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Episode 11:

15 Restaurant Interview Questions to Ask in 2021

With a labor shortage and high turnover in the restaurant industry, hiring restaurant employees has easily become one of the biggest and most time-consuming responsibilities leaders have today (not to mention stressful!). While you can't control everything when it comes to hiring and retaining restaurant employees, having a thoughtful interview process is one of the best ways to ensure you're hiring applicants that are qualified for the job, passionate about the role and your business, and committed to sticking around. 

To help you prepare to interview restaurant staff, we've put together a list of 15 restaurant interview questions you need to ask every potential new hire. We’ll tell you why this questions are so critical to helping you find the right employee, and also help you identify the answers you should be looking for. 

But before we get into all of that, it’s important to understand why finding good restaurant employees is so challenging right now. Consider the challenges hourly workers have had to go through recently and ensure you're providing opportunities, benefits, and flexibility to attract quality employees in the first place.

Why is it so hard to find hourly employees?

You’re not the only one struggling to find good hourly employees right now. According to a September 2021 data report by Restaurant Dive, 26% of restaurants were looking for cooks and line cooks, 17% were looking for servers, and 7% were looking for bartenders.

What’s causing the labor shortage? The new normal. The pandemic has changed how we live. And hourly workers want higher pay, more flexibility in their schedule, and employee benefits that reflect our new reality.

And businesses are stepping up to the plate. Not only are wages getting more competitive, but employers are finding new, creative ways to attract (and retain!) workers like paid time off, education reimbursements,  paid childcare, and more. 

So before you post an open job and start reviewing applications, ensure you're providing an attractive and competitive employee experience. Only then, will the following restaurant interview questions be able to help you determine if an applicant is the right fit for your open role. 

15 restaurant interview questions you should be asking

During a restaurant interview, you should be asking questions that not only validate an applicant's skills and experience but also give you an indication of their commitment to the job. The following 15 restaurant interview questions will help you: 

  • Find applicants who are serious and committed to doing the job well
  • Weed out the candidates who are more likely to turnover  

 Prepare for your next restaurant interview by becoming acquainted with the most common restaurant interview questions and the answers you should be looking for. 

1. Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

This is a basic but important restaurant interview question. It allows potential employees to talk about themselves and get comfortable at the beginning of the interview. It also gives you, the interviewer, a general understanding of the interviewee without restricting them to any topic. 

Specifically, you should listen to discover information and details that are not mentioned in their resume. This is a good way to learn about any auxiliary skills or characteristics that could lend themselves to the job.  It’s also a good chance to learn about the interviewee’s personality, particularly how they carry themselves when meeting a stranger—an important trait to succeed in the restaurant industry before, during, and after the pandemic.

2. Why do you want to work in the restaurant industry?

You know there are pros and cons to the restaurant industry. And everyone will have different motives for choosing this line of work. This restaurant interview question will guide the interviewee to express how this job fits with their short and long-term goals. 

As they answer, listen to how they describe their feelings and thoughts about the restaurant industry. Do they think of it as a short-term gig? Do they want to progress through different stages of a restaurant career, be it with your restaurant or others? Do they love food or customer service or bartending? Try to tie their answer back to your current hiring objective to see if they're a match for the role. Every hire you make won't have a deep passion for the restaurant industry, and that's OK. But if an applicant does want to turn this line of work into a long career, you may save yourself from experiencing quick turnover. 

3. Why do you want to work at our restaurant over others?

As we mentioned previously, restaurants all around the country are struggling to find employees now due to a nationwide labor shortage. So, the interviewee probably has many options. This restaurant interview question can help you to further understand why they’ve chosen to apply for a job at your restaurant. This restaurant interview question could also help you understand if they have done enough research about your company.

Based on their answers, you can have an idea if they fit with your restaurant's mission, vision, and workplace culture. And you'll also learn if they'll get along well with the rest of your staff. On top of that, you may discover what your competitive edges are in the market that draws applicants to you—details you can use to update your job description and make it more enticing to future applicants. 

4. What do you know about our restaurant?

Yes, this fast food interview question is similar to the one above but it might also reveal new, important information. For one thing, it will help you distinguish between a well-prepared candidate and an apply-to-all-jobs candidate. 

5. Do you have any prior experience in the restaurant industry?

This is another common fast food interview question that will help you understand what expertise the interviewee brings to the table and which of their skills might be transferable to the role you’re hiring for.

Look for answers that demonstrate desirable skills, such as their proficiency in using POS systems or other emerging technologies in the restaurant industry. Their answer will help you determine how much training you may need to provide if they're hired or if they have added experience that isn't necessary to the role, but could support your business in different ways. If you're lucky, you might only need to give them a refresher instead of comprehensive training during onboarding!

6. How well do you work under pressure?

We all know that working in a restaurant is not easy. The labor shortage might also put additional pressure on restaurant operations, making things a bit unpredictable. This food service interview question lets you know how flexible and resilient the interviewee is at work. 

Look for more than one-word answers here. Give the applicant the opportunity to talk through different real-life scenarios where they've had to manage high-pressure situations and prioritize competing tasks.

