The role of a server is crucial in the dining experience, requiring not just knowledge of the menu, but also exceptional customer service skills, the ability to work under pressure, and a knack for making guests feel welcomed and valued. But finding the right person to fill those shoes is no small feat.
Whether you're on the management side or a hopeful candidate, understanding what goes into the making of an exceptional server is key. These 32 interview questions will help prepare you for your interview. They’re accompanied by example answers so you can learn what to look for.
32 Server Interview Questions (with Example Answers)
Can you describe your previous experience in the restaurant industry?
Understanding a candidate's background helps assess their familiarity with restaurant operations and customer service. Look for specific roles they've held and their responsibilities.
Example Answer: "I've worked as a server for three years at a busy Italian restaurant where I managed customer orders, provided menu recommendations, and ensured a high level of customer satisfaction. I've also had experience with opening and closing duties and training new staff."
How do you handle stressful situations during busy hours?
The ability to remain calm and efficient under pressure is crucial in a fast-paced restaurant environment. Look for examples of problem-solving and stress management techniques.
Example Answer: "When the restaurant gets extremely busy, I focus on prioritizing tasks, such as ensuring orders are taken and delivered in a timely manner. I stay calm and communicate clearly with the kitchen and my colleagues to manage the workload effectively."
Have you ever had a conflict with a coworker and how did you resolve it?
This question gauges a candidate's conflict resolution skills and their ability to work as part of a team. Effective communication and a collaborative approach are key qualities to look for.
Example Answer: "Yes, I had a misunderstanding with a coworker about scheduling. We resolved it by sitting down to discuss our concerns and finding a compromise that worked for both of us, ensuring it wouldn't impact our work."
How do you ensure you provide excellent customer service?
Excellent customer service is the backbone of the restaurant business. This question helps identify how candidates engage with customers and exceed expectations.
Example Answer: "I ensure excellent customer service by actively listening to the customers, being attentive to their needs, and promptly addressing any issues. I also make personalized recommendations and check in periodically to ensure they're enjoying their experience."
Describe a time when you went above and beyond for a customer.
Looking for instances where a candidate has made an extra effort can reveal their dedication to customer satisfaction and their initiative.
Example Answer: "A couple was celebrating their anniversary, and I arranged for a complimentary dessert with a personalized message. I also took the initiative to create a quiet, intimate setting for their celebration by adjusting the lighting and seating arrangement around their table."
How do you manage multiple tables efficiently?
The ability to multitask and manage several tables without compromising service quality is essential. Look for organizational strategies or techniques they use to stay organized.
Example Answer: "I use a systematic approach by keeping a mental map of my tables and their needs. I prioritize tasks based on urgency, like taking orders for new tables or delivering food that's ready. Effective communication with the kitchen and support staff also helps me manage my tables efficiently."
How do you deal with difficult or unhappy customers?
Handling complaints and difficult situations with professionalism is critical. The response can show the candidate's patience, empathy, and problem-solving skills.
Example Answer: "I listen carefully to the customer's concerns without interrupting, acknowledge the issue, and apologize for any inconvenience. I then offer solutions or alternatives to resolve the situation to their satisfaction, always maintaining a calm and professional demeanor."
Can you describe your experience with point-of-sale (POS) systems?
Familiarity with POS systems can indicate how quickly a candidate can adapt to your restaurant's technology for order taking and payment processing.
Example Answer: "I have experience with several POS systems, including Square and Toast. I'm comfortable with order entry, processing payments, and managing tabs. I can quickly learn new systems and often help train my colleagues."
How do you handle a situation when an order is delayed or incorrect?
This question assesses a candidate's ability to manage mistakes and communicate effectively with both customers and kitchen staff.
Example Answer: "If an order is delayed, I inform the customer as soon as I'm aware, explaining the situation and the expected wait time. For incorrect orders, I apologize, ensure the correct order is prioritized in the kitchen, and offer something to make up for the inconvenience, like a free appetizer or drink."
