Among the many challenges of running a food and beverage (F&B) business, this is probably the one that keeps most managers and owners up at night.

There’s already the problem of not being able to hire enough warm bodies. A hire who is likeable, dependable and highly competent? A unicorn, right?

Not exactly. We’ve found that it’s possible to sieve the wheat from the chaff during the interview process.

Read on to find out how.

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Before the Interview

We know that this is an interview guide, but many F&B owners we surveyed indicated that the process starts even before the interview.

A killer job advertisement will shorten your hiring process and save you from having to deal with no-shows and non-performers down the line.

First, you’ll want to state specific information about the skills, attitudes and availability required of the candidates, as opposed to vague generalisations often used by many in the industry.

Don’t say that you want a Head Chef  “to design menus and run the kitchen.”

Try, “You will bring your creativity to design mouthwatering recipes, specials and new menu offers. You’ll also be able to hold down the fort on busy nights with your positive attitude and people skills.”

If you need part-time wait staff to work certain shifts, state the specific times and days so that you won’t end up interviewing or hiring people who are unable to meet your needs.

Second, you’ll also want show that the business is credible. This is critical if you want to attract credible and reliable people. Include a summary of your company’s history and the core values you stand for. Also often overlooked: your website link, location, a contact number and email address. Advertise on a credible job platform.

Third, address the motivations of potential hires. It could be a regular and stable work schedule and salary, because they have family or life commitments to plan for.  It could be the flexibility to learn the different aspects of the kitchen, or to interact with interesting and friendly people.

The last two are especially important, since job hunters have so many choices.

During the Interview

So you have a pool of good candidates walking through the door with your killer job ad.

The next stage is to identify the people who’d be a great fit with your team and who are skilled at what they do (or, if you’re hiring someone without experience, be able to learn fast).

Part 1: Attitude questions

Let’s start with the “attitude” questions, which help you identify the people who will be a natural fit for your company.

You’ll want to ask all of your candidates these questions, regardless of the position they apply for.

a) What prompted you to apply for this position?

Use this question to determine your candidate’s motivations and outlook for the future.

Tim Hofmann, owner of The Coffee Mess, noticed a lower turnover rate with two groups of people. The first plan to be in an F&B career, and are less prone to jumping ship as long as they are engaged and valued. The second are “those who have no idea what they want to do with their [lives]”. If you can provide a job they like, they’re likely to stay on rather than risk hopping to a job they’re unsure of.

b) What do you like to do outside of work?

Hofmann says, “I try to hire folks who are passionate about something, almost anything, to a very detailed degree. If they’re passionate and knowledgeable about model trains or whatever, they’ll be able to get into specialty coffee too.”

Besides, if your team is made up of people you find interesting, your customers are likely to find them interesting too. Increased customer engagement translates to more recurring business.

c) What was the most unforgettable hospitality experience you’ve ever had?

Sounds casual, but this question is great for feeling the candidate’s pulse for hospitality.

If you’re hiring front-of-house staff, you’ll want to look for descriptions that indicate warmth, a sense of welcome and ease. If you’re hiring a line cook, you’ll be watching for details and specifics, because you’ll want someone who prioritises precision and accuracy.

d) Tell me about a conflict you’ve had with a coworker. How did you deal with it?

Conflicts are par for the course in any team. The best teams are not those without conflict; the teams that make magic is because of their diversity. You’ll want to hire someone who can resolve conflicts while protecting relationships.

e) How about the most difficult customer you’ve come across? How did you handle the situation?

Here, again, you’re looking for empathy and the ability to diffuse the situation with creative solutions. You’ll want to pay attention to candidates who are able to protect the restaurant’s business interests and meet the customer’s needs at the same time.

Part 2: Aptitude Questions

Now that you’ve sussed out if the candidate would be a good fit for your team culture, it’s time to look at their competence.

You’ll want to tailor the questions to the position.

For example, for management positions, you’ll want to ask:

  • How many people did you manage in your previous positions, and in what setting
  • What was the biggest restaurant capacity you’ve handled before?
  • How did you handle a busy weekend night?
  • What do you find most challenging about being in management? How have you managed to overcome that?

These questions help you to determine the experience and skill of the candidate. The last question is a variation of the classic “What is your weakness” question. Framing it in this way invites candidates to give you a candid answer about specific areas for improvement.

For service staff, you may want to ask the following:

  • What do you think is the most exciting thing about this role?
  • What would you do if a customer gets rowdy or upset?
  • What do you think is most important responsibility of this role?

These questions help you determine how much the candidate likes serving, and how he or she would handle sticky situations.

If you’re hiring a cook, ask them them what they cook most frequently and have them talk you through the food preparation process they’d use for a specific dish. If possible, have them show you how they cook.

After the Interview

After the meeting, it’s important to contact the candidate’s past employers (especially if they have not been stated as a reference) and references.

Most ex-employers, however, prefer to be diplomatic if you ask them how the candidate fared in their company.

But no one is perfect, so it might be good to ask, “What was the most challenging thing about working with this person, and how did you handle it?”  

An absolute must: “Would you rehire this person? Why or why not?”  

Summing up

And there you have it — the best interview questions to help you hire top performers to take your F&B business to the next level.

Some of them may be unconventional, but you’ll be surprised at the rich responses you’d get from your potential hire.

Karen Ang

Posted by Karen Ang

Karen Ang is a writer and online academic coach to secondary school students in Singapore at learnMOJO.