7. Tell me about a time you had to deal with demanding customers in a restaurant. How did you resolve the issue?

Every restaurant will always have customers that occasionally act out of line. No employee can prevent those troublesome occurrences from happening. But there are a variety of ways to resolve those conflicts, some more professional and effective than others. 

This food service interview question gives you a chance to see if the candidate knows how to handle stressful situations without jeopardizing your business. Look for candidates that not only have their own ways to resolve conflicts and ensure excellent customer service, but also know how to seek help and raise concerns at the right time.

8. What does excellent customer service mean to you?

The word “excellent” is subjective. What it means to you and the candidate could be drastically different. This question allows you to see if their idea of customer service is aligned with your restaurant’s standards. 

Given the current situation, also try to dig for examples of times the candidate has given excellent customer service in a variety of settings. For example, what does customer service look like to them when speaking over the phone, by email, by text, or in-person? Their approach to customer service using these different mediums may not be the same.

9. How would you resolve a conflict with your coworkers?

Running a restaurant is not a one-man show. It’s a collective effort from customer-facing employees, kitchen staff, and administration. And occasional conflicts among coworkers are to be expected.

This interview question will help you gauge how well the candidate can work with others, whether they are a team player, and how they might influence your work culture. Look for answers that focus on resolution instead of the problem or people.

10. What digital tools have you used in previous restaurant jobs?

As a result of how Covid has changed consumer behavior, the restaurant industry is undergoing a digital transformation. Technology such as third-party order apps (e.g. Uber Eats) and self-ordering kiosks will be more common in the years to come. All of this makes digital literacy a crucial skill for restaurant workers in 2021 and beyond.

Ask this restaurant interview question to see if the candidate would be comfortable using the digital tools your restaurant is currently using and how they might approach learning about new technology in the future.

11. What hours are you available to work?

This is a fundamental question that is important now more than ever. As you know by now, adapting your restaurant operation strategy can be a continuous process to get right during the pandemic. Having a clear idea of their availability will help you in planning your restaurant hours and resources. 

Your goal with this question is to find someone that can cover the standard shifts while remaining flexible if needed.

12. How do you feel about working extra shifts? 

This question surely feels similar to the previous one. So, why ask it? Because it’s not enough to know if they’re available to work extra shifts. You also need to know how it might affect their feelings towards the job. Knowing this is key to finding employees that will stay with you long-term.

Of course, it’s important to know there is no right or wrong answer to this question. And you should encourage the interviewee to be honest. But applicants with more flexibility will likely be better suited to accommodate your restaurant’s changing needs throughout the remainder of the pandemic.

13. What are your career goals?

There are millions of people that work full-time careers in the restaurant industry, while there are some that work part-time or temporarily before landing a job they truly want. So, the goal of this interview question isn’t to find someone who will stay in this industry or your restaurant forever. Rather, you’re looking for someone honest with their objectives.

Based on the candidate’s answer, you’ll also get a better idea if they are a good fit for the current position and how they might help you build your restaurant in the long term.

14. How would you handle a customer who refuses to comply with Covid-19 safety procedures?

As you know, there are Covid-19 safety guidelines that restaurants should follow to keep workers and consumers as safe as possible. But, as you also know, occasionally there could be customers who are not willing to cooperate.

This restaurant interview question will help you ensure the candidate is willing to enforce the rules. Ideally, they should strive to do this while upholding your restaurant’s standard for customer service. Look for candidates that aim to explain the restaurant’s policies and the importance of upholding them without giving in to difficult customers.

15. Do you have any questions for me?

Last, but not least, this interview question allows the interviewee to ask you any questions about you and how you run your restaurant. Pay careful attention to the types of questions they ask. Are their questions generic or relevant to the job? Either way, you’ll gain insight into how serious they are about getting the job and performing well if hired.

Final thoughts

You’ve likely adapted many parts of your restaurant operations to keep up with all of the pandemic-related changes. Don’t neglect to do the same for your hiring process, including the types of questions you ask. You can use the 15 restaurant interview questions we’ve shared here to quickly achieve that goal! 

For easy reference, here are those questions again:

  1. Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
  2. Why do you want to work in the restaurant industry?
  3. Why do you want to work at our restaurant over others?
  4. What do you know about our restaurant?
  5. Do you have any prior experience in the restaurant industry?
  6. How well do you work under pressure?
  7. Tell me about a time you had to deal with demanding customers in a restaurant. How did you resolve the issue?
  8. What does excellent customer service mean to you?
  9. How would you resolve a conflict with your coworkers?
  10. What digital tools have you used in previous restaurant jobs?
  11. What hours are you available to work?
  12. How do you feel about working extra shifts?
  13. What are your career goals? 
  14. How would you handle a customer who refuses to comply with COVID-19 safety procedures?
  15. Do you have any questions for me?

Want to find out more ways to improve your hiring process? Check out Workstream’s text recruiting tool! It can help you fill open roles with quality candidates in a fraction of the time it would take using traditional recruiting methods. 

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