If you run a restaurant or a café then you know that customers don’t just come for the great food or coffee, they come for the experience. They come for the atmosphere and ambiance. They come to your restaurant to be waited on, and not have to worry about cooking the food or making sure everyone has a drink; because they know they’ll be taken care of. Your serving staff is central to this experience, so knowing what to look for when hiring them is important. We’ve compiled a list of some of the vital characteristics wait staff need, and what you can ask to determine if a potential candidate has them.
First impressions matter when you’re hiring wait staff. If the candidate doesn’t make a good impression on you; what kind of impression will they make on your customers? Your serving staff act as the face of the establishment. When arriving at an interview, candidates should have a neat personal presentation. They should be well-groomed, put together and above all clean. Cleanliness is of paramount importance to anywhere food or drink is served and prospective staff should reflect this.
Nobody likes to be kept waiting. You probably have a million interviews to get through so one interviewee being late is holding up the whole show. Customers also don’t like to have to wait for their food, and the rest of your waiters and waitresses don’t want to have to wait to finish their shift; so, punctuality is crucial in potential wait staff. That’s not to say that anyone who is late once (even at interview level) should be disqualified on the spot; there are of course extenuating circumstances that completely justify lateness.
Communication is the key skill of any serving employee. They need to be friendly and approachable as well as being able to clearly communicate menu items, or specials to customers, and meal orders or requests to the kitchen staff. Dining is not just about the food; it is the entire experience and atmosphere of a restaurant. If your wait staff are unable to interact with customers, they are unlikely to be very effective at their job and definitely won’t provide a positive atmosphere. This is one skill that is invaluable in a server and should be clear throughout the interview. Good communication skills and a positive attitude are often more important than experience in a role. You can be taught parts of the job, but you can’t manufacture a good attitude and excellent conversational skills.
Attention to Detail
Paying attention to details and being observant are also key traits. You don’t want your waiters not paying attention when someone has a special request because that just leads to food waste and unhappy customers. Another thing that falls under paying attention to detail is just being observant in general, your customers don’t want to spend 20 minutes just trying to get the waitress’ attention to order a drink. One way to test this in candidates is to ask a detailed or multiple part question, if they are listening closely, they should be able to answer all parts of this question.
If, heaven forbid, something goes wrong with an order, or you just have a particularly difficult customer; you need your waiters and waitresses to stay level headed. In order to defuse a heated situation, you need your wait staff to remain calm, polite and, above all, professional under pressure. A level-headed waiter can mean the difference between a customer being happy and having an overall positive experience or a manager being called in and the customer never returning to your restaurant. A question about how candidates handled a difficult situation in the past is a must. Perhaps even consider having a role play scenario in the interview in which the prospective employee must turn around a negative situation.
Ultimately you want staff that are going to go the extra mile for both your business and your customers. Serving staff that genuinely care about people and want to make their experience the best it can be; are the ones that will bring your business to the next level. Waiting staff that go above and beyond to deliver should be the staple of your establishment. Bad servers turn away customers. You should look for an individual who is not only competent but also friendly, welcoming and passionate. Ask what they liked about previous serving jobs (other than the wages), this should give you a good sense of what type of server they will be.
At the end of the day, the personality of your staff will only get them so far, it’s important to make sure they are properly trained. Have them trail a member of staff when they start, it is a fast and efficient way for them to learn the ropes and also gives you a good sense of whether they are going to fit in with the team. Hiring can be an expensive process, but waiters and waitresses act as the face of your restaurant so it’s important to get the right ones. Having the right staff means more customers and higher profits. If you are concerned that your cash flow would struggle with onboarding and training costs at the moment, a cash advance is a good flexible short-term finance option. This option works with your business as repayments are taken as a percentage of your daily card sales. This takes the pressure off your cash flow and means that the loan works with the flow of your business.
For more content on hiring staff and preventing employee turnover you should check out our article on 'The Main Causes of Employee Turnover'.