5 Qualities to Look for When Hiring a Restaurant Employee

Your staff can make or break your restaurant. Use these tips to hire workers with the right stuff.
waiter laughing with diners
Below are five personality traits that should stand out when interviewing a potential restaurant employee. (Photo: Jacob Lund)

A restaurant may succeed or fail on its food and drinks, but especially in an industry with high turnover rates, the staff preparing and serving it will help the business swim — or sink.

Hiring great restaurant employees isn’t just a matter of finding candidates with the best resume. You’ll want to develop a sixth sense to make sure future employees will perform well on the floor.

Experts suggest looking for these five personality traits and subtle signs during the interview to land a hospitable, hardworking restaurant employee every time.

A standout physical presentation

How candidates dress and groom for the interview gives clues to their hygiene, responsibility, dedication and social habits. “If you can’t take care of yourself, how will take care of others?” said Mary Gibb, founder and president of Agencia International, a New York­-based hospitality recruitment and event staffing company

Good hygiene is an obvious must. “Do I really want my food being served by someone with dirty or chipped nails or foul body odor?” asked Gibb.

For front of the house servers, bartenders, baristas and hosts, a good first impression — and the right first impression — is crucial. A barista at a hip coffee shop can dress more creatively than a waiter in a fine dining establishment.

Rick Graves

“We can easily teach the mechanics of service, but it’s very difficult to teach the feeling of hospitality.” -Rick Graves (Photo: Rick Graves)

Warmth and friendliness

If a candidate doesn’t smile or make eye contact in an interview, you can expect the same behavior on the restaurant floor, said Rick Graves, director of west coast operations for RealFood Consulting, a restaurant consulting firm with locations in Boston, New York and San Francisco.

“We can easily teach the mechanics of service, but it’s very difficult to teach the feeling of hospitality,” he said. “What guests see and hear is part of the experience.”

Natural salesmanship

Graves looks for server candidates who can sell. Yes, waiters are expected to know the menu, but those with a flair for enticing guests to try certain dishes or add on items like appetizers and desserts will bring in more revenue while also making diners happy.

Ask situational questions to dig deep into an applicant’s thought process around how he or she would sell a dish or respond to a problem, Graves recommended.

Adaptability

Kitchens and restaurants are active environments that require all workers to be focused and flexible, so Gibb said she looks for people who display confidence and an even temperament.

The ability to multitask is a must. “But there is no room in a restaurant kitchen for a giant ego,”she added.

Graves said a candidate who expresses a willingness to learn and keep up will make a solid addition, especially for kitchen positions. “All staff need to be hungry for knowledge, as elements are often changing on a daily basis,” he said. “The best team members keep up-­to­-date on these changes.”

Eagerness

Enthusiasm about working at a restaurant is crucial, whether someone is the dishwasher or the head chef. “Too often we see people who think they can look the part, but their mind is on the audition in the morning or the drinks after work,” Gibb said.

A strong work history in hospitality is a good sign. One of the biggest red flags, on the other hand, is a resume with big gaps or short stints, said Gibb. These could signal a lack of commitment or interest or a poor work ethic.

Graves said he looks for candidates who give thoughtful answers to questions and ask questions, too. Applicants who seem bored go in the “no” pile.

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