8 September, 2022
By Mike Simpson
Calling the restaurant industry massive feels like an understatement. In total, there are approximately 14.5 million people employed at restaurants around the country. If you’d like to join them, then nailing your restaurant interview questions is a must.
Fortunately, you can get moving in the right direction with a few tips and a bit of practice. If you want to make sure you’re ready, here’s everything you need to know about tackling restaurant interview questions.
How to Answer Restaurant Interview Questions
Before we take a deep dive into the top ten restaurant interview questions, it’s critical to spend a moment talking about your strategy. While you can review information about what the hiring manager might ask, there’s always that they’ll throw a curveball your way. But if you have the right strategy by your side, you’ll be ready, ensuring you can offer up a fantastic answer on the fly.
In the United States, there are nearly 661,000 restaurants. Each one is going to be a bit different, even if it’s part of a chain. However, most are going to look for the same kind of candidates.
For servers, professionalism, friendliness, and the ability to remain calm under pressure are all vital. The same goes for multitasking, organization, and timeliness. Teamwork is critical in restaurants, so cooperative, supportive candidates usually have an edge.
When it comes to cooks, organization, timeliness, teamwork, and thriving under pressure are similarly essential. They also need knowledge about cooking and prep, along with basic kitchen etiquette.
Whether a restaurant is forgiving of a job seeker with little or no experience can vary. Generally, fine dining restaurants will require experience, as they’re focused on maintaining a particular standard. Some smaller restaurants with limited staff may as well, as training someone from the ground up isn’t practical since they don’t have enough employees.
However, lower or mid-priced chains with larger staffing numbers are often reasonably open-minded. As long as you bring the right capabilities to the table, they’ll likely give you a fair shot at landing the job.
So, how do you make sure you impress when you do get an interview? Usually, it’s best to start with research. As mentioned above, every restaurant is different. Plus, every position has unique aspects.
Ideally, you want to begin by taking a close look at the job description. Review the must-have skills and experience list first, as those are points you’ll want to integrate into your answers. Then, look at the rest for any mentions of capabilities or traits they’re after or descriptions of the culture that can give you clues about the type of person they’ll hire.
Next, head to the restaurant’s website. Review the mission and values statements to get more details about the culture, and check out anything listed on the career page that describes the environment or vibe.
You’ll also want to spend a little time getting familiar with the menu, including any new specials. Odds are, the hiring manager is going to ask something menu-related, so it’s best to be ready.
Once you’re done there, get onto social media and check the restaurant’s profiles. Again, you’ll get some insights about the culture, along with news about specials, recent achievements, and more.
After handling all of that research, you’ll have a better idea of the type of candidate the hiring manager is after. Plus, you’ll have some nice tidbits to fit into your answers.
So, how do you create a standout answer to any interview questions? By using the proper technique.
Traditional interview questions are reasonably straightforward. Let the hiring manager know if you have the capability or experience as a starting point. If you do, then you’ll follow that up with an example of you putting the related skills to work or discussing how you acquired the experience. If you don’t, your best bet is to highlight your willingness to learn, as an enthusiastic, open-minded candidate can stand out from the pack.
Now, when you’re ready with behavioral and situational restaurant interview questions, you’ll need to go in a different direction. Here, providing an example from your past or discussing how you’d tackle a specific hypothetical scenario is the core part of your answer.
Luckily, for both types of questions, the same techniques work. Take the STAR Method and stir in a big dollop of the Tailoring Method. If you do, you get compelling answers that are ridiculously relevant, making it far easier for you to make a stellar impression on the hiring manager.
Jobs in the Fast Food Industry
The restaurant industry doesn’t just cover establishments with table service; fast food restaurants fall in this category, too. With more than 197,000 fast food establishments in the United States, they’re also a great option for anyone looking to break into the restaurant industry.
Ultimately, working in fast food can help you build foundation skills that will make it easier to transition into other restaurants. Plus, the hiring requirements typically aren’t as strict, so you can usually land a job even if you have no prior work experience.
The fast food industry is also an especially good choice for teenagers. Typically, it isn’t difficult to get a schedule that works around a school schedule, and the establishments are almost always willing to trade.
While you may face some of the same questions if you interview at a fast food establishment as you would in many other restaurants, you’ll also encounter some that are unique to that specific industry. As a result, it’s wise to take a deep dive into the fast food interview questions, too, ensuring you’re ready for what lies ahead.
