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Restaurant Interview Questions

Interview Questions for a Chef Candidates (Examples)

Jim McCormickAuthor


Interview Questions Template

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How to Conduct an Interview at Your Restaurant

Hiring a chef for your restaurant can be challenging, nevermind the logistics of the hiring process. With late night hours, scheduling, and retail space, running a restaurant takes considerable manpower and the last thing you want to do is find a new chef and hope that they are a good match. 

That being said, a little preparation and planning in the hiring process can pay dividends in the long-run with a chef that is well-trained, good at managing the kitchen, and reliable, as well as passionate about your food. Nailing the interview, and that means doing your part on your end, and having a talented chef that can confidently step into a leading role is going to pay dividends in the long run. 

So you don’t miss a trick, here is a step-by-step guide to making sure that you have done your due diligence in hiring the right chef for your restaurant.

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Interview Questions Template


Chef Interview Tips

To start, you want to begin by making sure the candidate knows who you are within the restaurant. Give them a little biography, and help them to understand the management and decision-makers of the operation. 

Make sure to introduce yourself and provide background information. If you’re the owner, why did you dream of opening a restaurant? What types of tastes and flavors are you passionate about? How does the restaurant align itself with the neighborhood and who are your returning customers and what kind of food do they like? 

It’s paramount that the candidate leaves understanding the mission of the restaurant and why you are currently successful. This will help you choose the right chef for the job because you’re giving an accurate portrayal of the business, and he or she will be more apt to make the right decisions as to if it is also a good fit for them. 

Explain Need for the Role

Once you have given the candidate a debriefing it’s time to introduce them to the details of the chef position. While some people may think being a chef at a restaurant is self-explanatory, that is not the case. Is the chef expected to interact directly with customers in any way? Is there a chef’s table option? What is the hierarchy of the kitchen and how many people are they overseeing? 

Some details on exactly what the job functions and expectations are set you and the candidate up for success because it establishes the ground rules from the onset. Make sure you arrive at the interview having freshly reviewed their resume so you can ask specific and insightful questions. 

For example, you might want to decide ahead of time if prior experience working as a head chef is a requirement for the position or if having relevant experience as a sous chef might be enough. As an aside, this is a great time to find out their knowledge of the food you already make and what they believe they can bring to the table. 

Establish Job Requirements

Once you understand your potential chef a little bit more, make sure you ask about work expectations, hours, and availability. Are they working anywhere else? Being on the same page here is essential. 

Make sure when you are discussing availability that you make clear the pacing of the restaurant. Is it a fast-paced establishment with tables bustling throughout the day? Are there lulls? Do you serve brunch? All of this information will help to influence the candidates perception of the job and the hours they expect to work. While these details may deter some candidates it is important to remember that they are not the right people for this job anyways, and it is better to know that sooner rather than later. 

Culture Fit

Even though you’re looking for the right chef for your restaurant, it is still important to evaluate their past leadership experience. Consider asking them when they demonstrated leadership, or how they conveyed leadership ability by dealing with a challenge at one of their previous positions. This will help you gauge whether this person might be a potential future general manager or has an interest in being a leader in your establishment. 

Of course, while having a leader or future management material may come in handy, what ultimately matters when hiring for your restaurant is making sure they are passionate about the industry in general, and that food service and interacting with others in the kitchen about food service and hospitality is something they enjoy and are intellectually curious about. 

Next Steps

When you’ve concluded the interview, politely thank them and share any timeline you have for the hiring process. This might be the appropriate time to talk about salary range as well as any benefits. Taking the time to do this shows them that you are a conscientious member of the senior management team and it demonstrates the level of professionalism of your restaurant. Lost as to which specific questions to ask? We can help you get started. Here are ten questions to consider when hiring your next chef, as well as ten ideal answers to those questions to help you evaluate your candidates.

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Interview Questions Template


Chef Interview Questions

How do you see your role as a chef in terms of the customer experience?

Inside the restaurant there are things that I have less control over. I cannot control the servers or the hostesses, or the way the restaurant looks. But ultimately, customers will keep coming back for the food, and that’s where I have the most control. 

It’s so important to not only have good food, but also to provide a reliable experience in terms of dining. If someone comes in and absolutely loves a dish, it’s the kitchen’s job to make sure that when they come back they are not disappointed. 

I think the chef also has the responsibility to help the customer get to know the restaurant through the food, which means the staples of the menu as well as specials that gently test their comfort zones while still providing flavor profiles and influences that are relevant to the restaurant’s concept. 

How do you consider seasonal ingredients as a chef?

Seasonality is a mix of art and practicality. There are seasonal ingredients that stay fresh better than others and that are also more accessible than others. This is why it is so important to have good relationships with local suppliers but also source ingredients that can be kept longer, like local root vegetables and potatoes as well as some of the more fragile local ingredients that are in season. 

When possible, it’s nice to highlight seasonal ingredients on the specials so you can buy a set amount and have them for a certain period of time, rather than disappoint guests. It also creates a sense of urgency and seasonality around the menu. If I’m acting as a chef in a new location, it’s so important to learn what is available and when, and take recommendations from local green grocers, visit farmer’s markets, and learn about what is available. 

That being said, seasonality is important, but there are other considerations that I care about, like reducing carbon footprint, ordering foods that are local but perhaps not seasonal, and ordering quality ingredients. As a chef you keep all of these aspects of the food service process in mind when designing a menu. 

How do you see in-restaurant experience versus attending culinary school?

