By Chris Tripoli

Few start-up restaurateurs have to be convinced that poor hiring decisions can trip up the business right from the start. But most people opening their first restaurant haven’t worked for a large corporation with a sophisticated human resources (HR) department, so they aren’t familiar with the mechanics of interviewing staff.
We all have preconceived notions of what we consider the ideal employee. Having a well-developed interview process can help you stay on track, get past the superficialities and hone in on the qualities that you seek in your staff.
I have found that the most successful opening teams are selected by the “two-interview” process described below.



To determine what staff your restaurant opening requires, create preliminary schedules for each department. “Master schedules” paint a picture of the number of slots that need to be filled and will help you make staff-related decisions before the interview process begins.
For example, completing your master schedule for the front-of-the-house departments will help you decide on the host staff required to greet guests, manage the wait list and seat guests. This may be a minimum of two and as many as five, depending upon the shift.
Casual restaurants usually have five table stations per server while more formal concepts allow three to four. One busser may be needed for every four servers, and a minimum of two bartenders may be needed for bars that provide service to the waitsta” as well as bar patrons.
Using these minimums as guidelines you can complete a weekly master schedule and see the number of shifts (slots) that need to be filled.
The back-of-the-house department should be separated by line position (grill-broil, sauté, fry, etc.), prep and dish staff to correctly total the number of shifts required.
By multiplying the average hourly wage you anticipate paying for each position by the hours required on your master schedule, you will be able to check your labor cost and compare it with your operating budget.
I recommend using the master schedule as a guide throughout the selection process, penciling in the names of new hires into their scheduled slots to better know where you stand during this crucial part of your opening process.
With your master schedules completed, it is time to see that critical materials needed for the interview process have been prepared, reviewed and understood by all managers scheduled to do the sta” interviewing. Mistakes are made and staff misunderstandings occur when materials are not available and/or are interpreted di”erently by management. Materials you should have available during the staff interview include:

  • Employment application
  • Job description
  • General orientation manual (employee handbook)
  • Menu(s)
  • Uniform requirements
  • Interview evaluation form
  • Schedule request form



At the onset of the first interview, focus on establishing an open climate. A positive beginning quickly establishes communication channels, reduces tension and serves as a good transition to the relationship and data questions that will follow.
Always finish the previous interview and any paperwork completely, so that all your attention can be focused on the applicant about to be interviewed. Review the new application before meeting with each candidate to mentally record any information that may be of significance in the discussion. Take note of the applicant’s name and then set the application aside in order to evaluate the person and not their application form.
Graciously greet the applicant. Address him/her by first and last name, introduce yourself and ask what name the person prefers to use for himself. Establish that the remainder of the interview will be on a first-name basis. Allow casual conversation to flow; “small talk” is a good icebreaker. Either the applicant or interviewer may initiate; however, the interviewer must strive to keep comments relevant and brief. Set the tone for the interview at the onset. The interviewer should explain the structure of the interview, briefly reviewing the objectives. This ensures that both parties benefit from this first interview.
Plan your questions. Encourage the applicant to talk freely about himself by asking “relationship questions,” such as “Tell me about the restaurants you frequent.” Things you can evaluate at this point include appearance, ability to initiate conversation, animation and enthusiasm. Use an Interview Rating Sheet* to assist you in scoring each applicant. It is important that this form be used as a tool in discovering any areas of concern that would exist if you hired the applicant.
Remember, first impressions last. The first contact the interviewer has with an applicant needs to yield a positive first impression. This reaction can be like the feeling the applicant will convey to the guest. Also keep in mind that the firstround interview is a screening process. If, after a few relationship questions, the interviewer feels certain the applicant is not quali”ed, then it becomes necessary to touch upon the essentials and move on.
Relationship questions should take a smooth transition directly into “data questions.” Since the decision as to whether the applicant will advance to a second interview should be evident by now, these questions are less important. Data questions are designed to disclose facts and figures about the applicant’s educational background, work experience and present activities.
After asking relationship and data questions, the interviewer will have a strong idea whether the applicant is suitable for employment. If the feeling is positive, your interviewer will open discussion designed to convey information about the restaurant and answer any questions that the applicant may have. The interviewer should discuss the essential operating topics, carefully evaluating the applicant’s reaction to each item:

  • Wages
  • Uniform policy
  • Training period and training wages
  • Scheduling and “on call” (if applicable)
  • Hours of operation
  • Mandatory employee meetings
  • Target clientele
  • Tip distribution system
  • Second interview process

Well-chosen closing remarks are essential to bringing the interview full circle, ending on the same positive note that was struck at the beginning. Inform the applicant that he/she has undergone a preliminary interview and that a second interview is required before hiring can be confirmed. Explain that the restaurant management will decide who will be called back for a second interview and that only those applicants will be contacted. (In certain situations you may elect to confirm a second interview immediately.) It’s important that this message is quite clear if you don’t want applicants calling to check on their consideration.
Double-check contact information. Be certain that all candidates advancing to second interviews meet basic job requirements and have good potential.


