenty of restaurants in a pinch is Pared.

Pared’s app connects people in the food service industry and makes finding help — and getting found — easy. Got a manager out sick? Find one on Pared. Need extra servers? Pared’s got you covered. When you use the Pared app, you can find the staff you need in as little as two hours. And they’re vetted and ready to go.

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