Going out to eat, whether to try a new restaurant or frequent an old standby, is one of America’s favorite past times – and it wouldn’t be possible without the skilled restaurant managers who (mostly) work behind the scenes to make diners’ experience memorable. If you have spent time waiting tables or preparing dishes in the kitchen, you may have considered pursuing a career managing a restaurant. You have come to love the atmosphere and culture of food, and you just know you could run an establishment better than anyone. To get the chance to prove it, though, you’re going to need to cultivate an arsenal of skills, probably through some combination of restaurant work experience and education.

restaurant manager degreeIMAGE SOURCE: Pixabay, public domain

Restaurant Manager Education Levels

Before you jump right into your college search, it’s wise to consider what kind of education is actually expected for a restaurant manager, as well as for other high-level roles in a restaurant environment.

The Most Common Education Levels Reported for Restaurant Managers

Restaurant managers are part of the occupational group of food service managers. This profession encompasses managers in all types of restaurants ranging from fast food establishments to fine-dining restaurants, as well as in banquet halls and the cafeterias and other food service facilities found in settings like office buildings, factories and schools. Job titles like kitchen manager, food and beverage director, catering manager, banquet manager and restaurant general manager all fit into this occupation.

Among food service managers, having a college degree at all is somewhat uncommon. More than half of food service managers reported a high school diploma as their highest level of education, according to O*NET. Another 15 percent of the occupation didn’t even finish high school. A completed college degree at any level is not even in the top three most common levels of education for this career path, although 18 percent of food service managers reported having completed some college studies without finishing a degree.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go to college, especially if your goal is to become a restaurant manager at an upscale restaurant, resort or hotel. These employers are the ones most likely to be impressed by, or to even require, a post-secondary education. Having a college education can help you grow your skills and learn the underlying concepts that inform the best, most effective practices in the restaurant industry.

The Most Common Education Levels Reported for Chefs

There are other high-level roles in a restaurant, as well. For example, an executive chef is in charge of the operations of the kitchen, including overseeing and coordinating the work of food preparation professionals, as well as tasks such as planning the restaurant’s menu and training kitchen employees, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Chefs and head cooks are more likely to have some sort of college or post-secondary education. More than half of chefs and head cooks hold an associate’s degree, according to O*NET. Post-secondary certificates are the educational program of choice for 17 percent of the field, and 10 percent of chefs have a bachelor’s degree.

Education expectations are lower for first-line supervisors in food preparation – like food service supervisors, food production supervisors and cafeteria managers – than for restaurant managers. According to O*NET, 44 percent of first-line supervisors reported a high school diploma as their highest level of education, and 37 percent of the occupation has less than a high school diploma. 

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Restaurant Manager?

There is nothing wrong with on-the-job training. Many restaurant managers start out in entry-level cook or waitstaff roles working for a fast-food establishment or even a corporate chain restaurant. As they gain experience and prove themselves, they can move up in the company. Although aspiring restaurant workers can gain some practical skills this way, going to college may be necessary to enhance these skills to their full potential. If you do decide to go to college in preparation for a restaurant management career, you might choose to major in an area like hospitality management or business administration.

Hospitality Management Restaurant Manager Degree Options

Majoring in an area of hospitality management can help you develop skills and experience for restaurant management. The field of hospitality management is closely related to business and may encompass areas like tourism, event management, luxury hospitality management, hotel management and restaurant management. A general hospitality major program might include classes in food and beverage management and operations, hotel management, legal aspects of hospitality and tourism, marketing for the hospitality industry, human resource management for the hospitality industry and financial accounting for the hospitality industry.  In the course of earning a hospitality management degree, you will learn when and how to delegate tasks to your staff, develop the skills to make important decisions regarding the financial health of the hospitality business and gain an understanding of the most marketable trends in the food and beverage industry.

Often, students in a hospitality management program can customize their education with their selection of elective courses or by pursuing a formal academic concentration. For aspiring restaurant managers, some of the most relevant elective courses may include bar and beverage management, food and beverage cost control, food safety management and compliance, planning and design of food service facilities and restaurant management principles and practices. An important part of any hospitality degree program is developing hands-on skills. While you can cultivate these skills through internship placements with outside restaurants, hotels and other hospitality organizations, students also have the opportunity to train for their future careers in student-run restaurants. The students learning, training and working in these restaurants develop a range of skills, including planning the menu, preparing and serving the food and handling the administrative responsibilities of keeping the restaurant’s operations on track.

Hospitality management degree programs exist at all levels of college study, from certificates and associate’s degrees to four-year bachelor’s degrees and even graduate degrees. You can find these programs at a variety of institutions, from humble community colleges to prestigious universities.

Business Degrees for Restaurant Managers

Although your focus may be on the restaurant industry, many of the skills involved in managing a restaurant are also relevant to managing a business in general. Some restaurant managers opt to pursue a more general degree in business administration or business management, especially if they already have considerable restaurant work experience. In this case, you already have a good handle on the food service industry and the practical skills required for success in this industry, but you need to become educated on the business side of a restaurant management role, including both the concepts and the practical skills used in administration.