The second interview is an opportunity for the general manager (or restaurant owner) to review applicants who have been recommended by other managers based on the round of preliminary interviews. The general manager should participate in the second session.
Relationship questions receive much more emphasis during the second round. Data questions, which warrant less attention, should only be briefly reviewed. Maintain a hospitable climate so that you can discern the applicant’s positive and negative attributes. Target time for a second interview is typically 10 to 20 minutes.
(A byproduct of the second interview is that managers have an opportunity to follow up interviewing techniques of the preliminary interviewer. In theory, only the most promising applicants should advance to a second interview. An evaluation session between the GM and preliminary interviewer will then not only be to confirm applicants for hiring, but also serve as a training device aimed at polishing the preliminary interviewer’s skills.)
When approaching the end of the second interview, again allow the applicant to ask questions. Explain that each applicant who participated in a second interview will be called by your restaurant whether or not he/she is hired. Establish a realistic deadline for receiving this call – typically within two to three days.


Here are some questions that restaurant operators use in their interviews to discover applicant attitude, enthusiasm, knowledge and motivation.

  • What do you like about the restaurant business?
  • What do you do for personal enjoyment?
  • How would this job affect your personal, home or social life?
  • Describe a pleasant and not-so-pleasant experience you’ve had in a restaurant lately, and how you like to be treated when enjoying an evening out.
  • What are some key factors involved with good service?
  • What do you feel to be your greatest achievements?
  • What do you think should be considered most when hiring a new employee?
  • Have you ever had a trying or uncomfortable situation as an employee with a guest? What happened? How did you handle that situation?
  • What type of employer are you looking for?
  • Describe the attitude that an employee and employer should have concerning the guest.
  • What are the differences between a place you like to frequent as a guest and a place where you’d like to work? How does our restaurant fit into this picture?
  • If I have 10 applicants for one position, what do you offer that would cause me to hire you over everyone else?


Complete the second interview information on your interview rating sheet. If the candidate is acceptable for hiring, enter the position hired for and projected start date. If not acceptable, state the reason for not hiring. Please remember: An applicant cannot be disqualified for employment consideration because of age, sex, race, creed, color, national origin or physical handicap. Be certain that none of the written comments on the rating sheet are discriminatory in nature or inconsistent with actual hiring practices.
After you have decided who will be hired, contact all applicants from the second round of interviewing. Identify yourself and the restaurant and let the candidate know which position he/she has been hired for and where and when you will hold orientation. It’s always a good idea to let your new hire know how long orientation will last and briefly review what will transpire there.
When contacting an applicant who will not be hired, clearly inform him/ her that he/she will not be hired for the position. Explain that since the applicant has undergone both a preliminary and second interview, the application will be kept on file for consideration and possibly future placement. Always thank the applicant for his interest in your soon-to-be-opened restaurant. Remember: This person and his friends may become future patrons. It is good to establish your business and yourself as being professional with everyone.
Arnaldo Richards recently moved his long-established Pico’s Mex-Mex restaurant to its new home on the corner of Richmond and Kirby. He remembers how surprised he and his managers were at how long it took to select additional staff members.
“Although all existing employees made the move, we had to hire for dozens of new positions,” says Richards. “It took over two months. I am thankful for the experienced interviewers I had. Some department heads had been with me for 25 years and were very experienced at hiring. I had them complete the first interviews, and either my wife or I would do the second ones.”
Richards believes in selecting service staff based on character and personality. “You can train people in the technical aspects of service, but you cannot teach them to care.”
This experience reminded Richards of three things that all new restaurant owners need to keep in mind when interviewing staff:

  1. Better to hire for quality than quantity. Make certain potential staff fit your expectations. Not having enough people hired when Pico’s opened meant he could not begin lunch service for weeks, but that was better than rushing it with the wrong staff.
  2. Manage your hiring schedule. Construction delays hurt Pico’s and allowed for the loss of new hires.
  3. Know what today’s staff is looking for. “Nobody just wants a job,” says Richards. “They want a place they belong. The quality of the work place is as important as the quality of compensation.”

* See to print out an Interviewing Rating Sheet.