Hiring for a restaurant can be a lengthy, difficult process – in 2022, more than ever. Throughout the hiring process, increasingly workers will be interrogating your plans for how you will keep them safe and healthy.

And for you, making the wrong hiring choice can mean your guests get poor service, your food quality tanks — or that once again you end up with labor shortages.

Worker retention and turnover rates have been a problem in the restaurant and hospitality industry, even prior to the pandemic. Undeniably, COVID-19 has exacerbated these rates, with nearly 230,000 fewer workers in the foodservice industry according to Restaurants Canada. The pandemic has left many burnt out and anxious about the future – we can hope this will change as we move towards fully reopening in 2022.

Yet there is another factor to turnover ; it’s not that people don’t want to work in the restaurant industry, but that they don’t want to work at a job that treats them as disposable.

Arguably, addressing this factor of worker retention is more within the control of restaurant owners and operators. People want to be employed by a restaurant that treats their employees with respect, and in an environment where they feel comfortable speaking up about conditions.

The labor shortages brought about by the pandemic have created an opportunity for employees to increasingly advocate for themselves, and you should expect to get increasingly in-depth questions regarding time off, pay, benefits, and management structure.

It’s important to conduct a thorough, effective interview so that you know you’re making high quality hires that will benefit your business. But it is also important to ensure your interview process promotes worker retention, so you come out of the process with a longer term employee.

Ahead, we’ll discuss some general restaurant interview questions (and why you should ask them).

Then, we’ll cover some questions to ask potential employees in the context of the pandemic and post-pandemic world, and how to open any interview conversations to what the candidate may be asking you.

General Interview Questions to Start You Off

There are some questions you should ask all potential hires – regardless of the position they’re seeking.

These questions will show you why a candidate wants to work in the industry, and if they understand customer service, hospitality and other important concepts.

Also, if you’ve experienced labor shortages, we know you’re looking for someone who will be committed.

Here’s how to gauge their level of interest in the industry and position.

Why do you want to work in the food and beverage industry?

Why ask this? We know the restaurant industry is not an easy place to work, especially today. It takes passion and dedication, and this reveals whether a potential hire is really interested in pursuing this work.

What does hospitality mean to you?

Why ask this? Service and hospitality are essential parts of the industry, and this will help you understand how much a potential hire understands that.

Tell me about your most memorable hospitality experience as a guest.

Why ask this? From food quality to exceptional service, this will show what’s most important to a guest when it comes to hospitality.

What is the worst customer service you have experienced?

Why ask this? This shows you what the potential hire values in a hospitality experience, and the type of experience they know could be a poor one and would thus avoid.

Which person or establishment inspires you most in the hospitality industry? And why?

Why ask this? Does the potential hire have an interest in the restaurant industry? This question will tell you that, and what they value about an establishment, so you can see how it aligns with yours.

What qualities do you think are necessary for the job you’re interested in, and how would you apply those?

Why ask this? This will show you if the potential hire has worked in a similar position, or understands the position they’re applying for. It also provides an opportunity for them to show how they would apply their relevant skills for success.

Tell me about a time you had to go above and beyond to please an upset guest.

Why ask this? The foodservice and hospitality industry can be uncontrollable in many ways, as it involves interacting with a variety of personalities. But at the end of the day, even the most challenging and difficult situations need to be turned around. This question helps reveal how your potential hire will handle pressure, cater to a variety of guest situations, and remain positive throughout their shift.  

What are some ways you can strive to exceed guest’s expectations?

Why ask this? Is your potential hire always thinking about how to improve the guest experience to make it truly special? This question will show whether they’re looking to provide the minimum level customer service, or striving to meet a high level of hospitality.

Tell me about a time it was hard for you to arrive to work on time. What did you do to resolve it?

Why ask this? Punctuality is so important in the industry. This question will help you quickly suss out whether a candidate has had past problems arriving to work on time.

What do you know about our restaurant?

Why ask this? Has the potential hire dined at your restaurant before? Have they done any research? If they’ve gotten to know your restaurant a bit before the interview, it shows they’re dedicated to fitting into your business and serving your guests well.

Interview Questions to Ask When Hiring During/After COVID-19

Now you’ve asked questions to reveal the potential hires commitment to your business and working in the industry.

But worker retention is not only based on their commitment to you – it’s also a result of your commitment to creating a safe space where your employees feel comfortable and valued.

So, it’s important that your interview and hiring processes reflect your COVID-19 safety measures, and that you find staff who will take these measures seriously.

Asking these questions will help candidates gauge your commitment to their safety – while you will continue to gain insight into their behavior, and how they’ll fit in with your team.

This cultivates an environment which promotes long-term employment.

Here are some ideas we’ve pulled together based on determining a culture fit in the context of industry changes, and what candidates may be asking you.

What has been your experience with COVID-19 protocols?

Why ask this? You’ll determine the level of comfort that your potential hire has with safety measures, and what additional training they may need. This is also opening the conversation to begin to share the measures your business has in place, and to show the candidate how you take responsibility for the safety of your team. Further, it’s an opportunity for the candidate to step away from the process if they have conflicting expectations.

During this time, how can we help you to feel safe in the workplace?

Why ask this? You are showing your candidate that you have a focus on their health and safety, in addition to that of your customers. You can expect that candidates will ask questions about your protocols, so ultimately, you are opening the conversation to address these concerns. This makes candidates feel valued as an employee and as a person – a factor that employees in the foodservice industry feel has been brushed over by their employers.

How might you handle a customer who refuses to follow our COVID safety measures?

Why ask this? Similarly to asking how a potential hire would handle personality clashes with customers, this question reveals how they will continue to provide customer service, even in a situation where they have enforce the rules.

A staff member calls in sick last minute before their shift – how would you handle this?

Why ask this? You will gain insight into if the potential hire has experience with COVID outbreaks, and how to remain calm in such situations. You’ll uncover how they would ensure the safety of the customers and rest of your team, as well as how they problem solve to run a smooth shift.

Although we hope to not experience this challenge, how would you handle being asked to cover for a sick co-worker over a period of time?

Why ask this? While you’re addressing that you hope this circumstance does not come up, this has been a reality for many employees in the foodservice and hospitality industry. You’re looking to hire a candidate who you can count on throughout these challenges. You’ll be able to gauge how they may behave in this situation, and how they might fit into your team dynamic.

How could an employer help to make you feel secure in your role, amid the uncertainty in the world?

Why ask this? You’re acknowledging the elephant in the room. This conveys that you recognize the changes and turnover in the industry, while emphasizing that you want to support them. This is helpful for cultivating long term interest in the role right off the bat, and evaluating how interested they are in developing a positive, communicative relationship.

Ultimately…

Hiring staff for your restaurant is one of the most important tasks an owner or manager has to take on. Making sure a candidate is the right fit isn’t easy, and labor shortages amid the pandemic haven’t helped to make the interview process easier.

But, by asking the right interview questions you can find the candidates who have the right skills, experiences, instincts and other qualities to take your restaurant to the next level. Further, you’ll show your commitment to their safety and health, forming longer-term employee relationships.

Best of luck with the process!