Study Restaurant Management: Masters, PhD & Online Degree Info

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What will you learn in a restaurant management degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and doctoral degree and potential careers.
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Restaurant Management Master's and PhDs Degrees at a Glance

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicated that moving up through work experience is the most common path into restaurant management, although restaurant chains and food services companies may also recruit managers from degree programs in food service management. Pairing your experience with a master's degree could also help you obtain a job in senior management, often with a higher salary than a bachelor's degree holder. If you want to teach at the university level, a doctoral degree is usually required. Doctoral degree programs are more commonly offered in hospitality management, though some schools offer coursework in restaurant management.

Food service management employment was projected to fall 3% from 2010-2020, according to the BLS, but you may be able to find work in retail businesses serving quick food, such as grocery stores. Postsecondary teachers could see a 17% increase in job opportunities during the same decade, while employment for administrators was projected to grow 19%. From 2010-2020, agricultural and food scientists were expected to see 10% employment growth.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? - Working professionals interested in leadership positions in hotel or food service management
- Individuals who would like to teach at a junior college
Individuals who seek to work in academia as university professors, in hospitality research or as consultants
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Hotel manager ($55,000)*
- Catering manager ($42,000 - 2-5 years of experience is often required)**
- Regional restaurant manager ($82,000 - typically requires 7 years of experience)**
- Junior college teacher ($78,000)*
- University professor ($72,000)*
- University administrator ($97,000 - experience could be required for certain positions, such as academic dean)*
- Food scientist ($64,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time, but self-paced online programs may take longer 3-6 years full-time, depending on the time limit of the program
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 9-15 graduate level courses
- Master's thesis/research paper
- Master's comprehensive exam
- Internship
Most (or all) of the master's degree requirements, plus:
- Typically 4-6 core courses with additional coursework dedicated to graduate seminars, research and an area of concentration
- Teaching or research assistantship
- Comprehensive exam
- Dissertation proposal
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree - Bachelor's or master's degree
- Prerequisite courses may be required in areas such as business or hospitality management
- In some cases, professional management experience is required for entry
Online Availability Uncommon Uncommon

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **Salary.com (April 2012 median salary).

Master's in Hotel and Restaurant Management

The master's degree curriculum focuses on the areas of hospitality that an upper-level manager would handle, such as financial management, strategic development, and human resources. Students can develop advanced communication and management skills to prepare them to fill corporate, academic or executive positions in hospitality. Programs may include a research component consisting of a thesis or independent research project. To build on a student's area of interest, electives may be available in areas such as club management. These programs may also address hospitality topics such as tourism, conferences and global hospitality management.

It's important to realize that a master's degree may not be necessary to obtain a position in restaurant management, and you could be competing with experienced high school graduates or bachelor's degree holders for the same positions.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A master's degree allows you to pursue many careers, including education.
  • Having a master's degree may put you in a position to earn more money than bachelor's degree holders.**
  • You could take courses in a specialized area, such as organizational leadership or conference organization.

Cons

  • Many upper-level hotel and restaurant management jobs only require a high school diploma, some postsecondary education and several years of experience; thus, a master's degree may not be needed.
  • The job outlook of food service managers was predicted to decline from 2010-2020.*
  • If you want to teach at the university level, most schools require a doctoral degree.

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **National Restaurant Association.

Common Courses and Requirements

As a graduate hotel and restaurant management student, you'll focus on advanced hospitality courses that build on knowledge obtained during undergraduate studies. Programs usually consist of sets of core classes, along with electives that students can choose from to support their career goals. The following are examples of courses offered at the master's level:

  • Strategic management
  • International management in hospitality
  • Hospitality financial management systems
  • Hospitality human resource management

Whether a research thesis is required depends on the school, but a formal research project of some kind is usually necessary to graduate. Other common graduation requirements include a professional internship and a comprehensive exam.

Online Degree Options

Online master's degree programs in hotel and restaurant management are rare. You may be able to complete all of your classes online or complete the program through a hybrid approach, which is a mix of distance learning and on-campus classes. Fully online programs could still require a campus visit to complete an internship or present a thesis. Some programs are self-paced and may take longer to complete. In turn, schools often give students several years to complete these programs.

