If you’re lucky, applicants for your restaurant openings already have restaurant experience, especially experience in the particular kind of eatery you run. But more than likely you’re getting applicants who’ve never worked a kitchen or front of the house.


Many people think of restaurant jobs as good starter or transition jobs. This idea can make the hiring process a little harder (and the training process even more important.) But, believe it or not, there are a lot of people who don’t have restaurant experience yet who could also be an asset to your business.


Here are 5 things to look for to help identify great restaurant employees in the making—even without restaurant experience.


Work in a Service Field Instead of Restaurant Experience

If an applicant doesn’t have restaurant experience, but they have worked in the service industry, they’re one step ahead of the average applicant. When interviewing ask them questions about how they handled a customer complaint or what they would do if they started to get a backlog of customers waiting. Then ask how they would handle a specific complaint in the restaurant—a meal sent back, food spilled on a customer, or a backed up kitchen—to get a sense of how they’ll transfer their customer service experience to a new environment. Even if the job is behind the scenes, understanding how their role impacts customer satisfaction is important.


No Restaurant Experience but a Professional Approach

Even if you have a casual restaurant, applicants should approach the hiring process seriously and professionally. Look for these aspects of a professional approach:


  • Neat and complete applications—Papers shouldn’t be crumpled. Writing should be clear. Everything should be filled in or marked not applicable.
  • Professional appearance—Applicants don’t need to show up in a suit, but they should shouldn’t be in shorts or sweats either. Serious applicants will look tidy and polished.
  • Timeliness—If you set up an interview, expect applicants to be there on time, or better yet a few minutes early. They’ll show they understand the business if they avoid coming in during your busiest times. Applicants who come in between 2 and 4 have likely done their homework.
  • Initiative—Applicants who ask for the manager rather than handing their application or résumé to a just anyone understand the process and are willing to talk to the right person for the job.


Somebody who is serious about the job has potential—even if they are missing restaurant (or any) work experience.


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Willingness to Work Their Way Up

If somebody with no restaurant experience waltzes in and expects plum wait staff shifts, that’s not a good sign. People with no restaurant experience should expect to work their way up. That might mean starting as a busser or a barback. Or it might mean working less busy or less desirable shifts. If an applicant without restaurant experience seems to feel entitled to start at the top, pass on them. On the other hand, if an applicant shows a willingness to learn and gain experience, they’re probably worth a chance.


Personality and Cultural Fit

Personality and attitude matter—especially with employees who will interact with your customers. If the candidate doesn’t have the right background, but does show the kind of personality that wins people over, they’re worth a second look. Pair personality with some of the other factors we’ve identified and you have a solid candidate.


In addition to how a candidate will interact with customers, you’ll want to think about how they’ll fit in with the rest of your team and company culture. You can train almost anybody, but a bad cultural fit is hard to overcome.


Realistic Expectations

Restaurant jobs are hard work. You’re on your feet a lot. The pace is fast. The kitchen hot. Customers can be impatient. In other words—it’s work. Candidates who haven’t worked in a restaurant won’t have behind the scenes experience to fall back on, but they should have some idea of what they’re getting into.


Questions to ask: What do you expect a shift to be like? What do you think the hardest part of the job will be? Candidates who seem to gloss over the work for the food or the tips may struggle with the reality of the job.


When you see applicants who haven’t worked in a restaurant before don’t dismiss them out of hand, but be smart about how you hire. Look for a combination of the characteristics we listed above. And don’t forget training—it’s important for all new employees, but especially for those with no restaurant experience.
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