What’s the most impactful decision a restaurateur has to make? While most people would say it’s choosing a concept or picking the perfect location, we argue that it’s hiring the right people.
Who you hire to execute your vision can make or break your business. Restaurant staff members who are engaged in their work are better able to create memorable experiences for guests — even if they don’t interact with them directly. Team members who aren’t engaged create subpar experiences for guests and are more likely to quit.
But how can you know if a new hire will be engaged in their role before you hire them? By asking strategic interview questions. The right questions can give you insight into a candidate’s values, which reveal whether or not they’ll be a good fit for your restaurant over the long term.
Restaurateurs now also need to know how well new hires will uphold COVID-19 safety measures. Staff adherence plays an important role in making guests feel safe dining at or ordering from restaurants in the coronavirus era. If staff jeopardize the health and safety of guests or fellow team members, they can sink the business.
Ask these questions in your interviews to find staff who will uphold COVID-19 safety measures and whose values match yours. While the questions are organized by role, we’ve highlighted questions that are relevant to all positions with an asterisk.
Ask these questions when you interview potential managers.
1. What are the most important skills someone in this role should have? How do you think you embody these skills?
Why it’s important to ask: This question shows you that the candidate understands the role and gives them an opportunity to explain how they fit into it.
What to look for: If a candidate’s answer is overly generic, then your restaurant is probably one of dozens of restaurants they’re applying to manage and they won’t care where they end up. They should demonstrate how their past experience makes them a good fit for this role. Candidates get bonus points for discussing this role and past roles passionately.
2. A server calls in sick at the last minute. What would you do to ensure a smooth day of service when you’re understaffed?
Why it’s important to ask: This question gives you insight into the candidate’s problem solving skills.
What to look for: Look for a solution that keeps guests a top priority and supports the short-staffed FOH team — like the manager stepping in to work the role (this is where cross-training comes in handy!) or making rounds on the floor to apologize to guests for slow service.
3. How would you handle a customer who won’t cooperate with the restaurant’s COVID-19 safety procedures?
Why it’s important to ask: You need to know that the candidate won’t be afraid to enforce rules, but can do so while maintaining a hospitable environment. Doing so shows that they understand their role in protecting their team members and other guests.
What to look for: Rather than simply chastising an uncooperative guest, the candidate should say that they’d share the restaurant’s policies with the guest and explain why guests play an important role in upholding them. Doing so emphasizes hospitality by preventing the guest from feeling like a bad guy, and instead makes them feel ownership over their role in keeping others safe. If the guest continues to break the rules, the manager should politely ask them to leave.
Check out 7shifts’ Employee Health Check & Symptoms Screening tool
Pose these questions to candidates for server, bartender, barista, and host roles.
4. Why do you want to work here?
Why it’s important to ask: Oftentimes, front-of-house roles are seen as temporary jobs for workers rather than long term career options. Because rehiring and training new staff is costly, it’s in your best interest to hire candidates who are in it for the long haul. This question can help you distinguish serious candidates from those who will only stick around until something better comes along.
What to look for: Look for passion in the candidates’ responses and for anecdotes about what your restaurant means to them.
5. Tell me about a time when you had to handle a difficult situation with a customer. What did you do?
Why it’s important to ask: The answer to this question reveals how candidates would represent your restaurant under pressure. It can also show you how they’d deal with customers who didn’t adhere to COVID-19 safety measures.
What to look for: Listen for a logical decision making process and proper escalation of the situation to a manager, when necessary.
6. Tell me about a time when you went out of your way to delight a guest.
Why it’s important to ask: Hospitality is about putting customers first. You need to know that your customer-facing staff will go the extra mile for guests.
What to look for: Look for enthusiasm and passion while candidates share their stories. If they seem annoyed that they had to meet special requests, they’re probably not right for the job.
Ask potential chefs, cooks, dishwashers, and bussers these questions in job interviews.
7. Tell me about a time when you were in the weeds. How did you handle the pressure?
Why it’s important to ask: If a BOH candidate can’t handle the heat, they should stay out of your kitchen! You need to know how this person performs under pressure.
What to look for: Listen for how the candidate prioritizes competing tasks with limited resources.
8. Tell me about a time you made a mistake at work. How did you handle it?
Why it’s important to ask: How candidates handle mistakes shows their problem solving skills and maturity.
What to look for: Candidates should own up to their mistakes. They should also describe how they minimized the impact of the mistakes, reflect on what they learned, and explain how they made sure the mistakes didn’t happen again.
9. A team member’s mask isn’t covering their nose. What do you do?
Why important: You need to know that candidates will hold colleagues accountable for upholding COVID-19 safety measures.
What to look for: Candidates should say that they would lead by example by properly wearing PPE, and wouldn’t be afraid to confront coworkers who didn’t. Candidates should also get a manager involved if the coworker consistently failed to take safety measures seriously.
Wrapping up: Best restaurant job interview questions to ask in 2020
Making good hiring decisions is more critical now, in the age of COVID-19, than ever. The right staff will obey strict safety measures and hold their teammates accountable, all while creating the best possible experience for guests. The wrong team members will decrease guest confidence and sales.
Strategic questions will reveal your candidates’ values and help you determine whether they’ll be good fits for your restaurant family. Learn how 7shifts can help you find the right candidates and keep your team healthy.