Top 10 Restaurant Interview Questions
Now’s the moment you’ve been waiting for; it’s time for a close look at the top ten restaurant interview questions and answers. However, it’s important to remember that every restaurant is different. Plus, most hire people for a variety of jobs.
In some cases, servers will face off against different questions than cooks, managers, bussers, and other people working in the establishment. But some of the questions are more universal.
With that in mind, here’s a look at our top ten restaurant interview questions and answers.
1. Why are you interested in the food service industry?
This is one of the most common questions hiring managers in the restaurant industry ask, and with good reason. They want to see what motivated you to explore opportunities in food service, as well as gauge your overall enthusiasm for the industry.
Ideally, you want to share some insights that showcase your passion for food service. They can relate to food specifically, ensuring others have a great time, and similar points. That way, the hiring manager knows you’re committed to offering great customer service, as well as interested in food service overall.
“The main reason I’m interested in the food service industry is that I enjoy helping people. The ability to offer someone a great meal is a major draw, but there’s more to it. I enjoy being able to take someone’s stress away, and ensuring they have an excellent time can make that happen.
Plus, people make memories when they’re dining out. Whether it’s simply spending time with family or friends or celebrating a major personal achievement, I can play a role in that experience, ensuring all of their memories are as positive as possible.”
2. Do you plan on having a career in the restaurant industry or moving on to something else?
Here, the hiring manager is trying to determine whether you view a restaurant job as a means to an end or the foundation of a long career in food service. Additionally, they want to gauge whether you plan on staying a reasonable amount of time, ensuring any training investments they make in you are worthwhile.
You don’t necessarily have to say that you’re planning on making a career out of food service. However, you need to make it clear that you aren’t planning on a short stint, either.
“Currently, I’m preparing to head to college to pursue my degree. While my ultimate goal isn’t to stay in the restaurant industry, I do intend to remain with one employer while I complete my studies.
Additionally, I feel the restaurant industry has a lot to offer my future career. I’ll have a chance to gain experience in customer service and work as part of a diligent team, both of which I find incredibly valuable.”
3. Describe your prior restaurant experience.
With this interview question, the hiring manager wants an overview of your past experience in the industry.
In some ways, this isn’t unlike the “Walk me through your resume” interview question, though it is a bit more focused. You don’t have to get into great detail. Instead, just tap on the relevant points.
“As of today, I’ve worked in the restaurant industry for a bit more than five years. Initially, I began as a table busser and dishwasher, working quickly to ensure that tables were cleared and ready for the next set of dinners, as well as making sure that any dishes or cooking equipment was sterilized correctly.
After that, I had a chance to become a server. That taught me how to take orders, manage tables, safely deliver food, and offer an exceptional customer service experience. Plus, it introduced me to some of the challenges that can come with customer interaction, allowing me to develop techniques to resolve problems should they occur.”
4. What is your favorite menu item here?
This restaurant interview question gives the hiring manager some idea of how much you know about this specific establishment. When you answer, don’t just name the menu item. Instead, add some details about why it’s your favorite, giving your answer that little something extra.
“My favorite menu item is the apple crumble. It always gives me a sense of warmth and comfort, making it the perfect way to wrap up a delectable meal. Plus, it was my grandmother’s favorite, and she used to share hers with me when I was a child. Ultimately, that apple crumble is part of many happy memories, so I always order it when I dine here.”
5. Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult diner.
While most customers will be polite and reasonable enough to handle, restaurants do get some difficult diners on occasion. The hiring manager wants to know if you’ve encountered one before, as well as what you do to take care of the situation while offering great customer service.
“In my last job, I had a particularly difficult table one evening. There were two adults and three children at the table, and the adults allowed their children to run around, climb on windowsills, and bother other diners. It was highly disruptive, a bit dangerous, and harmed the experience for other customers.
Fortunately, my manager had a strict policy regarding issues of that nature. I calmly approached the table and requested that the adults gather up the children and get them seated, explaining that it was preventing others from enjoying their meal and could even be dangerous. Initially, they protested, claiming they had the right to allow their children to roam free in the establishment.
At that point, I followed up by going over the manager’s policy, which involved asking disruptive diners to immediately leave. Again, there was some protesting and even a little hostility, but I remained calm and stood firm.
