17 Restaurant Job Interview Questions (and How to Answer Them)

17 Restaurant Job Interview Questions (and How to Answer Them)
AJ Beltis

By AJ Beltis

There are a lot of jobs available in the restaurant industry. But there's one thing between you and the role you want: the interview. It shows your employer that you're a good fit for the role—and tells you if the restaurant is a good fit for you.

While every restaurant is different—there are few questions that would be fair to expect at any restaurant job interview.

To help you prep, whether it's a FOH or BOH position, we've outlined 17 restaurant interview questions you might be asked to answer, as well as some guidelines on how to answer them. Plus what kind of questions to ask the interviewer. We've also included a roundup of interview best practices you should be aware of before showing up to speak to the hiring manager.

Restaurant Interview Questions and Answers [PDF]

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Common Restaurant Job Interview Questions and Answers

restaurant job interview questions Waitress

1. Tell me about yourself

From dates to interviews, such a simple question can be so hard to answer. We talk about ourselves all the time, but when someone asks, it's awkward.

How to Answer

  • Walk the interviewer through your experience working in restaurants, the roles you've held and your responsibilities. For instance, were you responsible for restaurant employee scheduling or managing a log book? If this is your first restaurant job, explain how other jobs and experiences lead you to your interest in the restsaurant industry.
  • Smile and be personable. If you rush your answer and seem uncomfortable, how can the interviewer trust you to provide a delightful, enjoyable experience for guests?
  • Include one or two facts about yourself, like maybe where you're from or a hobby. Typically, you should end with this, keep it brief, and say something along the lines of “outside of work, I enjoy fly fishing/am studying archaeology at State/am prepping for a marathon/etc.” This can make you and the interviewer more relaxed, and it shows who you are as a person. It may even reveal something you have in common.

2. Can you tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult customer? How did you handle it?

All restaurant employees have to deal with difficult customers at one point or another. It's just going to happen, and many are arguing that it's gotten worse since the pandemic.

A restaurant manager wants to know how you handle a very real, stressful part of the job. It's not uncommon for employees dealing with particularly unruly or disruptive customers to involve management, and citing an example of this shows you know when and how to escalate if necessary.

How to Answer

  • Explain the difficult situation you found yourself in without using language of blame or judgment in any direction (towards the customer, the restaurant, or yourself).
  • Walk the interviewer through the decision you made, leading up to, in the moment of the incident, and then what the immediate result was.
  • If applicable, talk about what happened after. Did the situation escalate to management? Did your manager applaud you for your professionalism? Was the customer satisfied with how you handled the situation?
  • Talk about what you learned from the interaction and how it made you a better employee.

3. Why do you want to work at this restaurant?

Do your research! If you've been to the restaurant before, or if you know something about it that you like, be ready to talk about it in the interview. This may also be asked in the form of “What do you like about our restaurant?”

“I like to walk away knowing that not only can you do the job but that you also want to do it specifically in my restaurant. Do your research. Look at online reviews, check out my website, ask your friends and family what they think about my restaurant, and ask my employees what they like about working here,” says Michael Maxwell, Partner-VP of Operations at Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting

How to Answer

  • Name a few things you like about the restaurant and why you like them.
  • Be honest and direct, reference something you read on their website or a customer review that you value in a restaurant business.

4. Can you tell me about a mistake you've made on the job and how you handled it?

No, this is not a trick question! Everyone makes mistakes - especially in restaurants. This question is not intended to expose you as a flawed human, but rather to show the interviewer that you're capable of recognizing your flaws and improving your job performance. Another way this question could be phrased is “What are your greatest weaknesses?”

How to Answer

  • Explain the situation that occurred and the mistake you made.
  • Talk about the outcome immediately following the situation.
  • Explain how you made amends in the moment, and what you did in the long run to avoid making that same mistake again. This shows that you acknowledge your mistakes and use them as a learning experience.
Man ordering food at a sushi and burrito restaurant

5. Can you tell me about a time where you and a coworker clashed and how you resolved it?

It's fair to say you'll be working with plenty of people in a restaurant—sometimes dozens by the time your tenure is up. Your interviewer wants to know you'll know how to adapt to different working styles on the team without jeopardizing the customer experience.

Everyone has an employee conflict at one point or another, so just be honest and use it as a way to show you're capable of having healthy conflict.

How to Answer

  • Talk about the specific situation preceding and during the falling out.
  • Be honest. Explain where you were at fault and don't pin everything on the coworker.
  • Describe the resolution of what happened after the conflict.
  • Talk about what changed on your end and how the relationship improved or (if it did) has since evolved.

6. Can you tell me about your proudest moment working in a restaurant?

Here, the interviewer is probably looking to see just how passionate you are about working in a restaurant. Any job in this business is exhausting and requires long hours of arduous work, so restaurant managers want to make sure the people they hire to work for them are proud and excited to be there. Another way this question could be phrased is “Why do you want to work in restaurants?”