Overall, online programs provide the same education as an on-campus program would but with the convenience of online learning. Courses may be delivered via DVDs, which are mailed to you. When it's time to take an examination, you may need locate an approved proctor in your area who can submit your completed test back to your school for grading.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

The field of restaurant management is beginning to rely on electronic systems for everything from food orders to reservations. The BLS states that the need for computer training is increasing, so taking classes in technology can help you stand out. Master's degree programs may include a class on computer information systems.

Also, the BLS notes that certification can demonstrate competence in the food services field. The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation offers a voluntary Foodservice Management Professional credential. This certification can be pursued after graduation.

Other Degrees to Consider

Hospitality management is a broader field than restaurant management, so degree programs can be found more readily. This alternative offers online and on-campus options. The curriculum is similar to that of a restaurant management program, with courses in research and advanced management. Some programs allow students to choose an area of concentration, such as international tourism or casino management. Since this is a more general degree option, job opportunities aren't limited to one area.

A degree in hospitality management could lead to a position as a management, meeting, convention and event planner. Jobs in this field were predicted to grow 44% from 2010-2020, and the average salary was just under $50,000, as of 2011. Another option to consider with a degree in hospitality management is a career as a hotel manager. These professionals earned an average salary of $55,000, as of May 2011, and job growth in this field was predicted to increase 8% from 2010-2020.

PhD in Hospitality Management

Doctoral degree programs in restaurant management aren't available, but hospitality management programs are plentiful. These researched-centered programs primarily train students for academic and/or research careers. Some programs offer students the opportunity to apply for a graduate assistantship, which may include a tuition subsidy and health care. Admissions officials may require previous work experience in hospitality, as well as a statement of professional goals to better understand why you're enrolling.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Employment for all postsecondary teachers was predicted to rise 17% from 2010-2020, largely because of increased student enrollment.*
  • A PhD is the basic requirement for university teaching and research.
  • Programs may allow you to choose an area of concentration.

Cons

  • Tenure-track teaching positions are very competitive.
  • An extensive amount of extra coursework is required if you don't come from a hospitality background.
  • A doctoral degree isn't typically a requirement for hospitality jobs; these degrees are more commonly pursued to obtain academic or research positions.

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Common Courses and Requirements

In a doctoral degree program, students spend most of their time studying theory and advanced hospitality topics. They also dedicate a minimum number of hours to proposing and completing an original research dissertation. To be admitted, some schools request the completion of prerequisite coursework, such as food preparation, computer science, marketing and managerial accounting. Courses could include:

  • Research methods in hospitality
  • Quantitative methods and statistics
  • Advanced foodservice management
  • Research methods in hospitality management

Online Degree Options

Few doctoral programs in hospitality management-related fields exist online. Those that are available are often hybrid programs with on-campus attendance required during certain sessions, such as the summer. The curriculum is the same and often not self-paced. If you're seeking doctoral studies, you'll have more options through on-campus programs.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Considering that doctoral degree programs are competitive and research-driven, you can stand out while enrolled by developing your research and teaching skills. You could work with faculty members through an assistantship or write a scholarly paper on a hospitality-related topic. Look for a program with a small faculty-student ratio, so that you can get hands-on training to help you obtain an academic or research position. Also, some schools host a professional networking program where students can interact with alumni and ask career questions; joining one of these programs could lead to job opportunities.

Other Degrees to Consider

If you'd like to excel in the restaurant management industry as an education administrator or delve into another area of food services, specialized doctoral degree options exist. For example, a doctoral program in hospitality administration or hospitality education features education classes as core requirements, along with restaurant and hospitality management content. Studies could include issues in education, higher education administration, curriculum development and education ethics, as well as hospitality theory, guest service management and operations management. Employment for postsecondary administrators was predicted to rise 19% from 2010-2020, according to the BLS.

Another option is a food-related major, such as nutrition and food systems, which can help train you for a position in food research. Coursework may cover nutrition and food service management. Food science doctoral programs are also available; they may cover topics like food analysis, food chemistry and food microbiology. The BLS projected that the agricultural and food scientist field would see a 10% increase in jobs from 2010-2020.

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