9 Red Flags When Hiring Restaurant Staff

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9 Red Flags Hiring Restaurant Staff

Good help is hard to find. It is especially difficult in the restaurant industry where long shifts and painfully high turnover is very common.

It might be near impossible to figure out who’s going to be a great employee for your restaurant from just an application and interview. However, you may be able to tell who isn’t going to work out by watching for a few key warning signs. So we talked to some restaurant owners to compile this list of 9 red flags to look for when hiring restaurant staff.

    1. They’re an actor, actress, model or entertainer



Chances are they’ll make the mistake of telling you something like “this isn’t my real job,” and weed themselves out for you. But should you hire an aspiring actor or actress, there is a good chance that their “big break” will fall on your restaurant’s busiest night.

    1. They lie about being fired



If you’ve worked in the service industry long enough, then you’ve probably been fired from a few jobs. A good server will admit it wasn’t a good fit for him, and explain why your restaurant will be better. The lying won’t stop at the interview, so take the time to check references for those who claim they weren’t ever fired.

    1. They badmouth their old boss



Along the same lines, even if they do tell the truth about being fired, if it’s because “my old boss didn’t know how to run a restaurant, the manager hated me, and all my coworkers were lazy, catty idiots,” then that’s a red flag too. Someone who feels the need to use you as his sounding board will probably find a lot wrong with the way you run your restaurant too.

    1. They breeze through a server test



You don’t have a server test? You should. It doesn’t need to be a make or break thing, but it should let you know if people have a general knowledge of your business, and if they have the appropriate work ethic and endurance. Some restaurants have server tests that take 2-3 hours, with a final, long, open-ended question at the end. If someone answers that in five words, they’ll probably also skip out on side work.

    1. They ask about your drinking policy



Asking “Are we allowed to drink here” is an automatic disqualifier in pretty much any industry … except hospitality. Because if you have customers that want to buy expensive shots for your bartenders, well, that’s money in your pocket. Whatever your policy, the type of person who asks this at an interview is probably a little too interested in the booze.

    1. They play up the prestige of their resume



A guy who walks in and immediately tells you about the nine years he worked at a high end steakhouse is great ... if you happen to be a high-end steakhouse. If you’re a family pizza joint, you’ve just hired someone who will thinks it’s beneath him to sing Happy Birthday to a third grader, and will spend a lot of time telling you how to run your restaurant.

    1. If they attach a resume instead of filling out your application



Sure, resumes look professional. They may also not be what you asked for. So even if a server hands you the Mona Lisa of resumes on thick bond paper, if they didn’t bother filling out the “work history” section on your application, then they may not be so good at following directions.

    1. They don’t dress the part



If you’ve got someone who rolls in wearing board shorts and a tank top, it means they probably don’t take the opportunity too seriously, and may not have the work ethic you need. Similarly, if someone shows up in a three piece suit to a job interview for line cook, they might be a little stuffy for your corporate culture.

    1. They expect to make too much … or not enough



An astute applicant will ask servers what they make per shift, or at the very least try and figure out what one might expect to pull in at a restaurant like yours. Not-very-astute ones either overestimate their income potential – and will therefore never be happy – or shoot too low. Someone who’s never made more than $100 in a shift has either never worked somewhere busy or isn’t very good. Neither of which are the kinds of people you want serving your customers.


Matt Meltzer

Matt Meltzer is a professor of business communication at the University of Miami. He is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and holds a bachelors degree in business administration from UM, as well as a Masters of Mass Communication from the University of Florida.

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