What is a Food Service Management Degree?

Food service managers oversee the operation of restaurants and other venues that serve food and beverages. Degrees in the field are targeted at individuals who wish to combine their passion for food with an interest in managing a food-related business.

The typical curriculum consists of instruction in developing a profitable food service concept, writing a business plan, and marketing a venture to a target audience. Students learn how to troubleshoot restaurant and bar management issues concerning operations and staffing, how to analyze trends, and how to make changes to keep a food service business profitable.

Many programs focus exclusively on the business aspects of food service management. Others incorporate classes in the culinary arts – the arts of preparing, cooking, and presenting food to make it as pleasing to the eyes as it is to the taste buds.

Program Options

Certificate in Food Service Management – Four to Six Month Duration
Certificate programs teach only subjects in the major. They are focused exclusively on the various aspects of food service management.

Associate Degree in Food Service Management – One to Two Year Duration
Food service management degree programs at the associate level normally combine lecture classes in the major with an internship experience, as well as some core courses in mathematics, English composition, and the social sciences.

Bachelor’s Degree in Food Service Management – Three to Four Year Duration
The food service management bachelor’s degree is the most comprehensive credential in the field. Programs at this level typically incorporate macroeconomics and microeconomics courses, as well as a more extensive practicum/internship component. Some schools offer a combined curriculum in culinary arts and food service management. Graduates with a Bachelor’s Degree in Food Service Management qualify for supervisory and management positions.

Despite the differences described above, all food service management programs are built around the following courses in the major:

  • Accounting for Hospitality Service Organizations – accounting theory and practices as they apply to hospitality and food service operations, revenue and expense accounting, inventory systems, accounting for assets and liabilities, property and equipment accounting, sales forecasting
  • Financial Management for Hospitality Service Organizations – how to use accounting information to analyze and measure the efficiency and profitability of hospitality service organizations; budgets, balance sheets, cost analysis, cost-volume-profit relationships, cash flow, financing
  • Hospitality Law – examination of the hospitality industry legal and regulatory environment, contracts, service of food and alcohol, guest relations, employer-employee relations, liabilities
  • Food and Beverage Technology and Application Systems – analysis and management technologies affecting the food and beverage industry
  • Food Service and Hospitality Strategic Marketing – analysis, structure, and strategy of hospitality and food service marketing; allocation of resources; market research, positioning, product mix, and life cycle; selecting media; marketing and promotion plans
  • Advanced Food and Beverage Operations and Planning – concept creation; menu planning, pricing, layout, and design; operational strategy and staffing; equipment systems, product and people flows, kitchen and interior design; fiscal accountability
  • Food and Beverage Strategies and Logistics – managerial decision-making in the food and beverage industry, consideration of market conditions, the food and beverage supply chain
  • Human Resources Management in Service Organizations – human resource management best practices, recruiting, interviewing, selection, orientation and training, performance evaluation, discipline, termination, employee and union relations
  • Food Safety – food handling and safety procedures; food safety courses often lead to ServSafe certification, administered by the US National Restaurant Association
  • Beverage and Wine – wine, spirits, beer, mixology, non-alcoholic drinks, bar design, wine tasting, proper alcohol service

Degrees Similar to Food Service Management

Brewing Science
Degree programs in brewing science teach the science – and the art – of making beer. The typical curriculum focuses on the raw materials and ingredients of beer, recipe formulation, identifying different styles of beer, analyzing and evaluating quality, production technologies and processes, the business of beer, and the history of beer.

Business Administration
Business administration includes overseeing finances, staffing, and contract negotiations. A business administration degree program, therefore, teaches students how to plan, organize, and direct all the activities of an organization.

Culinary Arts
Culinary arts are the arts of preparing, cooking, and presenting food. Food that is as pleasing to the eyes as it is to the taste buds is the goal of the culinary artist. Degree programs in the field prepare students for a variety of roles within the food and hospitality arenas. The typical curriculum covers professional cooking techniques, world cuisines, how to balance flavors, food aesthetics, and menu planning.