How to Answer

  • Speak with a smile. If you're not naturally happy, the interviewer might not think it's that proud of a moment for you.
  • Make sure the story involves someone else. A great answer to this question would be about how you were told by a customer how great you made her family's experience, a way you made your manager's job easier, or how a coworker thanked you for covering for him, which made you feel proud to be a member of that team.
  • Don't toot your own horn. It's fine if the story is a grand accomplishment of yours, but spend as much time explaining how it impacted the business as you do yourself.

7. What are the most important skills someone in this role should have?

Certain restaurant skills like focus and patience are required in any job you're interviewing for, but not every skill you've developed is worthy of bringing up in a given interview.

For example, being personable and communicative lends itself much more closely to a server job than a busser job. Going into your restaurant job interview, think critically about what skills are make or break for the job you're applying for, and be prepared to speak to how you can bring those skills to the role. This shows that you understand, as a basic level, what you're applying for and why you're a good fit.

How to Answer

  • Come prepared with a few skills you think are essential for your desired role, as well as why they are important.
  • Be specific to that role, rather than naming skills that would help in any career like “collaborative” or “detail-oriented”. You can mention any from the job description.
  • Don't ramble. Try to keep the list to just three or four examples.
Barista working at the FOH of a restaurant

8. How do you think you embody the skills you just mentioned?

If your interviewer doesn't ask this within the previous question, be prepared for this as the follow up. The last thing you want to do is set yourself up for failure by naming skills you don't yet have in the previous answer, so follow these steps if asked to answer this follow up question.

How to Answer

  • Have examples to back up how you embody these traits and skills in your daily life.
  • Own your faults if you don't yet have a skill the role requires. For example, “confidence is still an area I think I can grow in, but I've been working on it, and in my last performance review, my manager said she had seen a lot of improvement, and I'm excited to get even better in this new role.”

9. When was a time when you went out of your way to help someone?

A restaurant is only as good as its team. This question is a great opportunity to show a potential employer that you're a team player, and that you're aware of your surroundings.

How to Answer

  • Explain why you decided to go above and beyond. Was there a mistake that needed to be remedied? Did you overhear that a table was celebrating a special event?
  • Discuss how the effort was received. Did the person thank you for going the extra mile? Did your manager commend you for your work? Share it!

10. Where do you see yourself on a team?

Remember, working in a restaurant involves working on a team, and your interviewer will want to know how you fit into that restaurant's team.

How to Answer

  • Answer in line with the role you're interviewing for. For instance, you might want to say you're a leader if applying for a management job.
  • Be honest. If you're applying for that management job and you're not a natural leader, sub it in for another applicable role like organizer. Don't set an expectation for yourself that you're unable to meet.
  • Include an example. Whatever answer you give, explain why you gave that position with an example of how you thrive or why you operate best in that position.

11. Why should we hire you?

Interviewers need a bottom-line reason why they should invest in you. Give them legitimate reasons, and do your best not to put your personal needs above the needs of the business.

How to Answer

  • Don't brag. Instead, try to highlight how your positive attributes can help a restaurant succeed and delight guests.
  • Give concrete reasons why you're the best candidate for the role. Try citing the obvious must-haves like a good work ethic in addition to other sought-after attributes like a positive attitude.
  • Keep the response brief (30 seconds or so) and concisely explain why you're a wise choice for the job. Consider this to be a summary of the main points throughout the interview.

12. What questions do you have for me?

A question that you'll often forget is coming, “what questions do you have for me?” is a staple of any interview. Interviewers will want to know what ideas or concerns you have about the role and/or the business, so responding with “no” or “nothing right now” suggests you may not be as engaged as management would want you to be.

How to Answer

Ask at least one or two questions about the role. For example, what is the shift schedule like, and who manages that? Or, how does an employee request time off? If you truly don't have any, ask about the restaurant's operations, the team dynamics, and/or what the interviewer appreciates most about working there. Remember, this is your chance to interview your potential employer and make sure this is a good fit for you.

If you're stuck, here are a few to keep in your back pocket:

  1. “What are the opportunities for advancement for this role?” This question shows an employer that you have career goals, and aren't an employee who will quickly quit.
  2. “What's the current team like and how do they work together?” This shows an employer that you're not the type of person to come in and act selfishly. You're a team player.
  3. “Do you offer any continuing training or education opportunities?” Similar to question one, this shows that you're leaned into the industry and want to get better at your job.
  4. “Was there anything about my resume or application that concerned you or that I could clear up?” This opens the door for the interviewer to mention that one issue he wasn't planning to bring up, and for you to address it and clear the air.

Listen to the audio version of this article below.

Five Unique Restaurant Interview Questions

Unique restaurant job interview questions

1. What would you do if you ran out of a menu item?

Problem-solving skills are essential for restaurant workers. The interview probably wants to gauge how you would approach not just this situation, but similar ones, too.

