Five Great Questions For Server Interviews

I have been reading a number of message boards on LinkedIn recently where managers are seeking insight on how to hire top performers.  This has inspired me to spend some time thinking about this topic.  I have a fair amount of experience on both sides of the interview process.  The answers you receive during the interview process are the best indicators of an applicant’s talent level.  Asking the right questions is imperative to determine the skills that the server is bringing to the table.

There are a number of questions that I have asked and been asked over the years that I found to be incredibly telling.  These questions will help you determine whether the applicant you are interviewing has the talent and personality to be a top performer at your restaurant.  What you can learn from the answers to these questions will help you avoid poor hiring decisions and enable you to build your staff with the best servers in town.  You will find that their answers are a helpful indicator of future success.

Here are five questions I believe should be included in every server interview:

Describe Your Favorite Meal:  This will give you insight into an applicant’s ability to sell and their passion for food.  If they cannot describe their favorite meal in a way that makes you salivate, how are they going to describe your specials?  Any applicant that fails to impress you with their description will require a great deal of time and effort to train.  This should not result in an immediate rejection, but should serve as a red flag.

What Movie Should I Add To My Netflix Queue?  I feel fairly certain that no server is preparing for this question in advance.  This should give you a feel for their sales ability.  It should also give you an idea of their ability to read a guest and respond appropriately.  A great response would lead by asking you what the last movie you loved was and recommending accordingly.  Make sure their choice is appropriate and a recommendation that is unlikely to offend.  Servers are often required to give diplomatic answers in place of their honest opinion.  This question tests both their sales ability and their diplomacy.

What Do You Like About The Restaurant Industry?  The answer you are looking for here is one that shows a passion for the industry.  Be cautious of a server that loves the ability to work with friends, get off for their band’s gigs, or make a bunch of money.  These servers are looking at the industry as a means to an end, but not passionate about it.  Loving the pace of the business, impacting the guests’ experience, or contributing to a team are all great answers that come from top performers.

What Would You Change About The Restaurant Industry?  This question works in much the same way as the previous one, but measures something different.  The answer to this question will uncover the level of frustration and burnout a server may have with the industry.  This gives them a chance to vent their frustrations to you, before they vent them on the guest.  Be wary of any answers that are critical of guests or former managers.  A hostile response may indicate a server who will lower morale.

Why Do You Want To Work Here?  This question is commonly asked, but the answer is often misinterpreted.  The answer to this question will give you a great idea of how they view your restaurant.  If they cannot tell you why your restaurant excites them, then they are probably just looking for a job.  While all applicants are looking for a job, those that do not hold your restaurant in high regard will often jump ship at the next opportunity.  Finding employees who are excited about your restaurant will significantly decrease turnover and help insure that your new employees bring a sense of excitement to your staff.

None of us should be naive enough to believe that an applicant will be completely honest in their interview.  There are always going to be exaggeration and positive spin placed on their responses.  One of the best ways to avoid this is to ask questions that they are not expecting or that actually test their skills.  Responses that have not been rehearsed will provide more accurate information than those that are carefully planned.  If you want a more accurate answer, you need to ask a better question.  I feel these are five great questions to start with.

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About David Hayden

David Hayden is a restaurant marketing and training consultant based in Kansas City, MO. He writes a series of 9 blogs collectively known as The Hospitality Formula Network and is the author of "Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips" and "Building Your Brand With Facebook"

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