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Interview Questions for a Restaurant Server Candidates (Examples)

Jim McCormickAuthor

How to Conduct an Interview at Your Restaurant

Hiring the right staff member for your restaurant can be challenging, nevermind the logistics of the hiring process. With late night hours, scheduling, and retail space, running a business that takes considerable manpower is a lot of work. But, keep in mind that a little more effort in the hiring process can pay dividends in the long-run with a server that is conscientious, knowledgeable, and reliable, as well as passionate about your business. 

Nailing the interview, and that means doing your part on your end, and having a candidate that can confidently and readily answer your restaurant interview questions, is a recipe for success. So you don’t miss a beat, here is a step-by-step template to make sure that you have done your due diligence in hiring the right job candidate for your restaurant.

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Interview Questions Template

With culture questions, experience questions, and situational questions, this customizable Word doc will guide your interviews with prospective candidates.

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Server Interview Tips

To start, you want to begin by making sure the candidate knows who you are within the restaurant. Introduce yourself thoroughly and provide some background information. If you’re the owner, what made you start the restaurant? What is your philosophy on hospitality? 

How does the restaurant align itself with the neighborhood and who are your clientele? It’s also important that the candidate leaves understanding the values of the restaurant and what is most important in running the business. This will help you choose the right candidate because you’re giving an accurate portrayal of the business and job, 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 brief “lay of the land” it’s time to introduce them to the positions. While some people may think being a server at a restaurant is self-explanatory, that is not the case. Is the server expected to restock any food items? What kind of payment systems do you accept? What is the length of the average shift? 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. 

Before going into the deep questions, you want to make sure that, generally, you understand the candidates job qualifications and past experience. This means reviewing their resume before they come into the restaurant for their interview, and asking any clarifying questions you might have. 

For example, you might want to decide ahead of time if prior experience working in a restaurant or as a server is a requirement for the position or if you have more experienced staff that can help them learn on the job. As an aside, this is a great time to find out their knowledge of food safety regulations and precautions, which will be reflective of their prior experience. 

Establish Job Requirements

Once you have that question answered, make sure you know what the candidate for your restaurant’s availability and preferred hours are. Are they a student and will need a changing schedule every semester? What is their expectation of time off? Making sure you understand how much you and the candidate expect him or her to be working is a great first step in aligning your expectations. 

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? All of this information will help to color the candidates perception of the job and the hours they expect to work. 

Culture Fit

Even though you’re looking for a staff member specific to your restaurant, it is still important to evaluate their leadership potential. 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 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 talking to customers and interacting with customers about food service and hospitality is something they enjoy and intellectually curious about. 

Conclusion

As you wrap up your interview, make sure to always close with thanking them and letting them know what the next steps are in the process. If you have the ability, let them know when you are hoping to make a hiring decision, when you would hope that person would start, as well as any other pertinent information such as the hourly rate and how many candidates you hope to hire in total. 

Taking the time to do this shows them that you are a considerate staff member and it demonstrates the level of professionalism of your restaurant. Having trouble thinking of specific questions? Let’s help you get started. Here are ten questions to consider when hiring your next server, as well as ten ideal answers to those questions to help you evaluate your candidates.

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Interview Questions Template

With culture questions, experience questions, and situational questions, this customizable Word doc will guide your interviews with prospective candidates.

Toast

Restaurant Server Interview Questions


When a customer is making a decision between different types of wine or beer for a meal, what are some questions you might ask them?

First I would ask them what they plan on ordering for an entree. I would also ask them about some of their favorite types of that drink - do they usually go for white or red wine? Do they like a dry finish? If it’s about deciding on a beer I would ask them some of their favorite beers. 

Then I would apply standard best practices and recommendations to the decision, such as red wine with a more flavorful or heavier protein, or white wine with fish or poultry. But I would also include my personal recommendations throughout the process as well so they know that I have tried what I am suggesting and why I think it makes a nice pairing.


The customer says that they are unfamiliar with the different doneness options for ordering steak, how do you advise them?

If a customer is ordering steak for the time I would give them a brief overview of steak doneness. I would say that steakhouses usually recommend ordering a steak medium rare for maximum flavor and tenderness, but make sure to mention that this is not fully cooked in the center. 

I would explain to them that when people talk about a “bloody” steak that actually isn’t blood at all. If they seem nervous about ordering something too rare, I will explain to them that you can always cook a steak more, so maybe start with medium which is a middle of the road option and has a hot pink center, but that if they decide they would like it cooked more, we can put it back on the grill to their preference. I would share in their excitement about trying something new!

This is a modern restaurant and our customers love the convenience of paying in many different ways. What are some of the different payment methods you are familiar with?

