Food Service Management Degrees: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in a food service management degree program? Read about the program requirements, the pros and cons of an associate's and bachelor's degree, and potential careers.
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Studying Food Service Management: Degrees at a Glance

Food service managers typically oversee some or all of the daily activities at a restaurant or other food establishment. You'd be in charge of staffing, inventory, scheduling, and a number of additional duties. It is fairly common for food service managers to start as servers or cooks and work their way up to a management position, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) mentions that employers prefer candidates who have undergraduate degrees for some positions.

According to the BLS, job opportunities for food service managers were expected to decline by three percent between 2010 and 2020. You'll likely face strong competition for positions at high-end restaurants, so pursuing a degree in this field could give you the edge you need, assuming you have experience to go along with your education.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals looking to get into a management position in the food service industry People wanting to become upper-level managers or directors in food service
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - Food service manager ($57,000)*
- Food and beverage manager ($51,000)*
Bachelor's degree holders are qualified for the same positions as associate's degree holders. Additionally:
- Food and beverage director ($67,000)*
- Associate food services director in a higher education institution (like a college) ($68,000)*
Time to Completion About 2 years, full-time 4 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - 12-18 food service courses
- General education courses
- Internship
- Approximately 18-25 courses related to food service and business principles
- General education courses
- Work experience/internship
Prerequisites - High school diploma or GED - High school diploma or GED
- Associate's degree may be required for admission to some bachelor's degree programs
Online Availability Not at this time (a few courses may be available online) Yes

Source: * figures as of June 2012.

Associate's Degree in Food Service Management

An associate's degree program gives you an opportunity to study a broad range of subjects in food service; you can learn about food preparation methods, food marketing, and food safety regulations. Most of the program is based on coursework, but you'll have plenty of opportunities for hands-on learning experiences, such as learning how to prepare food and how to handle a knife properly. Keep in mind that you'll need to purchase your own knives and uniforms. Upon completion of the program, you should be prepared to handle the general operations of a restaurant and be able to adapt to the current trends in food service. Since associate's degree programs often cover general business principles throughout the program, you may be able to use your skills in other industries if you choose to leave the food industry.

Pros and Cons


  • The business concepts taught in a food service management program can be used for careers outside of the food industry
  • Employers may prefer applicants who have associate's degrees over those who only have work experience
  • Most programs are designed so you can get work experience while you're in school


  • An associate's degree is rarely a hard requirement for food service management positions
  • Few elective options means you may not be able to specialize in a particular area of food service management
  • Since the market is extremely competitive, employers may favor someone with a bachelor's degree

Courses and Requirements

In addition to general education courses, you'll take up to 18 courses related to food service. Some of the courses you'll take may deal with nutrition, hospitality laws, cooking cost control, and sanitation practices. You'll also take a number of courses that cover the business aspects of the food industry, such as business mathematics, hospitality marketing, accounting, and hospitality leadership. Many schools require you to work a certain number of hours in a job directly related to food service, which may be done through an internship or a summer seminar.

Online Degree Options

Although you may have the opportunity to take a few courses in an online format, you'll have to go to campus for most of your studies. Since much of the program requires hands-on learning experiences, online courses aren't possible. If you happen to come across any programs that claim to be 100% online, make sure those programs are accredited by an agency approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the U.S. Department of Education.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

Experience is highly regarded in the food industry, so working a part-time job in a food establishment throughout your 2 years of studying can give your job search a boost when you graduate. Obtaining a certification may also give you an edge, and completing an associate's program may even reduce the amount of experience you need to qualify for some certifications. Since you may be responsible for administrative tasks, taking a few additional courses that cover computer use and business software (if offered at your school) could give you useful skills that make you more desirable to potential employers.

Bachelor's Degree in Food Service Management

A bachelor's degree can prepare you for a food service management career at a restaurant, hospital, school, resort or a number of other establishments. You'll usually have more elective options than you would in an associate's program, allowing you to focus on a particular area of food management that is most beneficial to you. Some programs are designed for students who have already obtained an associate's degree and won't admit applicants who have yet to obtain one. Business concepts are a significant part of the bachelor's degree program, giving you a well-rounded perspective of the food industry by the time you graduate.

Pros and Cons


  • May open up advancement opportunities to become a high-level manager or a director
  • Employers tend to prefer managers who have bachelor's degrees in a highly competitive job market
  • Variety of elective options means you can focus your studies on a particular area of interest in food service management


  • Takes a significant amount of time (at least 4 years) to obtain a degree that is rarely required for a management position in the food industry
  • High admission requirements compared to other bachelor's degree programs (you may need an associate's degree before you're admitted to a food service management program)
  • Time spent studying limits the amount of valuable industry experience you'll be able to obtain while in school

Common Courses and Requirements

If you're in a bachelor's program that requires you to have an associate's degree, you can expect to take about 7-10 courses in food service management and roughly 5 courses that cover business topics. You'll probably take upwards of 20 courses in food service management plus about 5 courses in business management if you're enrolled in a 4-year program. Some of the courses you might be able to take include the following:

  • Food service cost control
  • Food purchasing
  • Food and culture
  • Hospitality laws
  • Beverage appreciation
  • Nutrition
  • Hospitality marketing

You're typically required to complete anywhere from 1,000-2,000 hours of work experience throughout the course of the program. An internship may be necessary in addition to your work experience. Many of your upper-division courses include real scenarios and give you an opportunity to gain additional experience handling management tasks.

Online Course Info

Unlike associate's programs, you can find online bachelor's programs in food service management. However, even though all of the courses may be conducted over the Internet, you might have to travel to campus to complete the residency requirements or take some of the exams. Your course options are similar to on-campus programs, but you may not have as many hands-on learning opportunities in an online program. Online programs may not be as prevalent as on-campus programs, so make sure any online schools you're considering are accredited.

Stand Out With This Degree

Since strong competition for food service management positions was expected, you may want to look into obtaining a certification after you complete the program. The Foodservice Management Professional (FMP) designation from the National Restaurant Association can show employers that you have a particular set of skills that are geared towards food management. If you have an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree, you only need 2 years of supervised industry experience, as opposed to the usual 3 years required for those who don't have a degree. After you meet the eligibility requirements and pass the exam, you'll be awarded the FMP designation.