Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Lisa Yarost
The history of food service management is as old as time, although few specifics are known about the first vendors and innkeepers who served meals in exchange for currency. The modern hospitality industry has developed a body of knowledge about best practices that increase the odds of success for a food service business. These practices are often intentionally implemented by larger businesses and franchises that develop replicable systems, but they can also be valuable for smaller companies run by individuals or smaller teams.
Types of Food Service Management
- Restaurants. From mom-and-pop, hole-in-the-wall outfits to chain restaurants with locations in multiple states, restaurant management includes procurement, staffing, menu planning and marketing. The first modern restaurants emerged in Paris after the French Revolution.
- Catering. Food service professionals have managed kitchens and prepared meals for groups since as early as Babylonian times, when the first cookbooks were penned by people with knowledge of both food and writing. The very act of writing down a recipe is a type of food service management because it involves a transfer of culinary knowledge.
- Food manufacturing. Cooks and entrepreneurs have been preparing and selling value-added products since olive oil was first traded across the ancient Middle East. It took management and systems to prepare and distribute a product in quantities large enough for scalable trade.
Modern History of Food Service
Modern food service management is characterized by efficiency, economies of scale and technologies that increase productivity and also provide enhanced food safety. In the restaurant industry, the McDonald's franchise provided a model whose relevance extended far beyond the franchise's fast-food niche. McDonald's has been so successful in part because of its focus on systems, which make it possible to produce consistent products all over the world despite regional variations.
Contemporary food production management has drawn its success from production technologies such as flash freezing and automated processing and packaging. The Heinz company was perhaps the first large food service business to implement stringent food safety practices on an industrial scale, building a loyal customer base and creating a model for other food services to follow.
Contemporary catering management relies heavily on computerized information systems for receiving and tracking orders. This allows caterers to streamline their offerings and easily communicate basic menus and delivery information. Catering management has also been transformed by the widespread availability of food service ingredients and equipment and the streamlining of service and delivery infrastructure using standard-size pans and storage boxes.
The Modern Food Movement
During the later part of the 20th century and the early part of the 21st century, a widespread interest in food has gained traction internationally, manifesting in a legion of celebrity chefs, culinary programs on television, cooking schools for both professionals and lay people and a heightened interest in high-end and high-quality restaurants. This development has forced food service management to develop a new level of professionalism to meet elevated customer expectations.
Culinary schools teach management and hospitality along with sauces and knife skills, and upcoming culinary professionals often learn from mentors as they work as paid restaurant employees and also through unpaid staging arrangements. This type of training provides invaluable hands-on practice and familiarity with both practical systems and soft skills such as keeping staff satisfied and motivated.
Despite these contemporary developments, threads connecting the history of food service have proven to be timeless. The success of a food business still usually hinges on its ability to serve customers tasty and satisfying food at a price point that makes sense for the ingredients and labor that go into each dish. In addition to the food itself, the food service experience provided to customers should include civility, attention to detail and a dining experience appropriate to the price.
Devra Gartenstein founded her first food business in 1987. In 2013 she transformed her most recent venture, a farmers market concession and catering company, into a worker-owned cooperative. She does one-on-one mentoring and consulting focused on entrepreneurship and practical business skills.