A business administration degree program is a good option for aspiring restaurant managers because it provides a broad foundation in business, as well as the option to pursue a greater depth of knowledge in an area of concentration. The core coursework found in a business administration curriculum will typically encompass classes in accounting, finance, economics, business law and ethics, marketing, human resources and management. Some of the best concentrations for aspiring restaurant managers to consider include specialized restaurant management or hospitality management specializations or more general concentrations in management, human resources, marketing or accounting.

Bachelor’s in Business Administration (BBA) degrees are offered at both the associate and bachelor’s degree levels. A bachelor’s degree also opens the door to get a Master of Business Administration (MBA) later down the road if you so choose.

Whether at a student-run restaurant or in an internship placement at an established eatery, interning is not the same as working your way up from fry cook. You may perform some of the same job duties as non-student restaurant employees, but you are simply gaining hands-on training in all areas while you acquire the leadership skills you will need for managing upscale restaurants in the future.

What Degree Do You Need to Own a Restaurant?

Being a manager doesn’t necessarily mean that you call all the shots in the restaurant. You may handle the day-to-day operations, but big-picture decisions and approvals still have to come from the restaurant’s owner. What many aspiring restaurant managers really want to be is a restaurateur, a professional who owns and runs a restaurant, including serving as the restaurant’s chef.

Restaurant Owner Education Requirements

If you want to become a restaurateur, your best bet is to start out by pursuing the education of a chef. You’re going to need culinary skills to get started working as a chef in established restaurants and to eventually develop the expertise needed to design a menu and prepare the dishes at your own restaurant. Culinary arts programs are offered at specialized culinary arts schools, but they also exist at technical schools, community colleges and four-year colleges.

In a culinary arts degree program, you can expect to start your studies with coursework in culinary fundamentals, including food safety, sanitation, food product identification, ingredient pairing, palate development, culinary math and knife skills. Students in a culinary arts program learn about the cooking of different dishes and ingredients, including meat, poultry, seafood, soups, sauces, salads, sandwiches, vegetables, grains, hors d’oeuvres and appetizers. Culinary arts students learn and practice a variety of cooking methods, including dry-heat cooking skills like grilling, roasting, frying and sautéing, as well as moist-heat cooking methods like braising, stewing and steaming. They learn to bake and prepare a variety of classic and contemporary desserts as well as to cook a variety of regional dishes, including Italian, French and Asian dishes.

Managing is no easy task. You’re dealing with a lot of pressure from both customers and staff alike. An average day could bring inpatient vendors at the back kitchen door with a weeks’ worth of produce, an angry Yelp reviewer to satisfy, and a flaky no-show hostess on your busiest Saturday of the month – but you still need to have a positive attitude and excellent communication skills.

Employment With a Restaurant Management Education

Depending on your exact role in restaurant management and the food service establishment you work in, your position as a restaurant manager may encompass a diverse array of job responsibilities. They oversee staffing, including hiring and training new workers for all areas of the restaurant’s operations and scheduling shifts. They order the equipment and supplies needed for the restaurant and the food and beverage ingredients required to make the dishes. Restaurant managers are involved in administrative tasks like budgeting, payroll and employment paperwork. They also handle tasks specific to the restaurant industry, like supervising the preparation of dishes and inspecting work areas, cleaning, maintenance and kitchen practices to ensure compliance with food safety regulations.

Although their primary job is to oversee and manage the restaurant’s operations, rather than to prepare food and wait tables themselves, the restaurant manager is responsible for keeping things running smoothly. Good restaurant managers are willing to jump in and personally assist with tasks that include seating and serving customers, cleaning tables and processing payments. If any customer complaints arise about service or food quality, addressing the complaint and resolving the problem to the customer’s satisfaction are part of the restaurant manager’s responsibilities.

It may seem obvious that restaurant managers would work in restaurants, but there are some nuances to be aware of. Nearly half of food service managers – 47 percent, as of 2020 – reported working in general restaurants and eating places, according to the BLS. Another 35 percent of food service managers are self-employed in their own restaurants. Other top-employing industries for food service managers include special food services, which accounts for 3 percent of the occupational, and accommodation, which employs 2 percent of this profession.

Food service managers can earn salaries well above the median wage for all occupations. The median salary for all food service managers was $56,590 as of 2020, according to the BLS. The small percentage of food service managers who work in the accommodation industry report the highest earnings, with a median wage of $67,090. While the lowest-paid food service managers reported salaries below $33,880, the highest-paid workers in this occupation made more than $94,770 per year.

Job opportunities for restaurant managers are growing rapidly. For the 2020 through 2030 decade, the BLS has predicted that jobs for food service managers will increase by a much faster than average rate of 15 percent, culminating in 46,200 new opportunities. 

Additional Resources 

Which Is Better for Getting a Job as a Restaurant Manager: Experience or a Hospitality Degree?

What Is Hospitality Management?

What Kind of Jobs Are Available to Someone With a Hospitality Management Degree?