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Movin' Up: A Look at Restaurant Career Paths

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Zachary Fagenson
Restaurant manager in kitchen
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Despite what some say, the restaurant industry remains full of opportunity. Foodservice revenue is expected to surpass $997 billion in 2023. At the same time, staffing shortages and rising wages present a wide variety of opportunities for dedicated hospitality professionals who want to make a difference to guests and their companies’ bottom lines.  

The restaurant biz is unique because it’s one of the few remaining meritocracies left. While other industries have certification and educational hurdles, anyone can start at an entry-level position in a restaurant and, with the right mindset, work their way into the industry’s upper echelons. Not only is food media filled with stories of dishwashers and bussers who’ve gone on to success, but there’s also a good chance the people running your town’s favorite restaurant have worked every job in the business.   

Get Started  

No matter where you’re starting in the restaurant industry and where you hope to go, there are a core set of skills and characteristics restaurant professionals must develop, maintain, and grow throughout their careers. These include a passion for service and hospitality and complementary skills like patience, tenacity, and problem-solving. Restaurant companies want team players at all levels of the business and people who can champion and grow culture and share it with guests.   

“Focused on giving each customer a great experience, restaurant team members can offer service and hospitality everywhere in the restaurant, including front and back-of-house and in the drive-thru. With many opportunities to grow, entry-level team Member roles can be a great place to start at a Chick-fil-A restaurant.”  

The same dedication to Chick-fil-A customers, albeit with different tasks, is in the role descriptions for both restaurant managers and even directors.  

Move Up  

After excelling in direct, guest-facing roles, top-performing staff might be offered the opportunity to move into management roles with more responsibility. The speed of promotion in restaurants is often far faster than in other industries. According to the National Restaurant Association’s Education Foundation, the average experience needed for a kitchen manager is a bit less than two and a half years.  

The first promotion could be to that of a shift leader or, depending on your organization, to a kitchen, bar, or restaurant manager. Below, find a brief description of the responsibility and skills involved in each:  

Restaurant Manager  

A restaurant manager is responsible for everything from onboarding and overseeing staff to payroll, inventory, healthy and safety compliance, event and daily special planning, and restaurant promotion. In addition to high customer service skills, restaurant managers must be adept at communicating with everyone, from the most entry-level employees to vendors and general managers. Restaurant managers must be able to multitask while paying attention to details, promoting a positive team atmosphere, and setting and achieving goals.  

Kitchen Manager  

A great kitchen manager or chef is a skilled, innovative cook and a leader who can thrive under extreme pressure. A kitchen manager is the GM’s back-of-house (BOH) eyes and ears, alerting them of any challenges occurring or about to happen. They are also the face of the kitchen to the rest of the location and lead on purchasing, kitchen equipment management, and menu development. The most effective kitchen managers are strong leaders in a fast-moving environment and are also patient teachers dedicated to building up the skills of individuals and the overall team. They are not only detail-oriented when overseeing food production but can closely monitor food and labor costs and implement strategies to reduce them. 

Bar Manager  

While bars are a place for fun or the boisterous heart of the restaurant, there is also a tremendous amount of responsibility in running them due to the high value of beer, wine, and spirits, as well as the risk of theft or other impropriety. Bar managers must be strong leaders who ensure guests and staff behave responsibly while hitting revenue targets, creating consistently excellent guest experiences, and managing staff and logistics. Bar managers have the added responsibility of following local liquor regulations. Among the most critical skills for bar managers are building and maintaining a team and an atmosphere of teamwork, persevering and managing through challenging situations, often in succession, and managing inventory, reporting, and ordering while building strong relationships with vendors.   

The General  

General and Assistant General Managers oversee the functional managers, the entire restaurant, and its success. These positions require a combination of the above operational and leadership skills and the ability to delegate tasks critical to the restaurant’s success to other leaders. GMs and AGMs must excel in restaurant math, data management, and analysis to control costs and meet sales goals. They are the final point of resolution for any customer and employee issues and are the primary line of communication between the restaurant and corporate leadership, owners, or operators.   

Go Further  

Up to this point, we’ve outlined what can be considered a traditional, front-of-house career path. This is by no means the only path available in the restaurant industry. In addition to various levels of FOH management, rising restaurant stars can pivot based on interest. A manager adept at hiring, onboarding, training, and leading other staff can consider working their way into the HR function of a growing restaurant group. Managers skilled and efficient with inventory, ordering, and understanding how to control costs might consider working toward becoming a leader in procurement, purchasing, or a back-office finance role to dive deep into the numbers to help store-level managers improve profitability.   


Dedication to creating unforgettable guest experiences and being a high-performing team member are paramount for restaurant professionals, regardless of role. In recent years, a third skill has become equally important: familiarity with restaurant technology and a willingness to use it to grow margins and profits while improving operational efficiency. While the industry was once entirely conducted with pen and paper, those pale blue notepads with “guest check” written in red at the top of each piece of paper have become a thing of the past. With seamless online ordering, advanced point-of-sale (POS) systems, and integrated, cloud-based Restaurant Enterprise Management platforms, much of the guesswork around prime cost has been eliminated. Restaurant professionals that embrace technology will be the foundation of companies that can profitably create incredible guest experiences regardless of the industry’s greater trends and challenges.