Behind the hustle and bustle of every successful restaurant is a great kitchen manager. A kitchen manager acts as the engine of your restaurant and is quite literally someone who manages the workflow of the back of the house.
Every restaurant needs at least one kitchen manager to oversee all kitchen responsibilities. Although a kitchen manager can sometimes be a chef, their main responsibilities don't always include cooking. This person acts as the lead for all kitchen activity, and manages multiple aspects of food storage and prep while overseeing kitchen staff.
It is important for restaurant owners who are looking to hire a kitchen manager, as well as potential kitchen workers looking to start a career as a kitchen manager, to understand the qualifications, salary and responsibilities of a kitchen manager.
Kitchen manager vs. chef
Although many people use the terms "chef" and "kitchen manager" interchangeably, there is a difference between the two job responsibilities. Chefs are kitchen managers, but the converse is not always true.
For example, Maureen Drum, director of career services and administration at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), said that although a sous chef, pastry sous chef, chef de cuisine, executive chef and executive pastry chef are each kitchen managers, some restaurants may have non-chef kitchen managers that tackle more administrative work, as opposed to cooking. However, all kitchen managers, regardless of chef status, must have some degree of culinary arts knowledge.
"Most kitchen managers in the administrative role will have some kitchen experience, though, to understand how the kitchen functions, terminology, etc.," Drum told business.com. "In multiunit restaurants, where the menu is set and recipes are standardized, the kitchen manager may be the most senior kitchen position, without the additional responsibilities of menu development, creation of specials, etc."
Victor Cardamone, an accomplished chef, as well as president and CEO of the restaurant kitchen design and consulting firm, Mise Design Group, added that both chef and kitchen manager positions require a certain set of skills, although a chef will also require culinary talent. Chef-managed kitchens are based on the French hierarchy concept, the brigade system.
"This system helps consolidate areas of responsibility throughout a kitchen, no matter what the size," said Cardamone. "In larger kitchen operations, such as hotels and resorts, in addition to the executive and sous chefs, there may also be chefs that are in charge of these smaller brigade system areas of the kitchen, or stations; such as a pastry chef or garde manger (cold food kitchen) chef."
Kitchen manager salary
Kitchen manager salaries can vary based on several factors like location, restaurant, experience, education and more. Based on research from websites like Glassdoor, Indeed, ZipRecruiter and salary.com, the average kitchen manager salary is typically between $21 and $25 an hour, or $43,000 and $53,000 a year; however, kitchen managers can make as little as minimum wage or as much as $30 an hour or more.
To get a personalized kitchen manager wage estimate based on your unique education and experience, you can use this kitchen manager wage estimate calculator. The customized estimate is based on factors like the individual's relevant job experience and education, whom they report to and how many people they manage.
Kitchen manager qualifications
There are several qualifications and leadership skills that a kitchen manager must have. For example, Drum said that kitchen managers should have good communication and organizational skills. Drum and Cardamone both said that kitchen managers need to have some culinary knowledge and training as well.
"Basic qualifications include fundamental knowledge of culinary skills and techniques, learned either at culinary school or through work history, and a certification in safe food handling and management practices – the most common of which is called ServSafe," said Cardamone.
Cardamone also added that kitchen managers should have excellent business and people-management skills, an understanding of inventory control and the ability to maintain standard operating procedures.
Key responsibilities of a kitchen manager
It is the kitchen manager's responsibility to ensure that food preparation happens smoothly in accordance with the orders being placed. As the head of your kitchen, this person must be capable of managing materials, money and other workers. They will also perform a host of duties related to the maintenance and cleanliness of the workplace and must maintain a great rapport with the staff.
The primary responsibilities of a kitchen manager are as follows:
- Kitchen staff support – The restaurant kitchen manager should keep files on the various employees under their supervision and make regular updates about performance and conduct. They should be approachable and available to the kitchen staff and address any concerns or problems that arise.
- Recruitment, training and scheduling – The kitchen manager is integral in interviewing kitchen staff and negotiating contracts. They may also be responsible for the training, scheduling and payment of staff.
- Budget preparation – The kitchen manager maintains an inventory of materials used, checks supplier invoices, ensures vendors are paid on time and suggests strategies to cut kitchen costs.
- Food procurement – The restaurant kitchen manager must be able to estimate the amount of food that needs to be prepared and predict possible fluctuations. They should have a thorough understanding of how to prepare meats and vegetables in large quantities.
- Food sanitation – The kitchen manager must be aware of the guidelines and principles of food safety and sanitation. They frequently review and assess all kitchen procedures to ensure employees maintain a safe and hygienic cooking environment.
- Preparation and storage – The kitchen manager must know how to prepare and store every item of food that is served in the restaurant. They must be well versed in cooking temperatures and times as well as the storage methods required for foods to retain their flavor, freshness and nutritional value.
- Active participation – The kitchen manager can participate in creating menus and making decisions about menu substitutions when specific ingredients are unavailable. For restaurants that have fixed or permanent menus, the kitchen manager is responsible for ensuring the menu is adhered to.
- Supervision – The kitchen manager is responsible for ensuring that restaurant staff strictly follows the guidelines of CQSMA (cleanliness, quality, service, maintenance and atmosphere).
In some circumstances, said Cardamone, kitchen managers may also be responsible for working with outside maintenance companies to maintain and service all kitchen equipment.
Since kitchen managers are an integral part of your restaurant's success, it's critical that you hire one who can skillfully oversee your kitchen operations and manage your kitchen staff.
"I would say a good kitchen manager is able to follow instructions well, is consistent in their work and in the work they direct others to do, has good time management skills, and a willingness to share their skills and knowledge with staff," said Cardamone.