A Panel of Experts: Actionable Tips for Hiring Restaurant Employees

A Panel of Experts: Actionable Tips for Hiring Restaurant Employees

We’ve asked our top restaurant consultants what they recommend when recruiting and hiring for various restaurant staff positions. They provided such great feedback that we compiled it all into this all-in-one resource for you. So, below you’ll find actionable tips for hiring restaurant managers, chefs and cooks, wait staff and host staff, and bartenders. Enjoy!


Meet Our Panel of Expert Restaurant Consultants:


Tips for Hiring Restaurant Managers: Emotional Intelligence is Ideal

RC: Managers in restaurants have a tough job in motivating their staff who are often from vastly different backgrounds, education levels, work ethic and experience. The kaleidoscope of personalities takes deft people skills to get them all rowing in the same direction. Emotional intelligence is such a buzz word these days, but it truly sums up the ideal restaurant manager. They must be patient and have thick skin when dealing with customers who might not be happy with their food (being unhappy with your shoes from Nordstrom is different than being unhappy with your steak when you’re hungry). The same attributes are also needed when coaching employee behavior and when training to improve results.


Tips for Hiring Restaurant Chefs: Find a Passionate Leader

MG: I want to find a chef who is as passionate about teaching and developing the skills of her or his team as she or he is about cooking and creating menu items. Your food is only as good as your worst line cook. A chef who is a leader in the kitchen will understand this and work to raise the level of the whole kitchen. This kind of development takes time, so I would watch out for chefs who jump around too often, anything less than two years in a leadership role is a red flag. I like to ask a chef candidate about the chefs they’ve worked with that they admire, who has been a mentor to them, and how that has affected the choices they make in the kitchen. In the interview I listen for the candidate to talk about the team they’ve worked with and what their past cooks and sous chefs have gone on to do. I’m more impressed with a chef who has trained their sous chefs to go on to be executive chefs than with a chef who puts themselves in the spotlight.


Tips for Hiring Restaurant Cooks: It’s All About Reliability

MG: Reliability is the number one thing I need in a cook. Will they come to work on time, every time, ready to go? Everyone says yes, of course, when asked in an interview, so I tend to dig into their work history to find out the truth. Why did they leave each job? Are there gaps in employment history or jobs they left off? Multiple reference checks are crucial to find someone who will give an honest and complete assessment of a candidate’s past reliability. Asking interview questions without yes or no answers helps to get past the obvious answers, “Tell me about a time when you were running late for work and how you handled it.” Hiring cooks is like filling up a roster on a team. You are always looking for balance with the players you already have, so the particular skills and history you need changes all of the time. But you always need someone who will show up.


Tips for Hiring Restaurant Bartenders: Must Be Technical and Personable Combined

MM: There are two things I look for in a bartender, strong technical skills and an engaging personality. For a bartender, knowledge and technique must be habit so they can do their job while entertaining their guests who are always watching. There are basically three types of cocktails that are the base for all cocktails; sours, fizzes, and spirit-based drinks. I like to conduct a working interview for bartenders who made it through the screening process and ask them to make me one drink from each category, like a Daiquiri, Tom Collins, and an Old Fashioned. I watch for use of jiggers, how they shake ice, shaking technique, If they know when to shake versus stir, pouring and straining techniques, fill level, etc. I also ask them to tell me about the way they make cocktails and somewhere in the conversation I want to hear the word balance. On their resume I look for some time in a restaurant known for its cocktail culture…on the job experience where mixing is taken seriously is crucial. I also look for “weekend bartending certificates.” These people pay money to a company that usually rips them off and convinces them that in 5 classes they are a qualified bartender. I need to see a history that demonstrates  a commitment to the bartending as a craft, not slinging drinks.


Tips for Hiring Wait Staff: Stress Management is Critical

RC: The wait staff in a restaurant is often getting hit from all sides – management, guest and cooks – throughout the course of their day, so they need to be chameleons. To the guest they must be patient, kind, confident and subservient. To a manager, they need to move with pace, be even keel, take direction and teach others. To a cook they need to be thick skinned as cooks are other employees that are under a different kind of stress, so they can often be terse when dealing with servers (at least before that behavior is discovered and corrected). We like to test potential servers by simulating stress through a timed assembly test. The test involves Lego blocks, an erector set axle assembly and a stopwatch…with minimal direction other than to build the sample structures out of the materials, switching between structures every thirty seconds until complete. The stopwatch adds stress similar to a Friday night rush. While we want to see the structures completed within 5 minutes, they are easy enough to complete within 2 minutes. What we’re looking for is grace under pressure. The server that walks away or declares the test “BS” is the one that will crack under pressure. The candidate that graciously works on the task until complete can handle the job. And the one that can graciously work on the task WHILE chatting with you to distract you from noticing whether or not they’re doing it right is PERFECT.


Tips for Hiring Hosting Staff: First Impressions Are Everything

RC: The people who work at your host stand own the restaurant’s first impression. Make sure the people you hire are likeable within 5 seconds. That’s tough to quantify other than by engaging them in an interview and…well…if they have not made a good impression on you through their smile, engaging banter, cheery disposition, or positive vibe, then your guests won’t feel that way about them either. Abercrombie & Fitch hires for “brand enhancement,” and so it should be for your front desk team.


Tips for Restaurant Hiring in General: Know What You Are Looking For

MM: Being armed with a job description is not nearly enough. The dynamics of a team change every time you lose or add a player. Assess the missing pieces in the team and search for those individuals. Experience in the position is helpful but not the only requirement. Do you need a grill cook used to working with a wood burning grill or a gas grill? Do you need a grill cook with the ability to learn other jobs quickly because there are significant amounts of time that the cook will be alone on the line? Does the cook need to also have a variety of cooking skills because he will be butchering meat or making sauces in down time? Do you need a server who is an expert salesperson or a server who will assume leadership roles quickly or a server who is detail oriented and will make sure the dining room is always clean? Do you need a bartender who is creative or one who will follow recipes and never step outside the box? Know exactly what you need down to the tiny details and ask interview questions that search for that exact person.

Emily Tanner – Director of Marketing & Communications, Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting

Do you need assistance with advice on recruiting and training? We’re here to help! Contact us today, and let’s chat.

And, if you find our blog posts valuable and want to read more, sign up for our newsletter today to receive weekly blog posts delivered right to your inbox!

Scroll to Top