If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my years of coaching basketball and managing bars it’s this: Summoning energy for yourself to get motivated to do anything is hard. Summoning energy to motivate others is 10 times harder.

That’s what we’re dealing with when it comes to managing employees, which is why you need to do your best to hire the most energetic, motivated staff you can.

Here’s a fact: over the past few months I have asked approximately 50 owners and managers what their #1 pain point is in running their business, and 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, I’m pretty sure you are nodding your head right now with a bitter sneer because we’ve all had to manage those employees who drive us insane. Right? I’m sure we’ve all had similar conversations:

“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 and I’ll do whatever the hell I want).

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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 how do you hire such an all-star staff? Over the years, I’ve changed my philosophy on hiring, mostly because while interviewing other bar owners, I found out that their best employees were the ones they hired based on their personality as opposed to their experience.

In fact, I’ve also come to notice that the more experience someone has in the hospitality business, the more likely they are to have horrible habits and even worse attitudes (unfortunately we are a jaded, damaged bunch).

There is a level of expectation when working in the tipping industry. Servers and bartenders start to forget that they are there to create a great experience for the guests and instead they start chasing the tips, and as a result instead being “servers” they start to feel like “servants” dancing for coins instead of a human being providing a valuable, respectable service.

Over the years, hospitality workers become more like dogs who have been beaten by their owners for years: worn down, hopeless and likely to snap at you if you get too close.

The remedy? You’ve already guessed it, I’m sure, because you are a visionary. When it comes to hiring, personality is king. When I hire, my goal is to find a superstar, not just a fill-in.

That means I find someone with a bubbly, energetic personality and someone who genuinely cares about other people and not just themselves.

I can train them on the menu and how to greet customers and take orders, and just because they worked 3 years somewhere else doesn’t mean they’re good. 

Remember, personality is king and empathy for others is a close 2nd. Hiring a fresh, bubbly (somewhat naïve) employee means you will have to train a little more on the front end, but in the long run, your guests that come in will love them and keep coming back.

However, that doesn’t mean you should take the hiring process lightly and hire the first smiling, giggling face that walks through the doors. I’ve noticed that the hiring practices of a lot of hospitality businesses are to simply hire someone as quickly as possible because it’s a bother to do extensive interviews, especially when you’re losing people on a weekly or monthly basis.

The interview process for unsuccessful bars is very lax because it’s difficult and people don’t like to do difficult tasks.

In order to find the right person for your bar/restaurant, you need to make sure and ask the right questions and then hire someone who has the “right” responses. What are the right responses? The right responses are the ones that demonstrate the characteristics we’re looking for, and being experienced is nice, but it is not the main factor we’re looking for when hiring a potential star.

The interview process is all in the questions you ask and the observations you make more than what their resume says.

In order to draw out the personality of each applicant and find out who they really are, you need to ask questions that engage them beyond the mundane, “What are your three greatest strengths and weakness?” Questions like these are just plain STUPID!

Interview questions like this are likely to invoke canned, practiced responses that are safe and tell you nothing about the person. Do you think they’re going to tell you that their biggest weakness is that they bitch and complain about guests all the time to their co-workers or that they aren’t very good at carrying a conversation?

You want to find out if they’re a superstar? Ask them to tell you a story. That’s it.  Any story about their life. Then see if they can carry a conversation. This will shock the shit out of them because they will be expecting traditional interview questions.

Then tell them a story about you. It can be could be anything, but what you’re looking for here is genuine interest. Are they robotic in their nods and smiles? Do they look bored, or astonished that the interview isn’t what they expected? Or are they truly smiling and interested in what you have to say?

Translation:  Find out if they can carry a conversation and if they’re likeable. That’s it. If you find someone who dazzles you with their conversation, carrying plates and pouring liquid into a glass is the easy part. After all, you aren’t hiring someone to remove your liver. You want someone who wows the guests.

So, in a nutshell, 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!

With that said, off we go:

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 or shame. 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. How hard will they try to retain a guest and protect the good name of the business? How much do they care if that the guest was unsatisfied? Or is it one of those, “Well, I tried…fuck ‘em,” type attitudes.

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?

Similar 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 or someone who just wants to please by giving a pleasant answer. In their defense, it’s difficult to walk into a place and instantly know how to make it better, but 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. If they don’t believe in themselves with the spotlight on them and everything riding on this moment, then they aren’t considered a cream-of-the-cropper.

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 because 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. Sounds harsh, but we need a go-getter. Even if they’re wrong about their career, we need someone who is obviously thinking about it and not just floating along like a sandwich baggie in a creek.

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. But once again, if they’re a bartender, your #1 concern is that they will then turn around and give away free drinks to all those friends because they will feel pressure to.

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.

Thanks for being here.

Cheers, until next time,


Tags:server interview questionsbartender interview questionsnow to hire a serverhow to hire bartenderhow to hire restaurant employeesbar managementbar inventoryliquor inventory

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