What do you do to ensure compliance with health and safety regulations?
Adherence to health and safety standards is non-negotiable. This question helps gauge the candidate's knowledge of and commitment to food safety practices.
Example Answer: "I always follow proper handwashing procedures and ensure that my workspace and utensils are clean and sanitized. I'm vigilant about checking food temperatures and expiration dates to prevent any health risks. Additionally, I've completed a food safety certification course to stay updated on best practices."
How do you approach upselling menu items to guests?
Upselling can significantly increase a restaurant's revenue and enhance the guest's dining experience. Look for strategies that show the server's ability to recommend menu items effectively.
Example Answer: "I approach upselling by first getting to know the customer's preferences and then suggesting premium items that align with their tastes. For instance, if a customer enjoys a particular wine, I might recommend a higher-end bottle similar in flavor profile. I always aim to make recommendations that enhance their meal, rather than pushing for higher sales."
Can you describe a wine or a dish from our menu to a customer?
This question tests product knowledge and the ability to communicate it enticingly to customers. It's important for servers to not only know the menu but also be able to describe dishes and drinks in a way that appeals to guests.
Example Answer: "Certainly, our grilled salmon is a favorite among our guests. It's a wild-caught salmon fillet, lightly seasoned and grilled to perfection. We serve it over a bed of roasted seasonal vegetables and drizzle it with a lemon-herb sauce. It pairs wonderfully with our Chardonnay, which has a light oakiness and crisp finish that complements the salmon's richness."
How do you prioritize tasks during your shift?
Effective prioritization is key to managing the demands of a busy restaurant shift. This question reveals the candidate's time management skills and ability to make decisions under pressure.
Example Answer: "I prioritize tasks based on immediacy and impact on customer experience. For example, greeting new guests and taking orders are top priorities, followed by serving food and checking in with tables. I also allocate time for side tasks, like restocking or cleaning, during quieter moments to ensure smooth operations throughout my shift."
How do you keep up with our restaurant's promotions or menu changes?
Staying informed about promotions and menu updates is crucial for providing accurate information to guests. This question assesses the candidate's commitment to continuous learning and communication.
Example Answer: "I make it a point to review any new promotions or menu changes before my shift starts. I also attend staff meetings and training sessions and sometimes practice describing new dishes with my colleagues to ensure I can confidently recommend and explain them to our guests."
How would you handle a situation where a customer leaves a small tip or no tip at all?
This question explores the candidate's resilience and professionalism in handling potentially disappointing situations.
Example Answer: "While it can be disheartening, I understand that tips can be influenced by many factors. I would reflect on the service I provided to see if there were areas for improvement. However, I wouldn't let it affect the quality of service I offer to every guest, recognizing that each interaction is a new opportunity."
What strategies do you use to stay organized during your shift?
Organization is crucial for managing the complexities of serving multiple tables and ensuring timely service.
Example Answer: "I use a combination of mental checklists and physical notes to keep track of my tables' needs, their stage in the dining experience, and any special requests. Staying organized helps me anticipate my next steps and keeps me one step ahead, ensuring that I provide attentive service to each guest."
How do you contribute to a positive team environment?
A collaborative and supportive team is essential for a successful restaurant. This question assesses the candidate's team spirit and interpersonal skills.
Example Answer: "I contribute to a positive team environment by being a reliable and supportive coworker. I offer help to my colleagues when they're overwhelmed, share tips and information about customers' preferences, and maintain a positive attitude, even in stressful situations. Teamwork and open communication are my priorities."
What do you think are the key qualities of an excellent restaurant server?
This question reveals the candidate's understanding of the role and their perception of what makes exceptional service.
Example Answer: "The key qualities include excellent communication skills, a positive attitude, attentiveness to guests' needs, the ability to multitask efficiently, and thorough knowledge of the menu. Equally important are resilience under pressure and the ability to work well in a team to ensure a seamless dining experience."
How do you handle feedback or criticism from a manager?
