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How to conduct restaurant staff interviews

Choosing the right staff for your restaurant is essential in ensuring that overall operations run smoothly and efficiently, as servers, kitchen staff and management must function together as a team. This article offers helpful guidance on restaurant staff positions, how to prepare for and conduct restaurant interviews, working interviews vs. non-working interviews and interview questions.

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Restaurant Staff Positions and Job Duties

As a restaurant owner or hiring manager, you may need to fill several different positions at once, and some of your interview questions will be unique to each position. Having a clear understanding of the specific job duties of each position can help with your preparation process and determining the best interview questions to ask each applicant. Here are some common restaurant staff positions and their specific duties:

  • Restaurant managers: In charge of day to day operations, managing staff, scheduling, operating cash registers and distributing paychecks. Managers are also sometimes required to assist with seating, food service and kitchen duties when establishments are understaffed.
  • Servers: Responsible for taking food orders and delivering orders to customers. Servers may also be required to ring up customer checks, bus tables, answer restaurant phones and handle to-go orders.
  • Bussers: Responsible for cleaning and prepping restaurant tables and some janitorial tasks. In some establishments, bussers also assist with seating customers and taking beverage orders.
  • Dishwashers: Responsible for cleaning and sanitizing dishes, silverware, cooking utensils, pots, pans and other kitchen items.
  • Cooks: Responsible for preparing, cooking and plating menu items.

Preparing for your restaurant staff interviews

When preparing for restaurant staff interviews, the first step is to recruit potential candidates. This can be done in a few different ways. Posting your job listing on Indeed is a great way to find multiple interested candidates in a short period of time. In addition to online job description postings, you may consider hanging a help wanted sign outside of your establishment, or placing an ad in your local community paper.

Once you’ve recruited potential candidates, the next step is to schedule interview times. If possible, schedule the interviews during off hours before your establishment opens for the day. If your restaurant is open 24 hours, consider scheduling interviews during slower periods such as after the breakfast or lunch rush to ensure each interviewee gets your undivided attention.

On the day of your scheduled interview or interviews, print out each applicant’s resume and organize them in order of their corresponding interview times. This way you’ll have quick access to each candidate’s information when conducting the interviews.

Where to conduct restaurant staff interviews

The process of conducting interviews for restaurant staff differs from standard business interviews. Employers often conduct these interviews in the dining rooms or bar areas of their restaurants, which can actually make the process more comfortable for potential hires due to a more relaxed environment. When preparing to conduct restaurant staff interviews in a dining or bar area, it’s always a good idea to set up at a back booth or table if possible. This will give the potential candidates a bit of privacy and prevent you from disturbing staff and patrons if you’re conducting the interviews during business hours.

Working interviews vs. non-working interviews

When hiring cooks and chefs, certain establishments require potential hires to participate in working interviews, also referred to as staging. While specifics can vary depending on the establishment, working interviews in restaurant settings typically consist of potential candidates preparing menu items and performing other kitchen-related tasks. This helps give employers an idea of a candidate’s skills and their ability to follow instructions.

Working interviews differ from traditional non-working interviews in the fact that candidates are actually performing job duties as opposed to answering a series of interview questions. However, certain employers may still require working interview candidates to participate in a traditional interview as part of the overall process.

Restaurant staff interview questions

When interviewing potential candidates for restaurant staff positions, certain questions are standard for all positions, while other questions are specific to the positions. For example, if you’re interviewing a candidate for a chef’s position, you may ask if they have previous chef experience, and this question wouldn’t be necessary for a server or busser position. Here are some examples of both standard and position-specific restaurant staff interview questions

1. How would you describe yourself? (Standard)

Every good interview starts with asking a candidate to describe themselves. This is a generic question you can ask all potential candidates, regardless of the specific position they’re interviewing for. This question can cover any of the following topics:

  • Personality
  • Employment history
  • Academic background
  • Personal goals
  • Hobbies and interests

This question gives you a chance to learn more about the applicant and gauge their overall personality. It may also help you determine whether or not the candidate would be comfortable in a team setting.

2. What do you like about restaurant management? (Position-specific)

This question is specific to managerial candidates, and how they answer can give you a glimpse of how they may manage their team if hired. For example, if they say they enjoyed delegating tasks, this can indicate that they have good leadership skills.

3. Why are you leaving your current job? (Standard)

This question is standard for all applicants, and it simply gives hiring managers a good idea of what the candidate is looking for in a new position. For example, if the candidate states that they’re leaving their current job because the pay was too low, this can help you determine if the pay rate you plan to offer will meet their needs.

4. What makes you qualified for this position? (Position-specific)

One of the most important restaurant interview questions is asking about qualifications. This question is specific to each position, so answers will vary among candidates. For example, an individual interviewing for a server position may state that they have several years of experience as a server or hostess, while a chef candidate may elaborate on their experience working as a chef, cook, or kitchen assistant.

Interview tips for restaurant staff positions

While asking the right questions is an important part of the interview process, it’s not the only factor to consider. If you want to conduct a great interview, try employing these tips:

Be professional and courteous

Leading an interview means you’re representing the restaurant. Thus, you should always remain professional during your interactions with candidates, even if you don’t think someone is right for the job.

There may be instances where you decide a candidate isn’t a good fit mid-interview. If this happens, don’t end the interview or insult the applicant. Instead, complete the interview and politely follow up with a rejection.

Take notes during the interview

Hiring someone is often a collaborative process. The person conducting the interview may consult colleagues and supervisors before making an official decision. Therefore, it’s helpful to record interview feedback that can be shared with people who weren’t present during the interview. Here are a few details to cover:

  • General thoughts on the candidate
  • Things you liked about the interview
  • Things you disliked about the interview
  • Stand-out details, such as a strong work history or interesting personal life
  • Whether you would hire them or not

You can take notes either during the interview or directly after. If you choose the former, try to keep notes brief, so the candidate doesn’t get distracted or nervous.

Foster a comfortable atmosphere

As you prepare for the interview, consider the candidate’s experience. You want them to have a positive time and feel at ease. If they’re nervous, it can affect the interview (and your ability to find the right person for the job). Here are a few suggestions for creating a pleasant environment:

  • Be kind and approachable during your interactions
  • Offer applicants beverages
  • Provide comfortable seating
  • Be patient when they answer questions
  • Don’t have more than two interviewers

Remember that job hunting is a two-way street. The interview is also the candidate’s opportunity to decide if they want to work with you. Creating a positive environment shows you care about your business, your reputation and—most importantly—your staff.

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