By 2027 there will be 1.6 million new restaurant jobs added to the 14.7 million people currently working in the industry today. Of the current employees, nine out of 10 managers got to their positions by starting at entry-level. That means that there’s plenty of opportunity for those at the bottom to work their way up and become a restaurant manager in the growing industry workforce.
If you’re curious about how to get there, here’s the general restaurant manager career path from the bottom of the totem pole to management.
As you move through all of these positions, you’ll gain the skills and experience necessary to fulfill all of your future restaurant manager duties. While starting at entry-level can be difficult, the best managers know and understand every facet of their restaurant, including how the meals get made to how the restaurant POS software works on both the front and back end. Plus, managers are often tasked with jumping into various roles—everything from prepping to bartending—on busy nights.
The best ones become that way by truly knowing how to do it all.
How Important is Education?
When it comes to becoming a restaurant manager, there aren’t any specific education requirements. While most managers have at least a high school diploma, and many have graduated college with degrees in hospitality, it’s not at all unheard of for someone who didn’t finish high school to start at the bottom of the restaurant food chain and work their way up to management, or even own their own restaurant.
As Study.com explains, “Although many restaurant managers are trained on the job and are promoted from another position, a postsecondary degree or college coursework is becoming a preference among employers. Many restaurant chains offer their own training programs.”
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What Does Managing a Restaurant Entail?
Before we dive into exploring how to become a restaurant manager, it’s important to start with a clear understanding of what, exactly, it is that a restaurant manager does in the first place. It might seem like the job is easy and straightforward from the outside, or perhaps even from a server’s perspective, but there’s more to it than meets the eye.
Study.com also explains that “restaurant managers oversee the day-to-day operations of a food service organization, including ordering food and supplies, providing customer service, managing staff and planning menus.” Restaurant managers have to be both business-minded and manage operations and the budget, or risk running out of funds to keep the restaurant open. Then, there’s the softer skill of customer service that requires excellent people skills to keep customers, especially the disgruntled ones, happy and ready to come back again and again. There’s also managing what can seem like an ever-evolving team of bartenders and servers, from putting the schedule together to executing performance reviews, and much in between.
If you see restaurant management as just bossing employees around and counting money at the end of the night, you’re mistaken. Managing a restaurant is the blending of a deep skill set that many acquire after working their way up through all of the other positions in a restaurant that fall under the management umbrella.
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Many Restaurant Manager Career Paths Start at the Entry Level: Host, Server, Prep Cook, or Dishwasher
Depending on whether you start out in the front of the house or back of the house, you’ll either start in a host or server position, or a prep cook or dishwasher position, respectively. In these positions, you’ll gain perspective into how the foundational elements of a restaurant work. Serving, for example, gives deep insight into the guest experience, while dishwashing allows you to be present in the kitchen and a part of the food preparation process.
Restaurant management might seem like the job is easy and straightforward from the outside, or perhaps even from a server’s perspective, but there’s more to it than meets the eye.
Also, these positions lay the groundwork for understanding one of the most critical elements in a restaurant: team dynamics. The front of the house and back of the house have to find ways to work together, and the various positions have to work in harmony to keep processes flowing and customers happy. There are certain soft skills, like the ability to collaborate and communicate, that can make or break how good of a team player someone is. Starting out at these entry-level positions is where managers get their first chance to learn.
The Next Step on the Restaurant Career Ladder is Mid-Level: Bar or Service Manager
Once you have mastered the basics of what makes a restaurant tick, the next step is a mid-level position that begins to build management foundations. The responsibility increases here as you’re tasked with managing small teams, configuring schedules, and opening and closing duties. Mid-level positions are the place where managers are still in touch with the lower levels of a restaurant, but begin to learn how to orchestrate the higher up requirements at the same time.
The Restaurant Career Path Continues onto Low-Level Management: Assistant General Manager
The next step up is assistant manager, which is where most people make the switch from hourly to salaried employees, and benefits become part of the discussion. However, this is often the most challenging step on the way to the ultimate goal because the hours can be brutal and the level of responsibility can be daunting. Expect to come in early and stay late most days and don’t be surprised if your relationships with your friends at lower levels begin to change as you advance up the restaurant management food chain, but the good part is that you’re almost there.
Finally, the Goal of Careers in Restaurant Management: General Manager or Owner
General management or ownership is the terminal position in most restaurants—you can’t get much higher unless you go the corporate route and move into a role like regional manager. At this level, all of the responsibility is on you—you’re in charge of everything from business decisions to the entire staff and everything in between. After years of hard work, you’re finally running the show when you get to one of these positions.
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