Ultimately, they collected their children and got them seated. The rest of the time they were there was largely uneventful. Plus, I was openly thanked by other diners after addressing the problem, and my manager even heard about my professionalism. In the end, the difficult diners had a lovely meal, as well as everyone else.”
6. Have you dined at this restaurant before? If so, what stood out about your experience?
With this interview question, the hiring manager wants to see if you’re familiar with the experience the establishment offers, as well as how it stood out in your mind. Ideally, you want to tie in a part of your response to why you’re enthusiastic about the opportunity. That way, your answer pulls double duty.
“I have dined at this restaurant before, and what stood out to me most was the commitment to excellent customer service. I regularly saw servers going the extra mile, all while maintaining a positive attitude. Plus, they frequently assisted each other, such as working together to bring out dishes to a large table. Ultimately, that’s part of why I submitted an application, as the idea of working at an establishment like this one, based on what I’ve experienced, is incredibly appealing.”
7. Can you tell me about a time when you had to work under pressure?
Restaurants are typically fast-paced environments, particularly during breakfast, lunch, and dinner rushes. The hiring manager simply wants to know that you can stay calm and focused when it gets stressful, so share an example that makes it clear you can.
“At my current job, we ended up unexpectedly shorthanded right as the dinner rush was about to start. Being down a server meant every remaining server was picking up extra tables, which is challenging during that time of day. However, we were also short a cook, which would create bottlenecks in the kitchen.
To make the process easier, we had a quick team meeting before the dinner rush began. We discussed how it might impact service times throughout the shift, allowing us to come up with strategies to time the seating of incoming dinners and the placement of orders.
While it was still high-stress, having a strategy allowed us to avoid overloading the kitchen, pace seating new diners to prevent long waits, and time food deliveries appropriately. As a result, we were able to offer an exceptional customer experience, all while remaining organized, calm, and collected.”
8. If you have a conflict with a coworker, how do you handle it?
No one gets along with every coworker all of the time. This question helps the hiring manager see how you manage those conflicts.
“If I have a conflict with a coworker, my first step is to have a private conversation with them. Usually, I give them the floor first, as the issue may stem from another problem I’m unaware of. During the exchange, I rely on active listening, ensuring I fully understand what they’re sharing and asking clarifying questions as necessary. Then, I work with them to find mutually acceptable solutions, creating compromises that relieve any tension and allow us to move forward.”
9. If a diner mentioned food allergies, how would you handle it?
Food allergies are relatively common, and restaurants often have diners that request certain meal changes based on them or ask for information about what’s prepared in the kitchen to ensure their safety. With this answer, simply outline any steps you would take.
“If a diner mentioned food allergies, my first step would be to reassure them that I’m aware and say that I would need to speak with the kitchen to ensure we could accommodate it. I know that different allergens involve varying levels of complexity to navigate, so this approach allows me to ensure that the kitchen is properly equipped to provide the needed experience.
Once I have the information, I’d return to the diner and outline what I learned. If the kitchen can accommodate the allergy, I’d take the order, clearly noting on the ticket that an allergen accommodation was needed. If not, I’d explain why it isn’t possible, apologizing for any inconvenience.”
10. Do you have a current food handler’s card?
Here’s an incredibly simple question that you’re almost guaranteed to get right. If you have one, you can simply say so, adding in a little extra detail to round it out. If not, you can tell the hiring manager when you’ll take care of it, addressing any potential concerns.
“As I’m new to the restaurant industry, I don’t have a food handler’s card yet. However, I’ll be taking the exam in two days, and I’m confident in my ability to pass.”
5 Good Questions to Ask at the End of a Restaurant Interview
At the end of your restaurant interview, you’ll usually get a chance to ask the hiring manager a few questions. This is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the establishment, team, and culture. Plus, it shows you’re enthusiastic about the opportunity.
While you can ask questions that come to mind during the interview, it’s also smart to have a few backups ready. With that in mind, here are five good questions to ask at the end of a restaurant interview:
- Are schedules mostly set from week to week, or do they vary?
- How would you describe the current team dynamic?
- Does this restaurant use tip pooling or tip sharing?
- If a shift is unexpectedly shorthanded, how does management support the team?
- What do you enjoy most about working at this restaurant, and what do you enjoy least?
Putting It All Together
In the end, all of the information above can help you get ready to face off against restaurant interview questions. Use every tidbit to your advantage. That way, you can create stellar answers – even for curveball questions – and increase your odds of impressing the hiring manager and, ultimately, getting the job.