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Restaurant Manager-Career Path


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My apologies if there are threads with this sort of info discussed in detail... I haven't been able to find any with my best efforts on the search engine yet.

What sort of career path could someone wanting to become a restaurant manager be able to expect?

I realize that it's different for everyone given work/education experience. I have a BFA in a relatively useless field, Jazz Studies. (useless to the food world) However, my main hobby since about 16 has been food, (I'm 22) as in cooking food, reading about food/chefs/technique, thinking about food, dining wherever I can (I love my parents), dreaming about food..... you get the picture. I had long struggled with the idea of taking the plunge into the world of the cook, and have finally decided that I don't quite have the temperament for it, though I continue to cook often at home. However, I believe myself to interested in the business side, and I'm looking to get some information on how that sort of career could start.

I assume I'd need to spend at least some time waiting tables to get acquainted with the business. My work experience, sadly, though I loved the job, was not restaurant related. I spent 6 summers coaching a local swim team, 2 years of which I was the head coach. I believe the job gave me valuable work experience for pretty much any situation, but it doesn't really give me any food "street cred," or any real knowledge of the business.

Now that I've rambled enough... I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts or suggestions on how the business works, how career paths develop, anything.

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I'm in very much the same boat and recently joined the ranks of the management consulting industry. I'm proud of my newfound employment and think I'll enjoy it, but there's something about not going into your passion that seems a little bit unsettling. I tell myself that the end game is to get back into the professional food world from the business side, but this is probably short-sighted delusion. The other end game is to make mad bank and enjoy all the perks in the food world that having a lot of money affords. Again, something of a soul-crushing revelation, but life is real.

I think this thread is somewhat unique because most people ask how to get into the industry in general. It seems that you have an idea of where you want to go, likely a function of your age, and I think this is a good thing. I'm also assuming you mean high-end restaurants, not, like, Red Lobster (though as a tangential aside you may be interested in exploring corporate jobs with chains and major packaged food manufacturers). You're probably at something of a disadvantage because, as you admit bluntly, a Jazz Studies degree won't do a lot in the food world. Your lack of experience is also something of an issue. People will say just jump into the industry, getting whatever experience you can, as they do in every thread like this.

While this is undoubtedly sound advice, if you're really serious about this you should look into restaurant management classes at something like the ICE in NYC. I've heard good things about that program and without some experience at a MAJOR restaurant, getting on the path to running the floor or, better yet, a restaurant group will be very difficult. A restaurant management certificate is a nice way to at least somewhat guard against your resume being tossed into the trash after a cursory glance.

Finally, to end all this poo-pooing on a somewhat uplifting note and offer you a potential lead, I know that the Hillstone Restaurant Group has a well-structured management program. "Danny Meyer loves our interns," is what a friend of mine was told by a Hillstone recruiter. Hillstone is interesting in that it's far from fine-dining, but places a greater emphasis on quality than most other upper-middle chains.

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while school is certainly not a bad thing when it comes to management (even in restaurants), i have yet to come across a manager in a restaurant (high-end or otherwise) that has any sort of degree relating to restaurants or management.

for the most part, the managers that i know have usually moved their way up from the ranks of servers/bartenders/etc.

as a matter of fact, an acquaintance of mine from high school started out as a busboy at the sheraton waikiki and he is now the general manager of the entire hotel!

so, as bryan noted, i'm here to give you advice to at least get a job as a server to see if you like the business (trust me, the management end is not glamorous) before you spend any money on school.

today's new york times article on front of the house

p.s. hillstone restaurant group consistently has good service...across the board. their restaurants are the kind of place that my husband and i go to at least twice a month as a neighborhood place and we are always treated well. an example of how well organized they must be from the top down.

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You can't manage that which you haven't done. Go wait tables, bus, whatever, and let your skill take you upwards. I can't count the number of mgt. grads, or even just trainees, that make miserable attempts to manage positions(people) without having real time experience in the position. After having been in the industry for a few years and having a little bit of success, I chose to go work for LEY in Chicago for the management training. It was a step back financially but put me yards ahead in the management/business side.

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I think in single-establishment, standalone restaurants it's most common for managers to come up through the ranks, or to come from other similar restaurants where they came up through the ranks. Whereas, in hotel restaurants (e.g., Four Seasons) and chain restaurants (e.g., Darden) you're more likely to see managers with formal education who came up through the hospitality management programs. Indeed, if you go to a career event for, say, the University of Delaware Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management program, you'll see the recruiters from the major hotel and restaurant-chain operators there, and pretty much nobody from a single-establishment, standalone restaurant.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I jumped into restaurant management kind of sideways.

I have worked at a dinner theatre for over 6 years, starting out as a Box Office ticket agent. Then, I worked my way up to assistant manager, then manager of the Box Office.

The GM wanted me to learn all aspects of the operation, so I started shadowing the operations managers, who work as the Food and Beverage managers/ Floor managers/ general ops.

I learned first by observing, then by helping out.

Now I've been promoted to ops manager, so in addition to managing the Box Office, I work 3-4 shifts managing our restaurant.

It's more of a banquet style service, as we have a buffet, with one sitting, for 450 people, and then our show.

I have a degree in Sociocultural Anthropology, which, for restaurant management is just about as useful as Jazz studies, and now I am managing in a busy theater. I didn't work my way up the usual way, but, I can bus, serve, bartend or manage the restaurant after less than a year of working in Food and Beverage.

It took longer to earn the respect of the staff by coming at it from an administrative angle, rather than working my way up through their ranks.

Edited by Synergy (log)
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