Some restaurants will hire a server based on simple interview questions such as, “Do you have experience?” or “Can you work weekends?” But it’s usually not that easy. You should always go into a server job interview expecting to have an in-depth discussion with your potential employer about your experience and skills. 

As a server, you have to bring a lot to the table (#sorrynotsorry. We’ll never 86 that joke). Being a great server requires a unique combination of traits and skills including thinking on your feet, staying calm under pressure, knowing how to read people, excellent prioritization and communication skills, and a personality that makes guests feel relaxed and confident.

Below are a few commonly asked server interview questions (and answers) to help you nail your next server interview!

The 3 most common server interview questions and how to answer:

1. Have you ever had a negative experience with a customer? What did you do?

Reason they ask this: It shows how you deal with adversity, what you consider negative, and whether you’re honest (if you have work experience and answer “no” to this question, they will think you’re lying).

How to answer: Be honest. Think of an example where you had a genuinely bad experience, but you were able to turn things around or you learned a valuable lesson from it. It’s important to state the bad experience and then immediately follow it with a positive, such as, “I was able to use humor to diffuse the situation and get the customer what she wanted.”

2. Sell me an item on the menu.

Reason they ask this: Upselling is an important part of a server’s job. It helps you increase your tips since they are (usually) based on total sales. And, it helps the restaurant make more money. They also ask this to see if you did any research about the restaurant and its menu.

How to answer: Come prepared. Before any server interview, always review the menu. You don’t have to know all the details, but you should have a good understanding of what type of food they sell and what some of the menu items are. For your sales pitch, describe the dish in appetizing terms and use a call to action. You can use this format as a template to build your answer on: “Can I get you an order of our delicious, refreshing ceviche for your appetizer today?” Inject your personality and enthusiasm into your upsell.

3. What does great service look like to you?

The reason they ask this: They need to understand if your idea of hospitality service fits in with their restaurant’s culture and expectations. 

How to answer: It’s easier to come up with a good answer for this by thinking about a time when you went out to eat and were impressed with your service. Describe what that server did but in terms of how you would approach a table.

For example, if your server had a warm, welcoming personality and never got flustered even when there was a mistake, turn that into, “Great service starts with making a customer feel welcome. A warm smile and a positive demeanor set the tone for a good experience, and from there, it’s all about being attentive to their needs and never getting flustered even if there’s a mistake.” 

customers enjoying at a restaurant
Good servers know that hospitality is about serving others and creating a warm, welcoming environment.

8 Restaurant Manager Speak What They Look For In Candidates

Eight managers share some of their go-to interview questions for front of house and the answers that will get you a warm welcome to your new job, as well as the ones that won’t!

Straight from the horse’s mouth!

I always ask them to tell me about a time they had a negative experience with a guest and how they resolved it. If they say they’ve never had a bad interaction, that’s a red flag. In the service world, there will always be bad guest interactions. If they say they haven’t had one, they’re either lying or they’ve never served before.  — Steve M.

If you got triple sat, how would you handle greeting your tables, getting drinks, etc.? There’s no specific right answer, but this question helps me see how their mind works and what they prioritize. The only real wrong answer is if they get flustered and can’t explain the steps they’d take. If they get flustered over a question about being triple sat, they for sure can’t handle the reality of that! — Jeremy T.

In the restaurant world, it’s a fact of life that people sometimes show up late or not at all. I like to ask potential servers, “If your relief did not come in on time, what would you do?”  Heyam P.

I want to hear that they will stay until their relief comes or until we’ve found someone who can cover the shift.  — Sara S.

I always ask them to explain what hospitality means to them. I want to hear things like “It means taking care of a guest’s needs while always being friendly” or something similar. They need to know that hospitality is about serving others and creating a warm, welcoming environment. — Kristi H.

I always ask them to explain a great dining experience they’ve had and a less-than-ideal one. This gives you an idea of what they feel constitutes good and bad service and what they’ll prioritize when serving our guests. — April B.

I have a lot of go-to questions that I think really bring out the true colors of a potential server. Some of my favorites are, “What do you do when you’re bored at work?” and “How do you feel/react when a customer doesn’t tip you?” A good answer for the first one is something that shows they have initiative and will look for ways to be helpful when it’s slow. For the second one, you’re looking for red flags. Any answer that includes getting angry or upset is a sign that this person might be too sensitive to be a good fit for your restaurant. — Amanda C.

My favorite isn’t really a question. I always ask them to sell me something from our menu or their favorite dish. They need to be able to quickly put together a persuasive response because they’ll need to do this regularly with guests. This is also a great question for applicants who don’t have previous experience. If they can rack up sales, we can teach them the rest. — Priya D.