Top Restaurant Interview Questions to Build a Brilliant Team

Management 21 minute read 15th April 2022

Don’t you hate it when everything gets super busy at work?

And don’t get me wrong. Having a lot of customers coming in daily in the restaurant industry is a big win. The problem comes when you’re short-staffed and not sure if your workers can deal with all the hustle.

Hiring the right team may seem like a decision taken by chance. But if you ask the right interview questions for a restaurant job, you can decrease this chance. And have a brilliant team you can trust can do the job.

The problem is…

When you type into google “interview for restaurant owners”, so you know what to ask potential employees, it doesn’t really show what you’re looking for. You’re not the one who’s going through the interview after all.

Luckily, in this post, we collected the 7 top restaurant interview questions, as well as sample answers, so you know what to ask candidates. And if according to their answers, they’ll be a good fit to work in the brilliant team you’re building.

Let’s dig in!

Questions to Ask an Interviewee

As a restaurant owner, how you interview someone has to do with background, behavior, and skill questions. We included a scale for bad, good, and brilliant answers to give you a complete overview of someone who’s good for the job and someone who’s not.

#1. Tell Me About Yourself

Not a question. And you’re probably tired of this interview section. But knowing who you’re going to hire is still important. Not only for you to meet them, but so you can find out red flags from the beginning.

When you ask this question, you, of course, want to make sure you’re not hiring someone with a shadowy background. And you’re checking how this person acts when talking to other people. After all, you’re hiring for a position where they’ll be interacting with customers all the time. So, make sure the candidate doesn’t look too uncomfortable talking.

Here are some answers on what to expect:

The bad:

I was born in 1990 in New York City. My mother was a nurse and my father was a bank accountant. When I was a child, I enjoyed going to play football every day. I graduated from X High school in 2007 and did some retail work at…

Why is this bad?

You make this question to yes, know about your candidate. But you don’t want to know every detail of their life. You want to know a little about their career path. And the skills they can bring to this role with real-life examples. This also shows your candidate didn’t prepare for the interview.

The good:

Well, my name is Darren Smith. I have four years of experience in the hospitality industry. My first job was in Y restaurant. But then I moved onto Z restaurant for a manager’s position. I’m really good at customer service as I also worked in a call center.

The brilliant:

I currently work as a manager at Z restaurant. My main responsibilities include attending the cashier, responding to customer inquiries and managing servers. Which I achieve thanks to my organizational skills. This resulted in my boss trusting me to do the inventory, too. In addition to this, I also worked as a server at Y and X restaurants.

This is the response you’re looking for as it lets you in on all the details about skills, career path, and, occasionally, attitude.

#2. Why Do You Want to Work at This Restaurant?

The reason for this question is you knowing if your potential employee is really interested in working at your restaurant. And that they’re not just giving this job a shot to see if they get in, or they randomly applied from a job post website.

The bad:

I saw this job offer on Indeed and as I have experience as a server; I applied.

Why is this bad?

Most of the time is true that people see these jobs on a job posting site like Indeed. But good candidates do their homework and look into the restaurant they applied for. This answer tells you the candidate probably didn’t even read the job description. So, they don’t know this job entails skills for attending the cashier, doing inventory, or some other skills. Meaning, they’re probably not a good fit and aren’t enthusiastic about working at your establishment.

The good:

I love X restaurant. I come here almost every weekend with my family or friends. What’s more, I already know all the menu. The vibes that this restaurant gives are nice and I love the food.

The brilliant:

When I was thinking about changing the place that I work at, I thought of this place because I’m aware you guys give 5% of your profits to local animal shelters. And it’s extremely important for me to work at a company that shares these values of solidarity. I would certainly feel more at ease with my job.

If you don’t donate to animal shelters, that’s okay. The important thing here is that your candidate shares some of your values. It can be something as simple as “making high-quality food for families” because they care about their own family. Or giving the best service when serving a crafted beer, as they love the welcoming feeling of a beer and a good host themselves.

#3. How Do You Deal With Pressure and Stressful Situations?

You make this question to make sure your workers can deliver great work even in stressful situations.

