In 2018, 59% of restaurateurs cited hiring, retaining, and training staff as a top operational challenge facing their restaurant, according to Toast's Annual Restaurant Success Report.
And it's no secret why – the restaurant turnover rate is at an astronomically high rate of 73%, meaning businesses are losing employees left and right.
So, how do you find someone that is worth the investment?
The first chance to see if someone is in it for the long haul is to identify A+ players with restaurant interview questions that will reveal your candidates' true intentions and capabilities.
Here are 10 restaurant interview questions that industry professionals ask to hire the right people.
Why the Restaurant Interview Is So Important
The hiring crisis in America's restaurant industry is in full effect. For the first time this decade, fewer people are working in restaurants than in the previous year.
If this number scares you, it's because it should. With over one million restaurants in the country and fewer people working in them, it puts the pressure on restaurant operators to hire more intelligently than they ever have before.
At present, staffing a restaurant is largely viewed as a headache, with a lot of grey area and subjectivity around important hiring related questions, like:
How do I write an effective job description?
Where should I post a job listing?
What's the best way to recruit and source job candidates?
How do I read a resume for skills?
Which questions should I ask in an interview?
How do I get staff to stick around? I feel like I'm always hiring :(
An intrinsic part of staffing a restaurant is the interview. Restaurant interviews are essential for gauging a candidate's culture fit and industry knowledge. If you interview a candidate you and your staff are particularly thrilled about, the above statistics suggest that you not wait to extend an offer, otherwise you risk losing them to a competitor.
10 Effective Restaurant Interview Questions You Should Ask
1. Why do you want to work in the food and beverage industry?
The best restaurant employees take pride in their ability to provide guests with a wonderful experience. Whether you’re hiring a server to handle a white-tablecloth dinner service or a line cook to make pizzas during a busy lunch rush, the desire to make people happy is a must!
Are your candidates having trouble coming up with an answer? Or are they excited to tell you why they want to be a part of this challenging industry? Hopefully, it’s the latter!
2. What does “hospitality” mean to you?
The dictionary defines hospitality as “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.”
A great candidate will sum this up in their own words, giving you a warm and fuzzy feeling. Bonus points if they give you an example!
3. Tell me about your most memorable hospitality experience as a diner.
Tack this on to restaurant interview question #2, and see how it connects.
Do you feel the candidate is being genuine in their answer? Does the person go into great detail? This should give you insight into what type of service they feel they should provide to your guests. A thoughtful, detailed answer – be it a positive or negative experience – shows that you’re interviewing someone who will put a lot of thought into their job.
4. Which person or establishment inspires you most in the hospitality industry? Why?
While this question may be geared more towards career servers and chefs, it’s also a question that – if answered by someone who is just starting out in the restaurant world – shows passion and desire to work in hospitality and gives insight into what drives the prospective employee to lean towards working in F&B.
A person might be inspired by Julia Child’s influence on American cuisine, or by a viral story about a restaurant’s sassy response to a negative Yelp review – both very different mindsets that are a unique fit for very different concepts!
Speaking of online reviews...
5. How would you respond if a customer wrote something negative about your service online, which you know to be inaccurate, and you later saw them at the restaurant?
As all of us with industry experience know, sometimes the best way to smooth over a difficult situation is to plate our egos and eat them with a nice glass of bubbly. Of course, this depends on your concept and the situation!
Perhaps the right move at the time is for you to defend your service and make sure the customer understands the effects negative reviews have on a business. Other times, maybe that's the worst approach.
You know you have a great prospective team member when the focus of their answer touches on understanding what happened from the customer’s perspective, or understanding how they might handle a situation better in the future to make things right again.
If someone has more experience in hospitality, you might get a more detailed answer with some examples of how they handled it in the past. Take note of whether or not the answer aligns with how you’d like staff to handle conflict resolution.
6. If a customer presents you with a coupon that clearly states “not valid with other offers,” and they try to use it with another offer, how would you handle that?
It’s a given that the candidates probably don’t know the policy when it comes to special offers at your restaurant, and you may not even have offers in the first place! The “correct” answer lies in their reaction.
Do they clam up, get nervous? Or do they stay calm and keep a smile on their face?
How they react to this question is a great indicator of how they’d react under pressure; if a candidate can’t keep their cool here, how are they going to do so in the middle of a busy service, when the level of pressure is much higher?
7. What do you do when you’re not working? What are your hobbies?
This is a great restaurant interview question, especially when hiring a server or bartender!
The ability to build a relationship with guests throughout their experience can make the difference between a one-and-done guest or a loyal advocate for your establishment. Having interests outside of work is essential for making small talk, as well as maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Any of us who have worked in a restaurant can attest to how easy it is to burn out when your job is to make others happy.
8. Tell me about a conflict you’ve had to deal with involving your co-workers and how you handled it.
Much of the focus on hiring is on guest satisfaction, but being a team player behind the scenes is just as important.
With this question, you can judge someone’s maturity level and his or her ability to overcome difficult situations in a team setting. Patrons absolutely love to be taken care of by a staff that is clearly having fun and enjoying the time spent with their coworkers.
While the best answers to these questions will depend on your food business’s specific needs, they will certainly help you gain much better insight into a candidate that you won’t be able to get from a resume.
9. What would your references say about you?
If you’re hiring someone new, you are likely asking for a few references.
See how the candidate’s answer lines up with the conversation you have with the reference. I am often used for references for colleagues on the hunt for a new job, and rarely am I contacted. Don’t forget to close the loop on this very important part of the hiring process.
10. Give it one last gut check.
This is not really a question – at this point, you’ve probably gained a strong idea of who is sitting in front of you, hoping to be welcomed into your restaurant’s family.
Now it’s time to go with your gut. If you don’t feel some kind of personal connection to your candidate, and aren’t confident your guests will enjoy their interactions with this person, then it’s probably a good idea to hold off on an offer. On the other end of the spectrum, you might feel that you’d love this person to join you for dinner! You know your concept and what it takes to mesh well with your team.
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