10 Must Ask Interview Questions For Hiring the Perfect Server or Bartender

Here’s a fact: In the past three years I have asked approximately 50 owners and managers what their #1 pain point is in running their business. I’d say 45 of those 50 stated that managing and motivating employees was their top pain-in-the-ass issue that they wish would just go away.

If you are an owner or manager, you are nodding your head right now with a bitter sneer because we’ve all had to manager those employees that drive us insane.

“Really? You didn’t notice that table six’s Cokes have been empty for 10 minutes? You weren’t sure if it was your job to refill all the ketchups before you left?  Tell me again how much you hate kids because they’re messy, and about the 10% tip you received. And if you could please, please, please explain to me how it is that you’re entitled to a 25% tip every time someone sits at your table based on the impressive way you stand there and text your boyfriend, I would LOVE to hear it.”

(By the way, I’m aware that bitching about people who bitch is both an oxymoron and hypocritical, yet I choose to ignore it because it’s my blog).


The bad news: the turnover rate in the hospitality industry is 85% higher than other industries, mostly because bussers, servers and bartenders are just stopping off on their way to a “real” career, and also because a lot of managers simply hire knuckle-heads because they don’t want the hassle of interviewing candidates. Translation: they don’t want to do their jobs properly.

The good news: it doesn’t have to be that way. If you know what you’re doing, finding a good staff is absolutely a reality you can enjoy. The key is to hire better so that you can hire less, and in the process you will have fewer ass pains in the day-to-day operations of your business.

After all, this is your front line. These are the people who are marketing your business and building its reputation. No matter how good YOU are with people, you’re only one person. Everyone needs to be putting a good face on the business or it will get branded with a black-eye, and those are very hard to come back from.

So, the better you get at asking the right questions, the better you will be at finding the cream of the crop employees, which leads to the less turnover and less interviews.  But make no mistake about it, hiring is just a way of life in this industry, so stop whining, hike up your big girl panties and get over it.


I am now going to give you my best interview questions that I have crafted and chiseled over time until I found what works. You are welcome to form your own, and you can too, as long as you follow this one philosophy: Create questions that reveal the candidates personality and level of empathy. DO NOT ask the same canned questions you find on the Internet that are geared toward experience and things like, “If your last boss were to describe you with three adjectives, what would they be?”  ARRRRGGHHHH! Lame!

Remember, personality is king, with intelligence and hard-work close behind.

1. Who is your best friend? Why is she (he) your best friend?

Seems like an odd question, but here we are looking for statements of caring, sentiment, a big heart, and perhaps some story telling ability. Do his/her eyes light up with passion and love? Or are they like a deer in the headlights? We want to see if they can carry a conversation here.

2. What excites you about this business or this industry? Why did you choose it?

This business can often be perceived as “beneath” real jobs and careers, so I often see candidates show some hesitation about declaring their excitement about serving food and drinks. We want to see if they come back with a positive response or if they show any hesitation. Throw the hesitaters out.

3. You have a guest who is angry with the service/food/music, etc. and claims they won’t be coming back. How do you solve this issue?

Any situational question is good because we can test their common sense and experience at the same time.

4. What’s something you have done in your life that you are particularly proud of?

This one is a bit cliche, but it’s still a good one. We want to see how confident they are sharing things about themselves, and to find out if they’ve ever actually done something noteworthy. If they can’t think of anything, it’s not likely that they are going to start doing noteworthy things at your bar/restaurant.

5. When you think about this bar/restaurant, what are your impressions of it? What do you like? What would make it better?

Simliar to #2, but the 3rd question in this set, “What would make it better?” gives you a chance to see if you have a visionary or a thinker on your hands. Anyone who has ideas to make this industry a better place for both the work environment and guests is gold.

6. Why should I hire you as opposed to the 10 other people that are interviewing for this job?

This question has been around forever and should never go away. You are asking them point blank: Sell yourself to me. If they can’t, then they don’t really have that much confidence in themselves and a red light should be flashing bright warning signs to you.

7. What are your aspirations for the future? Do you have a field that you are interested in pursuing or do you have career in mind?

It’s true that you would like to know if they are going to graduate in three months and leave you, but they’re not going to tell you that anyway becaue they want the job. More importantly, this question finds out if they are a motivated person. If they say, “Ummmm, not really sure right now. Just sort of playing it by ear,” tell that person thanks for coming in, now get the hell out.

8. If you saw a fellow employee giving away free drinks or stealing, what would you do?

The #1 problem in bars/restaurants today? Employee theft and dishonesty. This should be a “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb” question. If they hesitate at all or dance around the question or give you any other answer than, “I would report it directly to you,” then say good day to you and show them the door. Bar dishonesty and conformity is an epidemic that is contagious. Don’t let them in your house.

9. If we hired you, how many people do you think you could get to come in each week? How would you do it?

I recently started using this question because I realized that some of my most valuable employees were the ones bringing people into the bar. It’s like having a built-in ad agency. And it’s free. Many candidates will be thrown by this question, I’ve noticed, but the ones who don’t hesitate aren’t bullshitting. They know how many friends they can get in there, and the idea actually excites them.

10. How do you think you could you make this place more successful?

Another vision question that gets them thinking and talking. If they have a good answer to this question, there is value to be mined here.

My best advice to owners and managers when it comes to the interview is to ask yourself if every question you are prepared to ask gets them talking so you can evaluate their personality and intelligence. Some of the questions you really want to know the answer to (Fellow employee stealing), and some of them are set up to see how they interact with you in a stressful situation.

Best of luck, and cheers, until next time.

The RB