As you already know, working in a restaurant can lead to a lot of stress. Your employees have to write fast or memorize orders, clean and go from here to there with a tray full of food, all that while smiling.

Worst of all, there are people everywhere waiting and… hungry.

The bad:

Sometimes when I stress, I get super angry. But I try to keep myself calm. I know that some people are a**holes, so that’s it. Either way, I’ll probably don’t have to deal with them again.

Why is this bad?

You don’t want an employee that tries to stay calm. It’s a fact that everyone stresses, but you don’t want to hire someone that can’t handle it. And you don’t want an employee talking trash about your customers.

The good:

When I’m about to stress out, I take a moment to organize my thoughts. Then, I finish what I was doing first and start doing stuff by priority, so I’m not overwhelmed.

The brilliant:

As my boss was always trusting me to solve problems or attend to complicated guests, I know these situations can be very stressful. So, my strategy for this is to give myself a moment to visualize what needs to be done first and start from there. Also, when it’s just too much, I inform my manager that we could delegate certain tasks to another person suited for it.

The last response is brilliant because it shows the handling of stress as a skill acquired in the candidate’s last job. Also, this answer shows the candidate knows the limits of what can be done by a single person and can delegate, which is a plus for a leadership skill.

Questions to know if you’re hiring a good server come with a little analysis on your end. So, in these case scenarios, we’re giving you some skills to look for in answers.

#4. Can You Tell Me About a Time When You Clashed With a Difficult Client or

Coworker? How Did You Solve It? This is a question you want to ask in a restaurant interview because you want to know the problem-solving abilities of the candidates. Everybody loves problem solvers.

The bad:

There was this time a client came to the restaurant really hungry. We were short-staffed, and she was getting angrier by the minute. One of our recent hires was taking her order. But made a mistake and delivered the wrong food to this customer’s table. And on top of that, entered the wrong amount into the customer’s bill. So, I took over, talked to the customer, told her that everyone starts somewhere, and corrected the bill.

Why is this bad?

You don’t want someone who places the blame on others. “Everyone starts somewhere” doesn’t put your other employees in a good place. This can give you signals of someone potentially bad for your team’s integrity. And the main problem wasn’t solved. The customer didn’t get to eat what she wanted. But at least her bill was corrected… I guess.

The good:

Following the same example.

The customer was visibly disgusted by the situation. So, I took over and told her I was going to return the food to the kitchen and bring the food she ordered at the beginning. And of course, we would only charge her the plate she ate. I apologized for the trouble and explained to her we were short-staffed.

The brilliant:

The customer was visibly disgusted by the situation. So, I took over and made sure she got the right order at her table with some extra appetizers and drinks on the house. I explained to her we were short-staffed and apologized for the trouble. During her stay, I checked on her once in a while and asked her if she needed anything else. Or if there was something I could do to improve her stay. She only paid for the order she made at the beginning. And in the end, she even left the restaurant a good review.

This is a perfect answer because it solved the problem and went far enough to ensure the mistake from the beginning was water under the bridge.

#5. Can You Tell Me About a Mistake You’ve Made on the Job and How You Handled It?

This question is to make sure that when a candidate makes a mistake, they can own it, learn from it and use tactics to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The bad:

On my first job, there was this time I broke a bottle of fine wine. It was expensive, so I was worried I was going to get fired. I cleaned the mess, said nothing, and the next day brought over the same bottle to replace the one I broke. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t wasting the restaurant’s money.

Why is this bad?

Because the candidate didn’t tell her/his manager about the bottle of wine. It may seem as if they owned the mistake. But did they really? You don’t want a person who tries to cover up mistakes with no one knowing. What if they make a bigger mistake and solve it wrong. Plus employees using their paycheck money to cover mistakes doesn’t let you stand well as an employer.

The good:

Following the same example.

When I broke this bottle of wine, I went to my manager and told her about it. She said that it was okay, but that I had to be more careful around that section.

The brilliant:

I told my manager about the bottle of wine I broke. And she said that it was fine, but that I had to be more careful. From then on, when I was cleaning around the bottles of wine or any alcohol, I was super careful. This to the point of cleaning the bottles by groups of four, so I didn’t trip and break one.

