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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Day

Hiring the Right Restaurant or Bar Staff

Finding and hiring the right team is a vital step in the success of any restaurant or bar. Each role contributes significantly to the operation's overall performance, from the Head Chef to the Dishwasher. To assist in this challenging process, we've compiled four key strategies based on our experience as restaurant owners, focusing on management recruitment, interviewing techniques, stress testing, and practical skills assessments.


Management Recruitment: The Lunch Interview


Consider taking final candidates out for lunch for roles such as Upper Management, Lead Cooks, and Team Leads. This approach isn't just about discussing business; it's an opportunity to observe their public demeanor and interpersonal skills. Key evaluation aspects include punctuality, respectfulness towards service staff, ability to handle casual conversation, and overall mannerisms. These insights can help determine if they'll mesh well with your team and handle their responsibilities under stress.


  • Can you have a conversation with them? These roles will be your go-to for improvements, problems, and answers. You want to make sure you can have a regular conversation with them. 

  • Do your personalities match? Can you get along with them over a long time? If you already doubt what they tell you is true, you might have issues with them during highly stressful situations. 

  • Are they on time? 

  • Do they respect the staff serving you? And just as important, are they picking the food apart to show off their ego? 

  • How are their manners? 

  • How do they respond to uncomfortable silences? 


Interviews: Other Roles


Interview performance can vary significantly among candidates. Some may excel in an interview setting but underperform in their roles, and vice versa. Pay attention to body language, eye contact (important for servers), and how well candidates hold a conversation. 


  • Are they fidgeting, or do they sit upright and comfortably? 

  • How do they respond to uncomfortable silences? 

  • Are you able to change their opinion on something? It's not that you want to, but you’re looking to see if they have strong convictions and if they can tell you are wrong in a respectful manner. 

  • Are they just a yes person? Not everything should be answered with a yes. If the hostess has a clear vision of scheduling reservations, he or she should be able to convey that properly and openly but not demanding or pushy. 


Stress Test


Have you ever seen an episode of Bar Rescue? John Taffer is known for his stress tests, and we find it incredibly valuable for any lead role in your restaurant and/or bar. 


Option 1:

Simulate a high-pressure situation and ask friends, neighbors, and trusted customers to come in for a scheduled “bad day.” Have your potential hire work to see how they manage stress, multitasking, and unexpected challenges. This can be an effective way to gauge their resilience and capability to maintain composure under pressure.


Example (and true story): Your head Chef needs to constantly stir the ingredients in a 50-gallon steam jacket kettle when his work phone rings, the handheld radio buzzes, and staff asks him question after question. Does he quit? Does he express frustration? Or does he maintain his cool while stirring, answering the call with the other hand, and clicking the radio to mute until his call is over, all while answering staff questions? If yes, this is the person you should hire. 


Option 2:

Hire the person on a probationary contract-only basis. Make the contract as long as you see fit. You may have to pay the person more since benefits will not be included, but you will bypass many state and unemployment laws. After a few weeks, you will see how the person reacts in stressful and busy situations. 


Cooking Test & Food Cost Analysis


Before hiring a Chef, assessing their cooking skills and financial acumen is essential. (And knife skills, but that’s another true story for another time.)


Prepare a mystery basket for your candidate(s). Before opening the basket, walk them through the kitchen, showing them where all the utensils, supplies, and essentials are located, preventing wasted time. 


Instruct them to open the basket and allow 30 minutes to provide a detailed description of the dish they will prepare. Next, allow them one hour to prepare the dish(es) and provide a detailed food cost analysis.


  • How does the dish look? Is it palatable? 

  • Is there anything missing from your description or replaced with another ingredient? i.e., the menu indicates honey garlic roasted carrots, but instead, you have sauteed broccoli

  • Did they add anything like an appetizer, dessert, or special drink? If so, that’s impressive.

  • Do they understand food costs and profit per plate?


Special note: We conducted this mystery basket many times, and each time, we watched the person preparing everything to see how they handled themselves, how clean they were, whether they wore gloves, and how they minimized waste. We were only unable to eat the food once because the person sneezed constantly and did not wash his hands or change gloves. We highly suggest you monitor the person in your kitchen, if not for this purpose, for possible theft prevention.


A sample of three cocktails.

Bartenders are also subject to mystery baskets. Ask them to prepare four standard, basic drinks and one specialty drink in 15 minutes or less. Once they have prepared the drinks, ask them to cost them out. 


They should also understand pairings. Ask them to pair wine or cocktails with your main dinner or dessert menu. The drinks may not yet be part of your offerings, but this indicates they can be quick and resourceful. 


Typically, a head Chef or Bartender understands the need for testing. They shouldn’t have a problem coming and displaying their skill set for no payment. For the other employees, you always have the probationary contract-only work option. 


Implementing these strategies can significantly enhance your process of hiring the right staff for your restaurant or bar. This will allow you to build a team capable of contributing to your establishment's success while maintaining a high standard of operation.


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