The History of Food Service Management

by Lynne Murray; Updated September 26, 2017
Food service industry in action

From the street vendors and caterers of ancient Rome to the modern food service industry, food service skills have traditionally been taught through apprenticeship. Many colleges offer food service management programs, but 66 percent of people currently working as servers and managers hold a high school diploma or less and were trained on the job. Sweeping changes in how food is shipped, stored and prepared mean that food service managers need to use the newest technological resources and to balance cost-cutting and effective food storage with the public demand for fresher food with fewer additives and preservatives.

Early History

In the Middle Ages, the cooks employed by nobles and religious orders served large numbers of people every day, and medieval travelers ate at inns, taverns, monasteries and hostelries. The earliest recorded guild for cooks was formed around 1311 to protect the cooks' secrets. The tricks of the trade were only taught to guild members. West and Wood's Introduction to Foodservice notes that "strict cost accounting was necessary, and here, perhaps, marks the beginning of the present-day scientific foodservice cost accounting...."

The Industrial Revolution

During the thousands of years when most of the population lived in or very near farming communities, food did not travel far to reach the people who ate it. The Industrial Revolution and the mass migration of workers to cities meant there was increased demand to ship food longer distances. Trains, automobiles and trucks provided transport, while new preservation treatments and better storage devices such as refrigeration made it possible for the food to stay fresh longer.

Food Regulation

Scandals in the food processing industries brought demands for new laws. The public outcry that arose when Upton Sinclair's novel, "The Jungle," exposed unsanitary conditions in the U.S. meat-packing industry led to the 1906 passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act.

World War II

Cooks employed by armies, hospitals and prisons have been serving up large quantities of foods for hundreds of years. However, World War II brought the urgent need to feed troops all over the globe and produced innovations in large-scale food transport, preservation and the packaging of rations. Between 1943 and 1944, the Army purchases of food alone grew by 80 percent, and 1945 saw another 20 percent growth.

Nutritional Standards

When the troops came home after World War II, developing nutritional minimum standards led to reform in institutional food service and efforts to educate the public about healthy foods. The National School Lunch Program, begun in 1946, aimed to protect children from malnutrition.


Foodservice sales to restaurants and institutions are estimated to total about $400 billion per year.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that there were about 371,000 food service managers in 2004, with 40 percent being self-employed small business owners. Food service managers may work in hotels and restaurants, hospitals and nursing care facilities, institutions, government facilities or private businesses that provide food service on site to employees.

About the Author

Lynne Murray has over 40 years writing experience, with publications including mystery novels and an interview with Darlene Cates, of "What's Eating Gilbert Grape." Murray received a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from San Francisco State University. She's conducted workshops at the Open Education Exchange and Southwestern Writers Conference.

Photo Credits

  • Image by, courtesy of Lisa Yarost
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