This one is a very common interview question for restaurant servers. You’re working with people that inevitably will make a mistake at some point. This answer hits all the spots as the candidate talks about the mistake, owns it by telling the manager, and implements a strategy so it doesn’t happen again.

#6. When Was a Time When You Went Out of Your Way to Help a Guest?

This question is to ensure that your candidate has sharp customer service skills. And also, this lets your candidate brag a little about one of their best-case scenarios.

The bad:

There’s not actually a bad response to this. Your candidate is talking about their best deed at work. The only bad response would be not having a story for this.

The good/brilliant:

One day, an old lady came to X restaurant. She had poor eyesight, so she was having problems reading the menu. I asked what was she craving, made some recommendations to her, and read for her the ones she was interested in the most. During her visit, I checked up on her to make sure she was enjoying what I recommended.

Interview questions to get the right restaurant employee also start with your idea of giving exceptional customer service. So, if the answer of your candidate fulfilled your expectations, they’re on the right track.

#7. Where Do You See Yourself on a Team?

Also known as “are you a team player or a team leader?” or “do you prefer working on a team or independently?”. You’re making this question specifically to know how your potential employee works in a team or doesn’t. And as you’re looking to build a brilliant team, this is a must.

The bad:

I don’t like working with a team, I rather work alone as I feel I’m more productive. But I make sure to have good relationships with my coworkers, so we can all do a good job.

Why is this bad?

It’s okay if people prefer working alone. But you want someone that despite that is flexible enough to work in a team. In the restaurant industry, having a culture of going your own way and minding your own business just means more staff turnover. That’s also a reason for you to build a great team and keep it. As a strategy for that, incentives are a good way to go.

Top Restaurant Interview Questions - Stat

The good:

I love working on a team. I feel that the more brains the better, we can all have different perspectives, so work can have a lot of turns and be more enjoyable.

The brilliant:

It depends on the situation. Most of the time I prefer to work alone, but there are some tasks that are better suited for a team. So, I’m always grateful for the pair of extra hands and the different perspectives and personalities that I get to meet.

This is a nice answer because even though the candidate prefers to work alone, the answer also entails that they can still work in a team if necessary. Is necessary for you to hire someone that can work in a team, but is also good if they can be independent.

Bonus Questions

In the process of interviewing, there are some questions that don’t show you any skill, behavior, or background, but you still have to ask. Here they are:

● What hours or what shifts are you available to work? — this one has to be clear. You can’t hire someone that can only work at night, while your restaurant opens during the day. That’s going to mess up your scheduling spreadsheet. ● How do you feel about sharing tips? — if your restaurant does tip pooling, this is a nice one to ask. You’re making sure the candidate also agrees with your policies. ● Do you have any questions for me? — a total must. Most employers like when candidates ask questions to follow-up the conversation, as this shows how interested they are in the position.

There’s no right or wrong for these. You’re just seeing if ultimately it’s beneficial for the both of you to work together.

Using the STAR interview technique

Top Restaurant Interview Questions - STAR

Why is this important to you?

You already have some samples of possible answers from candidates. And you may encounter candidates that give you similar answers, but there’s still a chance that these differ. What’s important is to identify why your candidate’s answers are brilliant or good.

The STAR interview consists of helping candidates answer questions by describing the:

● Situation: this is where the candidate sets the scene or situation they were in ● Task: the candidate lets you know what was the task at hand ● Action: explanation of the action the candidate took to fulfill their task ● Results: what was the result of their said actions

This technique can come in handy for you to hear well-structured work stories that aren’t made up. A real story always has these four elements. So, pay attention to them.

A Waiter/Waitress Please

Let’s be honest here. You’ll never have the dream team or the perfect team. There are a lot of personalities and experiences out there. But what you can have is a brilliant team that knows how to handle differences, have cordial work relationships, and get the job done.

This guide will surely help you make the right questions to build a brilliant team. But remember, these questions and answers aren’t final. There’s always room to give someone a chance. Listen to your gut. Sometimes people can surprise you, even if they didn’t answer a set of questions correctly.

Are there other questions you think can make a great team? Comment below and let us know.

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