The ability to accept and learn from feedback is crucial for personal and professional growth. This question evaluates the candidate's openness to improvement and constructive criticism.
Example Answer: "I view feedback and criticism as opportunities to improve my performance. When I receive it, I listen attentively, ask questions to fully understand the concern, and reflect on how I can make adjustments to my work. I appreciate constructive criticism as it helps me grow and enhance my skills."
Describe a time when you helped improve the restaurant's service or operations.
This question seeks to identify candidates who are proactive and interested in contributing to the restaurant's success beyond their immediate responsibilities.
Example Answer: "At my last job, I noticed that the timing between appetizers and main courses was often too short, leaving guests feeling rushed. I suggested to the management that we adjust the pacing of dishes coming out of the kitchen. After implementing this change, we received positive feedback from customers who appreciated a more relaxed dining experience, and our overall satisfaction scores improved."
How do you ensure accurate order taking and communication with the kitchen staff?
Accuracy in order taking and effective communication with the kitchen are critical to avoid mistakes and ensure customer satisfaction. This question assesses the candidate's attention to detail and communication skills.
Example Answer: "I ensure accuracy by repeating the order back to the customer before entering it into the POS system. For special requests or modifications, I make detailed notes and communicate these directly to the kitchen staff, sometimes personally, to prevent any misunderstandings. I also regularly check in with the kitchen to monitor the status of orders."
How do you manage your time effectively during both slow and peak hours?
Time management skills are essential for servers to adapt to varying levels of business and maintain high service standards at all times.
Example Answer: "During peak hours, I prioritize immediate customer needs, such as taking orders and serving food, while using any downtime to prepare for the next rush, like restocking supplies and setting tables. In slower periods, I focus on tasks that enhance the guest experience, such as engaging more with customers or deep cleaning my section."
What do you do if you notice a colleague is struggling during their shift?
This question evaluates the candidate's teamwork and empathy, important traits for maintaining a supportive work environment.
Example Answer: "If I see a colleague struggling, I'd first offer my help with whatever they're finding challenging, whether it's managing tables or catching up on side work. I believe in the importance of open communication and would encourage them to share their concerns so we can find a solution together and ensure the smooth running of the restaurant."
How do you approach learning about new food and beverage items?
A server's ability to learn and articulate information about new menu items can enhance the guest experience and boost sales.
Example Answer: "I take the initiative to study new items by reading their descriptions and ingredients, tasting them when possible, and asking the chef for insights into the preparation and flavor profiles. This helps me make genuine recommendations to guests and answer their questions confidently."
Can you give an example of how you've dealt with a dietary restriction or allergy request from a customer?
Handling dietary restrictions and allergies with care is crucial for customer safety and satisfaction. This question probes the candidate's attentiveness and knowledge in accommodating special dietary needs.
Example Answer: "A guest once informed me of their severe nut allergy. I immediately communicated this to the kitchen team and double-checked all ingredients in the dishes they were interested in. I also suggested safe menu options and ensured their meal was prepared with extra caution to avoid any cross-contamination."
How do you respond if a customer asks for a recommendation on the menu?
The ability to make thoughtful recommendations reflects a server's knowledge of the menu and understanding of customer preferences.
Example Answer: "I ask guests about their preferences or any dietary restrictions first. Based on their response, I recommend dishes that align with their tastes or dietary needs. For example, if they prefer vegetarian dishes, I might suggest our quinoa salad with roasted vegetables, highlighting its fresh ingredients and flavor profile."
How do you deal with a situation where a customer tries to order an item that is no longer available?
This question assesses the candidate's problem-solving skills and ability to maintain customer satisfaction when expectations can't be met.
Example Answer: "I apologize for the inconvenience and explain why the item isn't available. Then, I suggest similar alternatives and share details about those options to help the guest make an informed decision. I aim to handle the situation with empathy and ensure the guest feels well taken care of."
How do you stay motivated during tiring shifts?
Tiring shifts are common in the restaurant industry, and maintaining high energy levels and motivation is essential for providing consistent service.
