Restaurant Interview Questions: Your Cheatsheet
Prior to the pandemic, the turnover rate in the industry was already 74.9% annually, meaning that restaurateurs had to retrain the majority of their staff every year. Employee turnover rates fluctuated wildly throughout the pandemic, as lockdowns dramatically altered the restaurant industry. As vaccination rates continue to increase, the restaurant industry is progressively able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. As restaurateurs begin to recover from the challenges of the pandemic, a revitalized industry has begun rehiring for lost and new positions. Rebuilding your dream team is no small task, but with the right restaurant interview questions, you can find the perfect person to regrow your operations.
Where To Start
From word-of-mouth to online postings, there is no right way to find employees. The simplest ways to get started if word-of-mouth doesn’t work for you is to:
- Create a job posting that you can use online
- Share that posting to your social media
- Post an ad in your local paper
You might also ask your employees if they know anyone interested. If it’s a specialized position like a bartender or chef, you might consider partnering with local schools that might train in these skills. Once you have a few candidates, let’s review the type of general opening restaurant interview questions that you might ask.
On the Job
Before we go any further, remember that it’s commonplace for restaurant employees to learn on the job. This isn’t part of the interview process as we’ve described it, but it bears mention. In many cases, restaurateurs have just asked a potential employee to show and not tell their resume. If you take that route, make sure you have competent leadership in your BOH and FOH to help you make the appropriate determinations.
General Starter Questions
Now that you have candidates coming in, what are the restaurant interview questions best suited to ask upfront? Before you dig into the more nuanced questions, it’s best to lead with the basics. These are questions asked to gather general insights into your potential candidate. Consider the following:
Tell us a little about yourself.
This question and others like it are meant to provide a broad context for your candidate. Keep these questions as open as possible, and let the candidate speak for themselves.
While there are a variety of “command” positions in a restaurant, your leadership team who have a hand in running your back-of-house (BOH) or front-of-house (FOH), the majority of your staff are likely to work entry-level positions including host, waitstaff, kitchen prep, and expo station runners. As these are less sensitive positions, the restaurant interview questions are comparably less detailed, although equally important.
Depending on how your staff and for what position, you may or may not have a proper resume on hand. If that’s the case, it’s useful to ask questions about prior employment during an interview. Doing so provides background information, including an idea of a candidate’s technical strengths and weaknesses. Consider a restaurant interview question like:
What types of technologies are you familiar with?
The questions you ask are to determine technical competencies, so make sure you have several tailored to your business. Mileage may vary based on position, but there are a variety of technologies in a restaurant, from kitchen display systems to guest management tools.
As with the general restaurant interview questions above, behavioral questions are used to determine how a candidate might respond to a challenge at work. While these types of questions tend to be broad, you can tailor-make each to the position. For example, you might ask:
How do you handle difficult situations with customers?
Behavioral questions are to better understand how potential employees come can address many complexities, but are ultimately best at understanding how someone handles stress. Direct your behavioral questions at situations between your potential candidates and customers to get a sense of how they work with the public. Since the average age for restaurant employees is 28, it’s always possible that you might encounter candidates who lack the experience to answer these types of questions. If so, make sure to make up a few example scenarios.
Where behavioral questions look at how candidates deal with the outside world, interpersonal questions are used to determine how they might integrate within your existing work culture. These restaurant interview questions are used to determine if they will get along not only with your other employees, but how they might respond to management. You might ask:
How have you handled disagreements with coworkers in the past?
The obvious value to this question is in learning how well your staff will interact with one another. Watch for candidates who signal that they may be or have been insubordinate, or who haven’t seemed to learn from their past mistakes. Be wary of answers that imply that a candidate has had no negative interactions with coworkers in the past. While that is quite possibly true, especially if the candidate is less experienced, ask follow-up questions that probe why that might be.
Your leadership team will differ from your other employees in the scope and focus of their responsibilities. These positions include restaurant managers, chefs or bartenders who manage their own sections of the restaurant, or IT professionals. While the aforementioned restaurant interview questions can still apply to your command staff, it’s important to drill down into the specifics to better understand who you may have running your operations.
While technical competency isn’t strictly necessary for your entry-level positions, it is a must for your command staff. In this case, technical questions help to determine not only if your candidate has the skills necessary to the task, but if they can in term help with that during the onboarding process. For example, if you are hiring a chef they will need to know how to use kitchen technologies like a KDS or recipe viewer. You may ask:
Tell us about the types of restaurant technologies you’ve used in the past.
Keep in mind that this is intended to gauge competency not necessarily experience. If you’re hiring someone in IT, it’s not important that they’ve used technology specific to your operation, but that they understand the various types of technology that you might use in general. Craft your questions to reflect broad areas of expertise, but be prepared to ask questions unique to your restaurant management platform.
When it comes to leadership, you need someone with both technical and interpersonal skills. While the aforementioned general restaurant interview questions still apply, it’s important to dig deep and ensure that your candidate is well-rounded. Lead with a question like:
What makes for a good manager and why?
This type of question is open-ended and designed to get insight into what the candidate feels is an ideal leader. Knowing someone’s leadership style is important in understanding how they might relate to your employees, delegate tasks, or prioritize. Remember that a good manager isn’t necessarily an expert in every position available, but effective at assigning people based on their strengths. Likewise, having a talent in one field doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a good leader, but that you have good ideas.
Once you’ve completed your interviews, you may need to narrow down your search even further. Depending on the position you’re hiring for, you might consider using a grading rubric to help you assess candidate answers. Keep it simple and assign a 5 or 10 point scale to each answer. At the end of your process, tally up your answers to see which candidate scored the best. This is an especially useful process if you have two very close candidates to help you to make your determination.
For most restaurant positions, it’s unlikely that you’ll need more than one interview. If you do though, follow up with restaurant interview questions that speak to the person. Your first interview likely already covered the professional details, so make sure to ask more questions that tell you who a person is. You might consider a question like:
What type of music do you listen to when you work?
This sets the tone a little but also gives you some insight into the speaker. Are they guarded or were they passionate about their interests? There is, of course, no wrong answer, but a lighter question like this can give serve as a character study.
Restaurant Interview Questions Conclusion
Interviewing potential candidates for any job, from the most menial and mundane to high-level positions takes time and patience. As restaurants plan for their bright tomorrow, there are technological solutions to help train your staff as well, so remember to follow up on that in your interviews to make sure that your team has the right tools and the know-how to use them. Click below to read our restaurant interview questions cheatsheet, and let us know if you have any of your own to add in the comments section.
Are you looking for a way to narrow down the search for your perfect team? Download our Restaurant Interview Questions checklist below.
About the Author
Syd is a content marketing specialist, which are fancy words for writing pretty to tell a good story. He likes writing things about food, drinks, and music. He’s a musician himself, a father of two, and loves his wife a whole lot.