Congrats you’ve made it beyond submitting your application, resume and cover – now it’s time to meet in-person! Whether you’re speaking with a head chef, general manager or restaurant owner, your goal during the interview is to have the interviewer understand that you have the skills necessary to perform the job well and how you are compatible with the existing team. In addition to your technical skills, your body language, preparation, and appearance during the interview are important factors when setting the right tone and helping you to make a great first impression.
Attire (What to Wear)
The Formal interview
While "dressing for the job you want, not the one you have" may sound cliché, you do need to be aware that your clothing makes a statement about who you are and where you want to go, ultimately playing a crucial role in your career trajectory. In general, the following two options are acceptable when interviewing for positions in both the back and front of the house. Keep in mind that regardless of the outfit you decide to wear, always make sure everything is clean, neat and pressed – avoid anything stained, tattered or torn.
- Suit: While a suit may seem too formal for certain restaurant interviews, it’s always essential to display a level of professionalism with a first impression, thus being ‘overdressed’ generally works to your advantage.
- Business Casual: If your research on the restaurant makes you feel that a suit may be too formal, then opt for business casual. For men, the key to business casual is pants (e.g., slacks, khakis or even jeans), a button down shirt and (optionally) a blazer. For women, a conservative skirt or pants with a blouse or sweater, or a simple and informal dress, are all appropriate.
The Working Interview, AKA Trail
(There is an excellent chance you will be asked to cook or work a shift trailing on the floor.)
- Kitchen: Many restaurants will have a set of chef whites and checkered pants that you can wear during your shift. If you plan on wearing your own chef whites and pants, make sure they are clean. Bring a bag packed with your clothes for a quick change before your shift. Also, remember to bring your slip-resistant chef shoes/clogs and a clean hat or bandana.
Make sure you have the proper equipment – bring your knives; many restaurants don’t have knives you can use, which could make your trail a lot more challenging. Sharpen all of your knives the night before; nothing is more irritating for a Head Chef than having an interviewee sharpen their knives while on the trail!
- Servers: If the employer did not specify, opt for clean black pants, a black button-down shirt, black tie, and closed-toe dress shoes with non-slip soles. Come dressed in your uniform or bring what you will be wearing during your shift on a hanger.
- Host/Hostess: Mary Barra, General Motors Chief Executive, recently changed the company's 10-page dress code to two words “Dress appropriately.” While hospitality and the automotive industries are entirely different, what you should wear are incredibly similar. Be appropriate nothing too short, showy, or sloppy. Show your point of view, style, and reflect the brand of the restaurant. The best bet for a hostess working in a hospitality environment is to stick with the business casual attire worn for the formal interview.
If you are still uncertain about what you should wear, simply ask the person who scheduled the interview!
For both the formal and working interviews, arrive at least 10 - 15 minutes before the time you are scheduled; being right on time is often viewed as late; instead give yourself a bit of time to get settled before you have to officially start. If you plan on changing clothes, add 5 - 10 minutes to your early arrival time. If you have long hair, make sure it is off your shoulders in either a ponytail or bun to show that you are ready to begin.
Your body language can have a significant impact on the way others perceive you and may sabotage your chances of a new job before you even start. Here are some tips to help you put your best self out there:
- Shake Hands
Always start an interview by shaking hands with your interviewer; you are far more likely to be remembered if you do. A firm handshake can help you demonstrate confidence, create a bond, and become more memorable to your interviewer, all before even saying “Hello.”
- Make Eye Contact
Eye contact is important to show that you are engaged and actively listening. Don’t mistake eye contact for staring at the interviewer, as that can be portrayed as disconcerting and aggressive. Keep in mind that, avoiding eye contact can come across as untrustworthy and distant or disinterested.
- Sit Up Straight & Avoid Fidgeting
Sit as if there was a string tied from the top of your head to the ceiling. Sitting up straight is seen as a sign of intelligence, confidence, and credibility. Don’t slouch, sprawl, or sit on the top of a table or prep table. While tempting, resist the urge to spin or turn if seated in a swivel chair. Lounging back in your chair, can be interpreted as another sign of your disinterest and not taking the interview seriously.
A genuine smile goes a long way and can immediately create a more favorable environment.
Have a Positive Attitude
Waiters, Waitresses, and other front of house staff are expected to be enthusiastic and attentive professionals; in the kitchen, in which many are working in tight quarters for long hours, friendliness goes a long way.
If during the interview you are offered you a drink. “What’s on tap?” -- even if you are joking -- is never a good response. Always accept a coffee, tea, soda, or water. This gesture can create a sense of a shared ritual, allowing the interviewer to join you. Taking a sip mid-interview can also give you an easy way to have a moment to think about the answer to a question.
Start Before You Leave Home
Bosses, colleagues, interviewers and restaurant regulars might see you in the parking lot, elevator, or on the subway on your way. You only get one chance to make a first impression, you never know who you’ll meet on your commute.
Before the Interview – Prepare
Similar to your cover letter, the interview is an opportunity for you to become more expansive about your work and especially the aspects of your technical skills and professional attributes likely to be of most value to the interviewer. Whether you’re interviewing for a front of or back of house position, how you prepare for the interview can make the difference.
- If the interview is for a high-end restaurant, brush up on fine dining terminology.
- Familiarize yourself with the restaurant's menu; knowing the food and any specials will show your interest and enthusiasm for the job.
- For the front of the house positions, learn the basics of food and wine/beer/ whiskey pairings. Often interview questions for the front of the house involve what goes best with various dishes.
- Perform a quick internet search to discover any recent headlines -- read them all, be aware of the good and the not so good. Check out the restaurant's social media channels (e.g., Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) to gain more understanding on how the company interacts with customers.
- Review and prepare answers to the questions the interview is most likely to ask. Learn more about the types of questions the interviewer may ask.
- Map out your physical route to the interview. Then add padding to your trip time to account for traffic and other unexpected delays.
After the Interview – Follow Up
Formally thank your interviewer via email with a couple of points or topics you discussed promptly within 24 hours of your interview. It not only shows your appreciation to the interviewer for taking the time to meet with you, but it’s also a great opportunity to re-emphasize your interest in the position and keep you top of mind to the interviewer.
Bonus tips to help you ace the interview.
- Bring several printed copies of your resume. Have at least one for the interviewer and one for yourself to use as a reference.
- Have opinions on local restaurants and food. The people you are meeting with are all in this industry due to their love of food and restaurants. Knowledge about the industry will demonstrate your interest in the job and your career. You also might get the name of a new place to try from the interviewer.
- As you leave, thank the person you were talking with and shake hands.