Stepping up to a challenge usually is no problem for professionals in the restaurant industry. In many ways, they do it every day - whether serving as a cook on the line, a bartender faced with dozens of thirsty patrons, a manager addressing a customer's concerns, or a wait staff member serving a 30-top. For some, these pressure-cooker situations stir up a hunger for an even greater task: overseeing and even owning a business. Operating a successful restaurant, bar or catering service does present some potential hurdles. However, with the proper licensing and certification, professionals eyeing such career advancement come to the table with a full plate of potential.
A business license allows prospective restaurateurs to conduct business within a particular location. Without one, the local government can fine or even close the operation. Requirements vary by location, but, in most instances, the restaurant entrepreneur will need to obtain a business license from the state, county and/or city. The United States Small Business Administration (SBA) provides in-depth information and links regarding obtaining a business license. Applicants also should check with their State and local government offices for specific regulations. Links to all State licensing divisions can be found on the SBAWebsite.
Other Licenses and Permits
Additional licenses and permits may be required by state and local governments. State and local governments regulate the food service industry pursuant to their local health departments, with guidance from the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Additional permits apply to the sale of alcoholic beverages. Many localities also have environmental regulations for restaurants. The FDA provides links to all State regulatory bodies that govern retail food safety.
Restaurant Industry Certifications
In the competitive restaurant business, certifications can show your competence and set you apart. Whether you are climbing up the management ladder or working on your culinary skills, there are certification programs that can assist you in attaining your goals. In addition to highlighting skills, certifications also highlight the food safety of the restaurant establishment. Most certification programs are through restaurant industry trade associations and/or their educational affiliates.
The American Culinary Federation (ACF) offers 14 different certifications, from entry levels to experts. Among the most sought after designations are the Certified Executive Chef, Certified Pastry Chef and Certified Master Chef.
- Certified Executive Chef: This certification
indicates the holder is the head of a foodservice operation
or restaurant. He or she understands current nutrition
standards as well as government food safety and sanitation
regulations. Moreover, the holder is capable of culinary
supervisory management, as well as budget, payroll, and
other financial and inventory management. The certification
applicant must have at least three years of Chef de Cuisine
or Executive Sous Chef experience. In addition, the
professional needs a high school diploma or GED and should
have 150 continuing education hours.
The CEC applicant is required to take written and practical exams which test their culinary knowledge and skills.
Certified Master Chef (CMC): The CMC level represents the highest and most demanding level of professional achievement Candidates must already have attained Certified Executive Chef or Certified Culinary Educator designations; completed course work in management, cost management and wine; hold sanitation and food safety certificates; and have references from at least two CMCs. The certification is issued after the candidate has passed a rigorous eight-day test of culinary skills and knowledge.
A division of the National Restaurant Association, the ServSafe program offers certifications for managers so as to comply with state and local health and food safety regulations.
- Food Protection Manager Certification: This certification covers sanitation (including personal hygiene, food contamination, and food borne illnesses), the flow of food in the operation (cross contamination, time and temperature control, storage, receiving, cooling and reheating, and preparation and serving of foodstuffs), and how to maintain sanitary facilities and properly manage pests. The Food Protection Manager Certification shows that the holder has met the American National Standards Institute's (ANSI) standards for safe food handling. It also ensures the restaurant professional knows how to protect the customers, their food, and employees from unnecessary illness, contamination, and damage to the professional's or restaurant's reputation. Certification is accomplished by meeting all state and local regulatory requirements; and passing an examination. Most jurisdictions require re-certification after five years.
- Fundamentals of Responsible Alcohol Service Certification: ServSafe also offers courses for this credential, which is accomplished after passing an examination and complying with local alcoholic beverage control commission regulations. The training includes checking for false identification, the laws and your responsibilities as an individual or establishment that serves alcohol, and methods of determining intoxication for responsible alcohol service.
Offered by the National Restaurant Association's Educational Foundation, this certification is earned by foodservice professionals who exemplify high levels of knowledge, experience, leadership and professionalism. Candidates must have at least three years of supervisory experience or two years with a business or hospitality degree; be previously certified as a Food Protection Manager; and pass the FMP Certification Exam, which covers such topics as management, operations, human resources, marketing, and finance.
Restaurant Industry: Training and Continuing Education [top]
For anyone trying to excel in the restaurant field, the proverbial "utensils in the kitchen drawer" come in the form of on-going training and continuing education, which are necessary not only for those new to the industry, but also for seasoned professionals, and often required for re-certification or by state and local regulations.
Exam Preparation Training
All of the certification - sponsoring organizations offer examination-preparation courses and materials to assist with passing the applicable certification exams. The American Culinary Federation's Educational Foundation provides certification training courses and practice certification exams on its eCulinary Professional Development Institute link. Similarly, the National Restaurant Association's Educational Foundation offers educational materials that correspond to the examination topics for its certification programs. The NRA also recommends that students contact their state restaurant associations for additional training resources and locations.
Training & Continuing Education Programs
When it comes to tracking down training and continuing education opportunities for chefs or would-be chefs in the restaurant field, culinary schools represent the most obvious starting point. A key resource for professionals in the field and those looking to enter, ACF accredits post-secondary education around the U.S., and its Website provides a directory with links to the programs. ACF's Educational Foundation, through its eCulinary Professional Development Institute, also offers its own professional development and apprenticeship training courses.
80 Continuing Education Hours (CEH) are required to maintain ACF certifications, which must be renewed after five years. ACF accredits many online programs, seminars, and other means of earning the CEH, which include attendance at annual meetings, and reading its monthly publication, and completing quizzes on the reading.
Helping define and uphold the standard for quality in the hospitality industry, the National Restaurant Association created ServSafe, to provide restaurant owners and employees with the most up-to-date training (and certification) in safe and hygienic food handling. The company also focuses on the best environmental sanitation for a food preparation or storage facility. Possessing a ServSafe certification indicates the holder understands and adheres to the most modern government food regulations and preparation techniques.
Today, many state alcoholic beverage control groups now require proof of some sort of alcohol safe service training, and many state and local health departments require similar food safety training. ServSafe provides the texts, training, and testing around the United States for these courses. Certification in these programs does need renewal, which varies by state (usually at least every three years.)
The ServSafe Website contains all information on testing and training in areas throughout the U.S., as well as details on becoming an instructor, proctor, or obtaining dual-role status. There are also links to each state's regulatory body, detailing their requirements for certification and renewal.
An affiliate of the National Restaurant Association's Educational Foundation, the ManageFirst Program is a management development program that is offered at more than 350 colleges and universities and also in-house at many food service companies. The curriculum teaches practical skills such as communication, accounting and ethics, so that participants can effectively lead in the ever growing restaurant industry.
James Beard Foundation
This not-for-profit organization, named after celebrated chef and food writer James Beard, offers scholarships, work-study grants, and continuing education courses for culinary students and professionals. An annual seminar focuses on such issues as sustainability and public health.
There are over 53 state restaurant trade associations across the U.S., providing local training and continuing education for careers in the restaurant industry. Many also have educational foundations and provide scholarships to deserving students. The National Restaurant Association partners with these state trade associations and provides links to them from its Website.