Hiring for a restaurant can be a lengthy, difficult process.

Turnover is also a huge problem in this industry. Making the wrong hiring choice can also mean your guests get poor service, your food quality tanks — or even that you lose your hard-earned profits to theft.

It’s important to conduct a thorough, effective interview so you know you’re making high quality hires.

Conducting an effective restaurant interview should be a multi-step process that really ensures you choose a job candidate with the right skills and the ability to fit seamlessly into your existing team. That means asking the right restaurant interview questions, but also putting your potential hires’ skills to the test.

Ahead, we’ll discuss some sample restaurant interview questions (and why you should ask them), but also what else you can do to test your applicants’ skills and qualifications.

To Stage, or Not to Stage?

Before we get into interview questions, let’s talk about working interviews, or “stages.”

Stages are a controversial topic in the restaurant industry. They also really put your candidates’ skills to the test, and show you how a potential hire interacts with your existing team.

Stages are pretty standard in the industry, particularly for back-of-house or bartending positions, because they show whether or not a new hire:

  • Understands necessary qualifications like knife skills or cooking techniques
  • Won’t hurt themselves
  • Won’t hurt others
  • Can give and take direction while doing the job
  • Can lead a brigade effectively

Seems like a great thing, right?

But if you’ve been in the restaurant industry for a while, you know why they’re so controversial: They’re often unpaid. Stages can range from a 20-minute test preparing a certain dish, all the way to a full restaurant shift. Regardless of how long a skills-based interview lasts, the candidate must be compensated for that time worked.

People in the industry talk, and the last thing you want is for your restaurant to have a bad reputation for putting prospective hires to work without paying them. Skills-based interviews are important, as long as the people putting in the work receive fair pay for their time and contributions.

Questions You Can Ask All Potential Hires

Now, on to the restaurant interview questions.

There are some questions you should ask of all hires, regardless of the position they’re seeking, because these questions will show you why they want to work in the restaurant industry and whether they understand customer service, hospitality and other important restaurant concepts.

Keep in mind that these are basic questions that are specific to the restaurant industry. There are many other questions you should ask that will help you get to know a candidate’s work history, experience and interests, but these ones are restaurant-specific.

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

Why ask this? We all know the restaurant industry is not an easy place to work. It takes passion and dedication, and this question reveals whether a potential hire truly loves 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 your least favorite customer service experience?

Why ask this? This shows you what the potential hire values in a hospitality experience.

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

Why ask this? Does the potential hire know and love the restaurant industry? This question will tell you that.

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 whether the potential hire has worked in a similar position, or understands the position they’re applying for and knows how to apply their relevant skills to succeed in it.

What things do guests do that you find annoying?

Why ask this? No one in the industry is head over heels for every guest that comes through the door. But this question will reveal a lot about how your hire handles personality clashes in a position where it’s their job to provide outstanding service even to someone they don’t like, or who has been rude to them.

Give me an example of a time you went above and beyond to exceed a guest’s expectations.

Why ask this? Is this potential hire always thinking about how to improve the guest experience to make it truly special? This question will show whether they provide the minimum in customer service, or really strive for a high level of hospitality.

Tell me about a time when 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 restaurant 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 little bit before the interview, it shows they’re dedicated to knowing how to fit into your business and serve your guests well.

Ask These Questions to Better Understand How a Candidate Will Behave on the Job

Once you’ve gotten to know your potential hires and their qualifications, it’s time to dig a little deeper.

Behavior-based interview questions can be some of the most important to determine who gets the job, because teamwork is so important in the restaurant industry. These are the questions that help show how a new hire might fit into your existing team.

Before going into interviews, really get to know your current team. Do you have too many leaders? Not enough? Are any personalities clashing? When creating a team, you need to know the players and make sure everyone knows what their roles are, while also giving them room to grow and not get stuck. Behavior-based interview questions take into consideration the current team and how the new hire might fit into it, which is what makes them some of the most important questions to ask.

In previous positions, how have you used teamwork in the workplace?

Why ask this? Teamwork is vitally important in restaurants, and how they answer this question shows whether candidates are dedicated to being part of the team, wherever they work.

How can your personality contribute to our restaurant?

Why ask this? For better or for worse, a restaurant staff is like a family. This question can help you gauge how a new hire will fit into the existing team.

How do you function in a fast-paced work environment?

