There are two types of employees in the restaurant industry. The first type is nothing more than an order-taker. They write stuff down, deliver it out on trays, and wait for the debit transaction to go through. The second type is the server who takes pride in their work and connects with their tables.

Imagine the difference between these two businesses. Both develop a reputation and as a result, the former stays stagnant or even plummets while the other flourishes.

If we want our business to be the latter, we must recognize that it all starts in the hiring process. Our standards must be high and we must know what to look for.

We all know the obvious deal breakers – if they don’t present themselves well, can’t look us in the eye, or even pop a smile, they’re probably not a good fit. But let’s look beyond the obvious criteria.

Determining whether someone is right for our business goes beyond shooting off a list of questions at people and yet so many employers stick to a structured, routine script used in every interview from fast-food establishments to department stores.

We’re not really looking for specific answers to questions so much as we’re trying to read between the lines; what we actually want are answers that the employee cannot give us directly.

There are some key things we want to know about our applicants – things that will make all the difference in our business. Before we discuss that, let’s get one thing out of the way . . .

Experience Does Not Matter

Experience may be relevant to other job industries, but not here. That is not to say there are no other criteria, but experience never has and never will determine whether a server is a right fit for us or not.

When I first started managing, I was always hesitant or holding back when training servers with past experience because a part of me feared they had already heard what I was about to say. I also assumed they could handle more from the start and so I spent less time developing them.

Obviously, this was a huge mistake and one of the biggest things I learned is that servers with experience are just as often prone to making errors as new servers are. I even found that with some of them, I needed to reset certain expectations. My perspective shifted so that, if anything, I became even more involved with servers from other restaurants to make certain we were on the same page.

So if past experience is irrelevant, what exactly are we looking for?

Someone Who Will Connect with Our Guests

How many times have you dined out somewhere and had a server that was nothing more than an order-taker? It’s a let-down, right!? Unless a server is falling behind, there should be no excuse. There’s a reason why in restaurants we have someone greet the tables rather than simply tell the guests to check some boxes and hand in their orders to the kitchen.

People remember their interactions with servers just as much if not more than the food they ate that day. Most of them are not professional chefs analyzing their dish, but everyone has an opinion on their waitress.

How about spending less time in the interview asking a checklist of questions and more time having an actual conversation with them? This is the industry! What we really want to know is, can this person connect with people? Are they connecting with me, right now?

No such connection can happen if our interviews are strictly a question-and-answer session. By drawing this person out with a casual conversation, we can learn all we need to know.

Someone Who is Motivated to Learn

Imagine we ask two applicants why they want to work for us. One of them tells us they’d love to manage this place one day and the other tells us this place is close to home. Their answers tell us a lot about their motives.

We could also ask them where they see themselves in three months from now, or in one year, or in ten. A very cliché question, maybe, but how they respond tells us a lot about them.

If their answer is detailed or passionate, we likely have an ambitious person on our hands – someone who will much more likely strive to move up in our organization.

Someone We Want Serving Those Important to Us

We want the best of the best representing our business, especially if the guest is someone important (in our eyes), such as our parents or our higher-up. Would we be content with this applicant serving on our behalf?

If we’re trying to decide on a potential hire and can’t quite come up with an answer, this question is guaranteed to work every time.

For perspective, we could also try envisioning one of our strongest servers and ask ourselves if we think this person could perform their job just as well.

Follow Your Gut Feelings

If we think for a second that a potential hire doesn’t cut it, we’re probably right. If the alternative is to waste our efforts and resources developing somebody whom we don’t see representing our business well, then let’s save ourselves the time.

In these situations, we should go with our gut instead of hoping someone will work out. We can’t afford to hope! Instead, let’s make our own luck by sticking to our principles and only hiring those whom we know for certain are going to make us proud.

With every interview, we want to ask ourselves . . .

  • Will this person make great connections with our guests?
  • Is this person motivated to learn?
  • Would we want this person to serve someone important?

If the answer to these questions is yes, I believe we have found ourselves a new hire!