Looking to work in a restaurant? The good news for you is that the #1 staffing concern for restaurants is understaffing, which means if you’re a respectable candidate with a track record of success, you’ve got a pretty good shot at being hired.¹
But as you get closer to landing that restaurant job you’ve got your eye on, it becomes increasingly important to be ready for one stage of the job hunt there’s no escape from – the restaurant interview.
A restaurant interview can take many forms – a group interview, an open interview, or a scheduled one-on-one interview, to name a few. No matter the setting, having poise, being authentic, exuding confidence, and articulating knowledge will help you stand out from other candidates.
To help you prep, we’ve outlined 12 restaurant interview questions you might be asked to answer, as well as some guidelines on how to answer them. We’ve also included a roundup of interview best practices you should be aware of before showing up to speak to the hiring manager.
Common Restaurant Job Interview Questions
1. Tell me about yourself
We talk about ourselves all the time, but somehow in the context of a restaurant interview, answering this question becomes awkward and difficult. Since the role – especially if it’s front-of-house – will require constant communication and interaction with guests, this is a prime example of a question where style carries just as much weight, if not moreso, as substance.
How to Answer
- Walk the interviewer through your experience working in restaurants, the roles you’ve held and your responsibilities. If this is your first restaurant job, explain how other jobs and experiences lead you to your interest in the 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 makes you appear like a person instead of just another candidate.
2. Can you tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult customer and what you did in the situation?
All restaurant employees have to deal with rude or difficult customers at one point or another, yet that timeless saying of “the customer is always right” never fails to reign supreme.
Interviewers want 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 get escalated 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. What do you think about/like about our 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.
How to Answer
- Name one or two 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.
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.
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 follow these steps when answering.
How to Answer
- Explain the relationship between you and this coworker. Had you just met him/her, or had you been coworkers for years and never really got along?
- 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.
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 too! 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 explain how it had an impact on the restaurant business or guest experience.
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 an 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.
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.”
- Don’t ramble. Try to keep the list to just three or four examples.
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.
- Be humble. Explain how you’re capable of meeting the needs of the role with your skills–without bragging!
- 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 delight a guest?
A positive guest experience is more important now than ever. 73% of consumers will tell someone about a negative customer experience if they have one, so if you limit the amount of negative experiences in a restaurant, you’re drastically helping business.
How to Answer
- Explain why you decided to go above and beyond for this customer. Was there a mistake that needed to be remedied? Did you overhear the table was celebrating a special event?
- Discuss how the effort was received. Did the customer thank you for going the extra mile? Did your manager commend you for your work?
- Talk about how it made you feel. If you felt exhausted or annoyed after meeting this special request, your interviewer might not think you’re the best person for the job.
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. 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 leaned into the opportunity as management would want you to be.
How to Answer
- Ask at least one or two questions about the role. 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.
- Commit to following up with questions if you’re on the spot and genuinely can't come up with any questions in the moment, and ask for the best follow-up contact information.
- Don’t ask about certain topics like salary or benefits just yet. Save those for when/if you receive the offer. Managers don’t want to hire people knowing they’re just in it for the money.
Some sample follow-up questions for any restaurant interview are:
- “What are the opportunities for advancement for this role?” This shows you’re willing to grow in your restaurant career and aren’t an employee who will quickly quit.
- “What’s the current team like and how do they work together?” This shows you’re a team player.
- “Do you offer any continuing training or education opportunities?” This lets your interviewer know you’re leaned into the industry and want to get better at your job.
- “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.
12. 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’d be a great team addition. 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.
Restaurant Interview Best Practices
As you head into your interview, keep these five tips in mind to help you stand out.
1. Follow the STAR interview method.
STAR interviewing refers to a method of answering a question with a clear outlining of a situation, task, action, and result.² 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:
- Situation: Our Yelp! Reviews started gradually declining last year, and so our manager told us to start paying much closer to the way customers interacted with us towards the end of their meals.
- 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 has 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.
See how that clearly and concisely tells a story of what the issue was, what you were faced with doing, how you reacted, and how the situation was resolved? When answering this way, hiring managers will be able to understand your train of thought and will be more inclined to trust you to follow through with your ideas and your work.
2. Don’t talk down on 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. In the other, you likely won’t keep the job for too long.
4. Don’t forget your interview essentials.
The pre-interview stress can cause you to forget a few basics before your meeting. Remember to do these before you show up.
- Arrive at least 10 minutes early. Showing up late sets a very bad precedent in this industry. Be early to show your gratitude for this opportunity, but if you do end up running late, call on your way to apologize and explain the situation. If you have a legitimate excuse, any decent interviewer will understand.
- Bring multiple copies of your resume. Brush up your resume so that it’s relevant and grammatically correct, and bring copies for all of the employees who will be interviewing you.
- Remind yourself to smile. It’s such a simple thing, but smiling in an interview can truly play a role in your hiring.³ It shows your interviewer that you’re kind, positive, and comfortable in awkward situations (which, as we all know, a restaurant interview usually is).
5. Dress for the occasion.
Interview dress codes can be head scratchers, but the restaurant interview rule of thumb is to dress better than the restaurant’s average guests would.
If a dress code is not provided, you should at minimum look somewhat professional. That means dark jeans or wrinkle-free khakis with a belt, clean shoes, and a tucked-in button up shirt for men. If the restaurant is a bit nicer, consider wearing a tie. Women can also wear khakis or dark jeans, alongside a nice top or blouse and closed-toe shoes.
For a more formal restaurant, or for a management position, men should wear a suit, while women should wear a blazer with a nicer blouse with dress pants.
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.