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Interview Like a Pro: What You Should and Should Not Be Asking Job Candidates

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Conducting job interviews can be tricky, especially in this tight job market we are currently experiencing in the restaurant industry. While we had high hopes that 2022 would bring an end to this crisis, the National Restaurant Association’s State of the Industry 2022 report states that sixty-five percent of operators had to reduce their business hours in the past three months because they were short on staff.

To make matters worse, labor attorneys are predicting workplace lawsuits to increase as employees feel more and more rejected by employers rejecting employees who are older, disabled, or marginalized, making it crucial that all interview questions focus on the skills and experience needed to perform the job and nothing else.

Be sure to train every person who meets with a potential candidate which interview questions are unethical and which ones are beneficial during the hiring process.  According to United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), or national origin, or on an individual with a disability or class of individuals with disabilities, if the polices or practices at issue are not job-related and necessary to the operation of the business.

These types of questions are off-limits to hiring managers:

Questions regarding age, such as:

  • How old are you?
  • When were you born?
  • What year did you graduate from college?

Questions regarding a person’s religious beliefs, observances, or practices, such as:

  • Will you need time off for religious holidays?
  • What is your religion?
  • What church do you attend?

Questions regarding disabilities, such as:

  • Do you have any mental or physical disabilities?
  • Do you take any prescription medications?
  • Have you ever been treated for mental health problems?

Questions regarding family status, such as:

  • How many children do you have?
  • What kind of childcare arrangements do you have in place?
  • Are you planning to expand your family?

Questions regarding race or ethnicity, such as:

  • What is your nationality?
  • Where were you born?
  • What language does your family speak at home?

Questions regarding a candidate’s past, current, or future military membership or service, such as:

  • How often are you deployed for Navy Reserve training?
  • Will you be deployed any time soon?
  • What type of discharge did you receive from the Marines?

The good news is that an increasing number of companies are turning to behavioral interview questions to determine if a candidate is a good fit for their culture. Hiring and training a new employee only to find out that he/she does not fit into your culture or hold the same values as you and your existing staff is exhausting and expensive.

Behavioral based interviewing tells you a more complete story about potential new employees and how they will react in various situations, letting you know if they are a good fit before you hire them.

Behavioral-based interview questions typically include:

Tell me about yourself. This is a great icebreaker. The candidate is most likely nervous and will start to relax once they begin talking about themselves. Try to find out what they do when they aren’t working and see if there is a good work/life balance.

Tell me about your restaurant experience. This answer can help you judge their level of excitement about the industry. Is this a person who is passionate, or just going through the motions for a paycheck?

What are your expectations of this job?  Make sure that their expectation is in line with what your current employees experience.  If the candidate has unrealistic expectations, you will both be unhappy.

What is your availability? It is important that your needs and their availability match.

Why do you want to work here? You want someone who has done some research on your concept and feels like they would be a good addition to your team.

Once you get past the basics, asking behavioral interview questions lets you learn how a person may react in a certain situation, based on how they handled similar situations in the past. Dig a little deeper by asking these types of questions:

Why did you choose the restaurant industry? Restaurant people are passionate.  We love the constant movement, challenge, and surprises each day brings. The flexible schedule and pay are great, but real restaurant people see beyond that, and enjoy the ups and downs of serving others.

What type(s) of people do you find difficult to work with? This answer helps you find out who this person is, and how they feel about others. Most restaurants try to run with lean staffing and depend on teamwork to successfully get through a shift, so an ideal candidate is a “people person” and can work well with everyone.

What is the most difficult situation you have dealt with at your previous employer and how did you handle it? Asking this question will give you insight into what the candidate considers a difficult situation, and how they would handle it.

Give me an example of how you have turned around a bad guest experience? The answer to this question should reflect the candidate’s conflict resolution skills and quick thinking, rather than speaking of an unruly customer in a disrespectful manner.

How have you dealt with customer complaints in the past? This answer can be similar to the one above. This is just meant to reaffirm that the candidate is capable of handling tough customers.

How do you handle being in the weeds? This answer will let you know how the candidate handles pressure.  You want someone who sees being in the weeds as a challenge to overcome, as well as someone who is not afraid to ask teammates for help when they need it.

**DISCLAIMER: This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal or HR advice.**


The restaurant industry can provide an exciting, fulfilling career.  Your restaurant can overcome restaurant hiring challenges with a strategic approach that looks to the long-term health of your culture and company.

Are you looking for a restaurant hiring solution that can help support your long-term staffing goals? R365 HIRE makes it easy to attract, hire, and onboard the best employees for your restaurant group.

Schedule a free demo of Restaurant365 today.