Event Planning
Event planners plan and execute events of all kinds and all sizes. Event planning certificate and degree programs cover the diverse logistical components of the profession. Students learn about contract negotiation, site selection, transportation and activities logistics, food and beverage planning, venue and décor selection, guest speaker and entertainment bookings, event registration, event marketing, meetings and events budget management, and on-site operations.

Hospitality Management
Degree programs in hospitality management teach students how to operate hotels, restaurants, and other businesses that serve business travelers and vacationers. Coursework may vary from one curriculum to another, depending on whether the program offers general hospitality management training or is focused on a specialty area, such as travel agency operations, restaurant management, or hotel management.

Hotel Management
Degree programs in hotel management prepare students for careers as managers of hotels, motels, resorts, and other lodging businesses. The typical curriculum includes an internship, during which students have an opportunity to work in the field and learn from seasoned professionals. This hands-on experience is preceded by coursework in areas such as human resource management and hospitality operations, sales, marketing, and accounting.

Skills You’ll Learn

By its nature, the food service industry is about customer service, the customer experience, and handling unexpected situations. Therefore, perhaps more than in any other business sector, soft skills are very much sought after by employers. It follows, then, that food service management programs include the teaching of such skills as part of their curriculum. Graduates typically come away from their studies with these skills:

  • Capacity to accept criticism
  • Communication and relationship building
  • Confidence
  • Creativity
  • Customer service
  • Decision making
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Extraordinary attention to detail
  • Leadership
  • Multi-tasking
  • Networking
  • Organization
  • Physical stamina
  • Problem-solving
  • Resilience
  • Self-awareness
  • Self confidence
  • Stress management, composure, and troubleshooting
  • Team and operations management
  • Teamwork
  • Time management

What Can You Do with a Food Service Management Degree?

As described below, food service management graduates work in various food service environments. Some of the titles they commonly hold are restaurant manager, catering manager, food service manager, and food and beverage director.

Restaurants and Cafés
For most people, this is the business sector which immediately comes to mind when thinking about employment opportunities for food service management graduates. Serving, bartending, supervisory and management are among the possible roles.

Hotels, Resorts, Casinos, and Bed-and-Breakfasts
Opportunities for food service management graduates exist with the food and beverage outlets of hotel chains, independent boutique hotels, business hotels, apartment hotels, casino hotels, resorts, and bed-and-breakfast properties. In the case of large hotels or resorts, positions may be responsible for more than one restaurant, bar, or café.

Cruise Ships and Luxury Rail Services
Growth in the cruise ship industry shows no signs of slowing down. Ships are getting bigger and bigger and often boast 10 or more restaurants on board, presenting opportunities at various levels of food service and food and beverage management – along with the fringe benefit of traveling the globe. Luxury rail services worldwide are also employers of food service management grads.

Food Sourcing and Purchasing / Menu Development
This forager role is sometimes an independent one – especially with large operations – or can be part of the chef, executive chef, or owner/manager role.

Event Venues / Catering Services
Cultural centers and banquet halls sometimes maintain independent food service staff. In some cases, they hire food service professionals on a contract / per event basis, making this particular option a good choice for freelancers in the field.

Private Clubs
Private clubs such as golf clubs, tennis clubs, and business clubs can benefit from the skills and knowledge gained by food service management graduates.

Luxury Retirement / Senior Living Homes
In many ways, luxury retirement and senior living homes operate like luxury hotels and resorts. Fine dining, of course, is part of this sector.

Large Corporate Offices
Some prestigious law firms and other well-established corporations maintain in-house kitchens and dining rooms that serve employees and clients. While this is a small niche sector, it does create some additional jobs in the food service field, especially in large urban centers that are home to big business and corporate head offices.

Private Yachts
This is another high-end niche sector. While it may first appear as extremely glamorous, it is important to note that positions aboard private yachts are very demanding and typically involve long hours and unexpected requests from the yacht contractor/client.


Find out what graduates typically earn.

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