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Culinary Careers: Spotlight on Food Services Directors

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Though chefs sometimes get all the glory, any one who has watched Kitchen Nightmares knows that a restaurant cannot run without good management. The same can be said for all organizations that serve food--not just restaurants. It's the job of the food services director to make sure that all aspects of the food service business run smoothly.

What Does a Food Services Director Do?

Food services directors, or managers, are the business managers. On the business end of things, they hire and fire employees and deal with payroll and training issues. On a day-to-day basis, food service managers are responsible for opening and closing a kitchen and making sure equipment is clean and in good repair. In the food service industry, managers must meet health department codes and adhere to local liquor regulations, so they must stay up-to-date on state and local regulations. They also deal with customer concerns.

When it comes to managing both food and the kitchen, food services directors are responsible for:

  • Creating a successful menu based on customer demands and trends
  • Analyzing recipes to figure out the production cost of each menu item and pricing dishes accordingly
  • Estimating food consumption and anticipating events/trends such as Sunday Night Football or holidays
  • Placing orders for food and checking-in these deliveries
  • Coordinating with restaurant suppliers to purchase kitchen equipment, plates, silverware, and other supplies

In some food establishments, food services directors are part of the management staff, including one or more assistant managers, a separate manager for the front of the house, an executive chef who runs the kitchen operations, and sometimes a general manager. Overall, food service management is demanding, intense work that requires a 50-60 hour work week, depending on the establishment. Food service directors of institutional facilities such as school or office cafeterias tend to work daytime hours during the regular work week. This isn't true of restaurant management staff who frequently work weekends, holidays, and late evenings when people tend to dine out.

Food services director jobs can be found in:

  • School cafeterias
  • Office or factory cafeterias
  • Hospitals
  • Hotels
  • Fine dining restaurants
  • Family dining restaurants
  • Fast-food restaurants
  • Banquet halls

How Will Formal Education Help You Become a Food Services Director?

Though some people learn to be a food services director from working in the kitchen and promoting up, others choose formal education.Typically, food services director education includes instruction in food planning and preparation, nutrition, sanitation, business law and management, accounting, and computer science. Some programs may require culinary labs or on-the-job experience through internships.

Hospitality management and culinary schools offer two- and four-year restaurant or food service management programs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), almost 1,000 universities and colleges offer bachelor's degree programs in institutional food service or restaurant and hotel management programs. More and more schools are also offering graduate degrees in similar fields. Also, many more educational institutions, such as community colleges and technical institutes, offer associate's degrees to become a food services director. Lastly, the number crunching business side of the business lends itself to distance learning, so consider online food services director degree programs as well.

Some food services directors opt for Foodservice Management Professional (FMP) certification, though the BLS notes that such certification isn't a requirement for advancement. To qualify for FMP certification, you must have three years of management experience in food services or a restaurant. If you have a least an associate's degree in hospitality or business, you're only required to have two years of experience. You also need to earn the Food Protection Manager Certification (FPMC), which ensures that food services directors know proper sanitation and food safety techniques. Both FMP and FPMC certifications require you to pass an exams.

What Is the Job Outlook for Food Services Directors?

As of May 2009, the BLS reported that 190,000 food services managers were employed, though 2008 numbers show a much higher number (338,700). Projections for employment between 2008 and 2018 show an expected growth of 5 percent, or 18,000 jobs, which is more slowly than average compared to other jobs. Self-employment is expect to account for 40 percent of all new food services director jobs.

Overall, growth is expected to vary by industry. Jobs in health care or elder care facilities are expected to increase. The BLS notes, "Most new jobs will be in full-service restaurants and limited service eating places."

Though the National Restaurant Association doesn't give statistics specifically on jobs for food services directors, it does give an idea how the recession affected the restaurant industry overall and the projects for 2010. While the restaurant industry has been hit hard in recent years, 2010 is expected to be the strongest of year since 2008 and shows gradual improvement. Job growth picks up again in 2010 and the restaurant industry is expected to gain 1.3 million jobs by 2020.

Average Food Services Director Salary

Like most jobs, jobs for food service directors vary by locations and by industry--as does the pay. On average, food services directors made $51,400 per year, the average hourly equivalent of $24.71 (all salary data from BLS, May 2009). The types of establishments employing the most people include:

  • Limited-service eating places (e.g., coffee shops) employed over 67,000 food service directors making an average of $45,370
  • Full-service restaurants employed over 65,000 food service managers with an average salary of $53,750
  • Special food services provided over 11,000 food service director jobs, with an average salary of $56,460
  • Over 7,500 food services directors were employed by hotels and other traveler accommodations and made an average of $60,630
  • Elementary and secondary schools employed 6,750 food services directors making an average of just under $50,000

The top 10 percent of food services directors made over $78,910, and the bottom 10 percent took home under $29,810. Industries that pay food service managers the most--although they don't employ very many--include:

  • Grocery wholesalers: $91,130
  • Accounting and related services: $77,510
  • Amusement parks and arcades: $69,840
  • General medical hospitals: $68,940
  • Specialty hospitals (excluding psychiatric and substance rehab): $68,010

Overall, becoming a food services director requires that you be calm and flexible and able to coordinate many different things at once. If this sounds like a challenge you're up to, then you could be ready for a career (and education) that blends food know-how with business sense.

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