Example Answer: "I stay motivated by focusing on the positive impact I can have on each guest's experience. I also set small goals for myself throughout the shift, such as improving my efficiency or learning something new from a coworker. Taking short breaks to recharge and staying hydrated helps too."
How would you describe the importance of teamwork in a restaurant setting?
Teamwork is vital in the fast-paced restaurant environment for ensuring smooth operations and a positive work atmosphere.
Example Answer: "Teamwork is crucial because it ensures that the restaurant operates efficiently and that guests receive the best possible service. It's about supporting each other, from the kitchen to the front of the house, to ensure tasks are completed, problems are quickly resolved, and guests leave happy. A cohesive team can significantly enhance the dining experience."
How do you ensure that all guests feel welcome and valued?
Creating an inviting atmosphere where every guest feels valued is key to fostering loyalty and repeat business.
Example Answer: "I ensure guests feel welcome and valued by greeting them warmly as they arrive, making eye contact, and using their names if possible. Throughout their visit, I check in to make sure they're enjoying their experience and address any needs or concerns promptly. Personal touches, like remembering regular guests’ favorite dishes or seating preferences, make a big difference."
Can you share a time when you received positive feedback from a customer? What was the situation?
This question allows the candidate to highlight their strengths and demonstrate how their service positively impacts customers. It's an opportunity to understand what they consider excellent service and how they achieve it.
Example Answer: "I remember a time when a family was dining with us and their child had specific food allergies. I worked closely with the kitchen to ensure their meal was safely prepared, and I checked in with them frequently to ensure they were comfortable and enjoying their experience. At the end of their meal, they thanked me for making their dining experience stress-free and enjoyable, mentioning they appreciated the attention to detail and care. They even left a note with the manager about their positive experience. It was rewarding to know I made a significant difference in their evening."
How do you keep updated with trends in the restaurant industry and customer service best practices?
This question assesses the candidate's commitment to professional development and their proactive approach to adapting to industry changes. Staying informed about trends can enhance guest experiences and keep the restaurant competitive.
Example Answer: "I stay updated by following industry blogs and publications, participating in online forums, and attending workshops whenever possible. I also follow several top restaurants and chefs on social media to see what's new and trending in the culinary world. This helps me bring fresh ideas to the table and suggest improvements in our service or menu based on what's currently appealing to customers. Additionally, I regularly seek feedback from customers to understand their preferences and expectations better."
Best Practices for Conducting a Server Interview
Conducting effective server interviews requires a structured approach that balances assessing technical skills with understanding a candidate's fit within your team's culture and service philosophy. Here are some best practices:
- Prepare in Advance: Before the interview, review the candidate's resume and the job description to tailor your questions effectively. Ensure you understand what skills and qualities are most important for the role.
- Use a Behavioral Interview Approach: Asking candidates to describe past work experiences and how they handled specific situations can provide insight into their problem-solving abilities, teamwork, and customer service skills.
- Focus on Customer Service: Given the importance of customer satisfaction in the hospitality industry, prioritize questions that explore the candidate's ability to handle various customer interactions, including difficult situations.
- Assess Cultural Fit: Make sure the candidate's values align with those of your restaurant. Questions about teamwork, work ethic, and motivation can help gauge this fit.
- Include Scenario-Based Questions: Present hypothetical situations related to common challenges in the restaurant to understand how candidates would react in real-time.
- Discuss Expectations: Clearly outline what the role entails, including duties, hours, and any unique aspects of working at your establishment. This transparency helps set clear expectations on both sides.
- Encourage Questions: Allowing candidates to ask questions can provide insights into their priorities and concerns, and give them a clearer picture of the job and your restaurant.
- Take Notes: Documenting responses and impressions during the interview can help in comparing candidates and making informed decisions.
By following these best practices, you can create a comprehensive interview process that not only evaluates a candidate's qualifications and experience but also ensures they are a good fit for your team and will contribute positively to your restaurant's environment.