Why ask this? No matter their position in the restaurant, employees are going to get overwhelmed at times by the fast-paced nature of the work. This question will show how they handle it, and whether they have any good tricks for staying on top of their work.

Tell me about a conflict you’ve had to deal with involving your co-workers and how you handled it.

Why ask this? Because restaurant staff have to work so closely together, conflict is bound to arise. Being able to dispel miscommunication and conflict at work is a vital skill for any  restaurant employee, so the entire team can keep working like the well-oiled machine it should be.

What do you think makes the biggest impact on the guests’ perception of service?

Why ask this? This shows what the candidate values in a customer service position, and how they will work to give their guests the best possible experience.

You have a tray with food ready to go out for a table of four, but you notice one of the steaks is overcooked. What do you do?

Why ask this? How a candidate answers this question shows you not only how above and beyond they’re willing to go for their guests, but also how they handle a potential conflict with other staff members, like the chef responsible for overcooking the steak.

What would you do if you saw a co-worker who is a friend of yours being rude to a customer?

Why ask this? While restaurant staff will inevitably become friends, the guests must always come first when they’re at work. This question will show whether a potential hire understands that.

How would you respond if a customer wrote something negative about your service online, which you know to be inaccurate, and you later saw them at the restaurant?

Why ask this? Handling conflicts with guests can be one of the hardest parts of the job, and this question will show whether a job candidate will be able to do it with grace and poise, all while putting the guest experience first and foremost — even before their own feelings.

On which side of your guest do you refill their water?

Why ask this? A simple skills-based question like this one can help determine whether your candidate has been trained in customer service at the level your restaurant requires.

Do you have a workable knowledge of wine/beer/bread/cheese/seafood/whatever your restaurant’s specialty may be?

Why ask this? Even if the potential hire isn’t already an expert in your restaurant’s area of specialty, this question opens up a conversation that shows whether they’re interested and willing to learn.

Ask These Questions When Filling Specific Positions

All of the questions listed above are applicable to all positions in a restaurant. But specific positions require specific experience and skills, which is where the next set of restaurant interview questions comes in.

If you’re hiring for a specific role, these questions should help you determine whether a candidate has the experience, knowledge and skills to be a good fit.

Ask These Questions of FOH Staff – including Hosts, Cashiers & Servers

  • What do you do if your register is short at the end of the night?
  • A customer insists they have given you a $20 bill, when you know it was a $10 bill. What do you do?
  • A customer just informed you that they have a food allergy. What do you do?
  • How would you deal with an irate customer, and describe a time when you’ve done so.
  • Should you smile at every customer? Why?

Ask These Questions of Barbacks and Bartenders

  • Tell me about a time you’ve had an irate or extremely intoxicated person at your bar. How did you handle it?
  • A group of guests comes in for a special occasion, like a birthday or bachelor party. Do you do anything special for them?
  • How do you make a (insert your restaurant’s most popular generic cocktail here)?
  • The bar is full of customers. How do you decide whom to serve first?

Ask These Questions of Cooks, including Prep Cooks and Line Cooks

  • What is the difference between braising and broiling?
  • Tell me about a dish that you think showcases your creativity.
  • What do you do if you’re out shopping and can’t find the specific brand of ingredient the chef requested?
  • How do you respond when a customer says they ordered their steak well done, but received one that’s rare?
  • The chef just asked you to prepare a sauce you’ve never made before. What’s your next step?
  • What do you do if you have an important question for the chef, but they aren’t available?

Ask These Questions of Chefs

  • How do you develop and maintain good relationships with your vendors?
  • How do you help the restaurant manage food costs?
  • If you could make changes to our menu, what’s the first thing you would change and why?
  • How do you stay up on the latest food trends?

Ask These Questions of Managers, including Chef Managers and General Managers

  • Tell us about someone you trained. How has this person progressed in their career since working with you?
  • Labor costs for your restaurant are getting too high. What do you do?
  • Tell us about a time you anticipated a guest’s needs. What happened?
  • How do you make sure you always have just the right number of staff members on the floor at a time?
  • An unexpected change has happened, like the kitchen running out of a popular menu item. How do you deal with that?
  • Tell us about the worst employee you’ve ever managed and how you worked with them.
  • There’s an unpopular dish on your restaurant’s menu that’s rarely ordered. How do you start a conversation with the chef about this?
Choosing the right staff for your restaurant is one of the most important jobs an owner or manager can take on.

Making sure everyone is the right fit isn’t easy, 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.

Good luck!