How to Answer

  • Tell a story. If you've worked in a restaurant, chances are this situation is a familiar one. Tell the interviewer about a time when you had to deal with it, and how you handled it.
  • Make sure to involve everyone in your answer. How would you tell the customer? How would you try and make it work with the kitchen or serving staff?

2. How do you handle a busy shift?

This question is designed to test your time management and skills under pressure. It's going to get busy—and you have to keep your cool.

How to answer

There are a few aspects that go into handling a busy shift well. Make sure you touch on the following points:

  • Your ability to stay calm under pressure
  • Your ability to prioritize and manage your time
  • Your ability to stay organized
  • Your ability to communicate effectively with your team

3. What would you do if you made a mistake with an order?

Mistakes happen. But it's how you deal with them that separates you from the pack.

How to answer

  • Tell a story. Similar to the first question: this would be a great time for a story. Even if you handled it wrong in the past, explain how you'd do it differently this time around.
  • Be honest. Mistakes happen. Don't try and flip it to say that you don't make mistakes.

4. What do you think makes a great restaurant experience?

This question shows an interviewer whether you have thought about the customer experience, and what makes a restaurant stand out.

How to answer

  • List a few qualities of your favorite restaurants. It shows that you're someone who pays attention to the details.
  • Tie it back to the restaurant. If you can, tie those qualities back to the restaurant you're interviewing for. This would also be a great time to tell them about your experience if you've dined there before.

5. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing restaurants today?

When you work for a restaurant, you're a part of a bigger industry that employs millions. This question shows that you pay attention to the business at large, and understand the challenges that impact it.

How to answer

  • A few challenges to keep in mind are:
    • Turnover and retention
    • Increasing competition
    • Changing consumer tastes
    • Fast-moving ordering technology
  • Choose one to focus on and explain how someone in your role can confront these challenges.
  • Do some research to make sure you answer the question with some background knowledge.

Restaurant Interview Best Practices

Barista makes a coffee drink for a customer

As you head into your interview, keep these tips in mind to help you stand out.

1. Follow the STAR method.

STAR interviewing refers to a method of answering a question with a clear outlining of a situation, task, action, and result. This method helps to produce a logical and easily understandable answer in the context of your experience. So, if you are posed with the question “Can you tell me about a mistake you've made on the job and how you handled it?”, you might respond with the following:

  • Task: On one particular occasion, I asked a customer how his meal was, and he politely said “fine.” However, I could tell something was wrong, so I wanted to see what I could do.
  • Action: I asked the customer if there was something else I could do for him, and after a brief hesitation, he mentioned he had received the wrong side dish with his order. Unable to fix it at that point, I apologized, then asked my manager if I could send the guest home with a free dessert and a coupon for his next visit. My manager approved, and I presented him with the gifts and apologized again.
  • Result: The guest seemed pleasantly surprised and thanked me. I told him it was my pleasure, since I really did want to make up for the mistake. My manager also later came up to me and told me he appreciated me being honest with him about the mistake. A few weeks later, that same guest was back, and I'd like to think in some part that what I did to make him know his patronage was valued made him feel comfortable returning.

This framework helps give answers context.

Star Interview Method 4 steps breakdown
Source: wizardsourcer.com

2. Don't talk down to previous employers.

This is interviewing 101. Restaurant employees tend to bounce between jobs, so you never know if what you'll say could come back to bite you. If you're asked why you left or plan to leave your current role, keep your answer opportunistic and talk about how you just feel there were better professional opportunities in other establishments.

3. Tell the truth - don't exaggerate it.

As tempting as it is to build yourself up in an interview, don't do it. You'll either come off as insincere or set a bar that's too high for yourself. In one situation, you don't get the job. On the other hand, you likely won't keep the job for too long.

4. Don't forget the interview basics.

Pre-interview stress can make us forget the basics.

Arrive early. Bring your resume. Dress professionally. Smile. These are simple things, but they're essential for any job interview-restaurant or not.

5. Be confident

An interview is as much a performance as it is anything else.

It comes easy for some, but for others it requires practice. Write down some of your favorite experiences in your career and what they say about you. Rehearse answers in the mirror or with a partner.

“There are many candidates who have the potential to make a great first impression but don't because of their lack of confidence or fear of rejection. To make a memorable first impression, it helps to be confident and approachable,” says Brian Nagele, CEO of Restaurant Clicks.

Acing Your Restaurant Interview

Study up on these twelve restaurant interview questions and review these five best practices, and chances are you'll be more than prepared going into your restaurant interview. Just remember to relax, be confident, and rely on your experience. You wouldn't have gotten the interview if you didn't already have potential - so go in there and show what you can offer the restaurant.

You've got this! Find more restaurant employee resources.

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AJ Beltis
AJ Beltis

AJ Beltis is a freelance writer with almost a decade of experience in the restaurant industry. He currently works as a content manager at HubSpot, and previously as a blogger at Toast.