In my prior experience working at a restaurant we accepted cash, credit, debit, and mobile pay. Additionally, we accepted gift cards which operated like credit cards and could be swiped at the point of sale, and then the customer would receive a receipt with whatever remaining balance they have left on the card after their purchase. We also accepted coupons and rewards points for purchases, which were integrated into the point of sale system and could be applied to any transaction, except for gift cards. 

Do you prefer a long or “double” shift or working shorter shifts? Why?

Depending on the day, I can like both for different reasons. Working a double, especially during a game or in the bar area where people might be watching an important game is fun and it can be helpful to be working the entire game or not break up the service. 

I prefer when I can be at a shift long enough so that my customers do not have to change servers and they have a consistent customer service experience that is simple for them. Working in a restaurant, you have to be ready and prepared for customers late at night, so working a shorter night shift can be nice because you have the energy and excitement and like staying until the absolute end of operations and giving everyone a great late-night experience. 

At my last job I worked Friday nights, Saturday lunch, and Sunday doubles, and I really liked that experience because I was able to do a little of everything.  

How do you prefer to work with your coworkers? Do you like having shifts with the same people, and how do you split up division of labor?

Whenever I’m new at a position, I like to learn what the other people like to do and what they are best at, and then make sure to observe them and learn from them on the job. While I have worked at a restaurant before, every business is run a little bit differently, and so learning how other people do things that have more experience is helpful in helping me learn on the job. 

When I’m new, I also try to not have any preferences on how we divide work since I want to learn how to do everything. I’m happy to take on new tasks and get experience with every part of the restaurant. While I love working with people that I know and have an established working relationship with, it is always fun to get to know other staff members, see how they interact with customers, and gain some of their knowledge about food choices and specials as well as their passion for the restaurant experience. 

What is your favorite appetizer item to recommend and why?

Appetizers are meant to be shared so I love recommending two appetizers, and larger ones so everyone at the table can try a bite of something. The worst thing is when you completely fill up on an appetizer and then aren’t excited for your main meal, so I really take into consideration the size of the appetizer I recommend, how many people it serves, and how many people are at the table. 

This is why favorites such as calamari are a great option. I also love recommending appetizer salads for sharing, and an appetizer cup of soup is a great way to start a meal. In terms of my favorite appetizer, I love Caprese salad, and I love calamari. 


How would you explain your favorite entree to a customer?

I love classic surf and turf. I love to order a ribeye steak because of the excellent marbling of fat in the cut, cooked medium rare with garlic butter served on top. I love to pair that with a skewer of grilled shrimp and I like the shrimp blackened for more flavor and served on top of the steak. 

For sides I love a baked sweet potato with a side of cinnamon sugar and butter if possible. For vegetables I love to order grilled asparagus because it is filling and flavorful. This meal is perfect because it is balanced, flavorful, indulgent, but still healthy and if all the elements are prepared well, it is truly delicious. 

This is my go-to simple meal that you can order at many restaurants. For a place that is ethnically-oriented I love to order a special because you know it is fresh and interesting. I also love to order a spicy seafood pasta dish with a red sauce if I am at an Italian restaurant. 

Tell me a little bit about how you handle working when the restaurant is busy and keep the shared working space tidy. 

Working during a rush is always challenging, but I believe you can prepare for success. This means having an organized apron with everything you need, having a few napkins and straws in one pouch, having the ability to make change so keeping a change pouch with you and making sure you have pens and ordering pads if that is something you use when taking orders. 

I think also spending a few minutes every time you have a pause to check on the server prep area. Restocking the straws, restocking the silverware, checking on glassware, that way when you do hit a rush you don’t start the rush with missing items. If it is a long rush and everyone is frantic, all you can do is work quickly and efficiently and do the best you can and stay calm. 

Why are you passionate about working at a restaurant?
I am very passionate about customer service and hospitality. I have always been a people person so I find being a server natural and I like being able to read what kind of experience the customer or table wants. 

If they want to engage and get to know each other, I’m happy to do that, but I also love to give people privacy on a date and refill their drinks and move in an non-invasive way around the table. Knowing when to do what, when to engage, and when to pull back is part of the challenge of being a good server. 

I also really love when people have a good meal and get time to relax from their busy lives with a friend or loved one. I am passionate about food and enjoy making recommendations, and seeing delicious meals come out for my tables.

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

I would love to open my own restaurant or small business someday. I think the way that everything is managed in a restaurant teaches you so much about what goes into running a business and if you pay attention you can learn so much. 

I would love experience as a manager because then I would learn more about helping to make a schedule, and helping people during my shift succeed. I don’t necessarily think I need to open a restaurant in the future to use my knowledge from being a server, I think that what I am learning is applicable over a wide array of businesses. Eventually I would like to get a business degree to learn even more about the back end of running a business.

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Use this comprehensive checklist to streamline your training process and cover all the essential tasks new servers should learn, from basic steps of service to side work.

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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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