This is a contentious issue among chefs. On one hand, going to culinary school doesn’t make someone a good chef, but neither does NOT going to culinary school. What I mean is culinary school provides an incredible foundation of skills, but it doesn’t mean you know how to run a kitchen, interact with your staff, make quick decisions and actually put what you’ve learned to practice. 

Only experience can teach you that. I know that it is common for chefs to have the attitude that culinary school is overrated or not needed, but ideally someone has both. Culinary training, particularly at a reputable location, helps bring someone up to speed and learn how to do things correctly or the “right way” the first time. This means knife skills, preparations, mis en place, etc. 

Sometimes someone can be a great chef with a great feel for the kitchen but acquired a lot of bad habits from their experience in previous restaurants. When I’m now their manager I am responsible for helping them unlearn those things, which can be difficult. Ultimately, both routes can make for a very successful chef, but neither guarantee it, if that makes sense. 

Chefs have the reputation of being harsh or brutal in the kitchen with their staff. What’s your personal take on that?

Creating consistent and delicious food requires a certain amount of perfectionism and it can be frustrating to bring the rest of the staff up to your standards. However, that’s no excuse for verbal abuse. 

I try to be calm, but have exacting standards, and if it becomes clear that someone is not able to take immense pride in their food, from the way a carrot is cut to the temperature of the meat, then they do not belong in a high-end or high-performance kitchen. 

This level of perfectionism is not always innate to those that work in kitchens, and sometimes it can be taught and sometimes it can’t. As I’ve grown over the years, I have decided that being fair, reliable, as patient as possible, but never lowering my standards is the right way to go. If people that work for me call me “tough but fair” I am okay with that. 

What is your philosophy on food safety and cleanliness?

As a chef the one thing you can never, ever compromise is food freshness, cleanliness, and safety. Working in a kitchen is inherently dangerous. There are always hot things, open flames, sharp objects and it is so important to mitigate those risks, not just for yourself but for everyone who works with you. 

It starts with the basics like clean prep stations, non-slip shoes, hair tied up, sharp knives etc. Additionally, you are responsible for serving people fresh food that will not make them sick. This means keeping a very clean walk-in and being diligent about labeling your food and paying careful attention to how food is taken out, how it is handled, and that your staff is properly trained and certified in food safety regulations. 

There’s nothing that can kill the reputation of a restaurant faster than food poisoning, food contamination, infestation or citations from health inspectors. 

What is something you might ask a potential sous chef to do in an interview?

I believe that every sous chef should have a strong command of the five mother sauces. They do not need to know the French names for these sauces, but they do need to know how to make them. I like to rip five pieces of paper, each with the name of each sauce, and ask them to pick two from a hat. 

Then I ask them to make those two sauces for me. I only ask for two because I think asking them to make all five is a bit arduous and I don’t want to take advantage of their time, but two can show me a lot about their talent and attention to detail, and, to a certain extent, how they work under pressure. 

If I am on the fence about hiring someone because they do not have a lot of experience or training, and they prepare a perfect bechamel or a sauce tomate tells me so much about their perspective on cooking and the decisions they make. For instance, if they decide to utilize a roux to thicken the sauce tomate because they are short on time, it tells me that they know the value or how to adjust their cooking to the time requirements. 

What is something challenging about food you feel especially passionate about as a chef?

I think one challenge is balancing the customer’s wants and needs with the way that food should be prepared. Of course you can’t be obsessive about things like meat temperature, since people have their preferences, but sometimes too many substitutions can change the balance or taste of a meal. 

For instance, if you have a very savory meat or protein option you may have the special served with a sweeter carbohydrate like a sweet potato, but if the customer substitutes for something savory the dish might read salty or unbalanced. I think this is why substitutions can be fine for items like vegetables but I often request that the specials of the night do not have substitutions. 

Also, not allowing substitutions for specials makes it easier to order enough or project the amount of produce needed for the special over the course of a night, week, or weekend, especially when working with local food providers. 

Tell me a little bit about how you keep situations under control when the kitchen is in the weeds or there is a big rush?

I firmly believe that a rush in the kitchen reveals all the cracks in the operation that existed during lulls as well. So, if you are struggling with your processes and communication, those are things that you need to work on even when the kitchen is not slammed. 

This might mean better expediting, it might mean more prep work, it might mean better communication between line cooks and the chef, it might mean better systems with dishwashing. It’s important to pay attention to your failings so you know where to improve in the future. 

If you don’t overreact and instead pay attention, you can learn so much about what needs to be done differently. You can’t prevent a rush, but you can change how prepared your staff is in the future. 

Why are you passionate about working at a restaurant?

Like many chefs, I have passion for food and the pacing of the kitchen. I love being on my feet, I am passionate about food preparation, I think that culinary talents are an art, and I really care about providing people with a sensual and memorable dining experience, whether I’m making a burger or classic French cuisine.

What are your long-term career goals and how does working as a server help you achieve them?

I have the long-term goal of being a chef-owner of my own restaurant, but that will be a long time from now. I’m also considering potential partners to work with in the future. I like to build deep relationships with the managers and owners of the restaurants I work, learn more about how they run their restaurant and have these relationships last a long time.

Final Thoughts

While hiring new staff always takes time and energy, make sure to remember that in the long-run who you hire will represent your business to your customers. If you make the effort to hire the right candidates, who are a good fit for the position, you will retain wonderful staff who like their jobs, and have to do less hiring. It’s more up-front work but the payoff is a win-win for everyone.

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