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Culinary Careers: Spotlight on Cafeteria Managers

Cafeteria Manager CareersCafeteria managers are food service managers who work specifically in cafeterias. Though when you hear cafeteria, you might automatically think of a stereotypical lunch lady in a hair net with orthopedic shoes serving unrecognizable Salisbury steak with instant mash, cafeteria managers are the people who are responsible for purchasing the beef, planning the menu, and much more.

What Does a Cafeteria Manager Do?

Much like other food service management positions, cafeteria managers are the people who deal with the business operations of cafeterias, sometimes called limited-service dining rooms. Cafeteria managers handle the hiring and training of all food preparation and service staff, as well as the custodial staff. These managers handle the schedule, supervising, and payroll of all employees, as well as all sales activities, cash deposits, and financial reports. They may also be responsible for marketing, advertising, and creating special promotions.

Additionally, cafeteria managers must maintain a healthy and safe environment that meets all state and local health codes. Because food in cafeterias is typically not made to order, cafeteria managers are responsible for strict observance of food sanitation and safety standards. This includes pest control.

Cafeteria managers are also responsible for both the kitchen and the food, which may include:

  • Supervising all food service methods and practices
  • Creating a varied and successful menu
  • Estimating the amount of food and supplies needed and maintaining the proper inventory
  • Ordering and receiving food and supplies
  • Analyzing the cost of recipes and menus to ensure that costs don't exceed the budget

Depending on the cafeteria, managers might have additional responsibilities. For example, managers of school cafeterias might be responsible for updating data in a food service management software program, which includes the administration of free and reduced school lunch programs, publishing of menus, and reporting. You also may be called upon to interact with students and provide food and or nutritional education. Cafeteria managers might also be responsible for strictly implementing a set of minimal nutritional standards with the help of a registered dietitian, as for school and hospital cafeterias.

Cafeteria managers jobs can be found in:

    • Elementary, middle, and high schools
    • Colleges and universities
    • Hospitals and medical centers
    • Private companies
    • Factories
    • Hotels
    • Casinos
    • Cruise ships
    • Cafeteria-style dining establishments

    Cafeteria managers at schools or office offices tend to work daytime hours during the regular work week. This may not be true for managers at institutions, such as hospitals, that are open throughout the day and evenings, weekends, and holidays.

      How Will Formal Education Help You Become a Cafeteria Manager?

      Though many cafeteria manager jobs only require demonstrated work experience in a kitchen or in food service management, some positions may require formal education. Job descriptions for cafeteria managers typically require the following skills, so you may need to take some classes and aim for a combination of practical experience and education:

      • Leadership and supervisory skills
      • Interpersonal and customer service skills
      • Ability to read and write in English
      • Ability to add, subtract, multiply, and divide
      • Ability to use math to calculate and convert units of weight and volume

      Though you may not find specific cafeteria manager degree programs, degrees in culinary arts, nutrition, or hospitality management are usually acceptable. You can also find food service management programs at two- and four-year schools as well as through online schools. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that more than 1,000 universities and colleges have bachelor's degree programs in institutional food service or restaurant management. Some schools even have traditional or online graduate school  programs in hospitality management.

      Most cafeteria manager positions require some sort of food safety certification, such as the Food Protection Manager Certification (FPMC). This certification program ensures that you learn the proper food safety and sanitation techniques required to keep your cafeteria healthy.There is also cafeteria manager-specific training for pest management. This type of training would help you to identify infestations in deliveries and in your storage areas, give you methods for preventing infestations, and teach you the best way to keep pest control records.

      What Is the Job Outlook for Cafeteria Managers?

      In 2008, limited-service establishments, such as cafeterias, cafes, and sandwich shops, made up 47 percent of all establishments and accounted for 43 percent of all restaurant industry jobs. Though no job outlook figures are available from the BLS specifically for cafeterias, most new jobs projected for the decade between 2008 and 2018 are expected to be in limited-service eating places and full-service restaurants. Employment growth is also expected in elder care facilities and health care establishments in general, many of which have cafeterias.

      The impact of the economic recession on cafeteria management positions is hard to estimate. Though National Restaurant Association doesn't give cafeteria-specific statistics, the organization forecasts overall growth in the restaurant industry for 2010. Because many school districts across the country had to layoff school support staff because of budget cuts, it's more than likely that cafeteria manager jobs were affected.

      Average Cafeteria Manager Salary

      Though the BLS doesn't collect salary data specifically for cafeteria managers, it does collect data for limited-service food service managers. On average, these managers made $41,320 per year, the hourly equivalent of around $20 (all salary data from BLS, May 2009).

      August 2010 PayScale.com data (which is self-reported) by users indicates that cafeteria managers make between $9.56 and $15.54 per hour ($20,077-$32,323 a year). These ranges are consistent with the salaries posted in job descriptions from August 2010. An elementary cafeteria manager in Virginia can make between $10 and $20 an hour ($21,989-$42,245 annually). In Massachusetts, a full-time high school cafeteria manager position pays $16.20 per hour ($33,696 a year).

      Overall, becoming a cafeteria manager requires you to have good administrative and supervisory skills and some kitchen or food service experience. If you like the benefits of a slightly more predictable food service management career, then you could be ready to take the reins and manage a cafeteria.

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