With the current dearth of applicants for the many good restaurant jobs in our Metro, you’d think a job-seeker could walk into almost any restaurant and get a job on the spot. And they just about could, but there are a few behaviors a hiring manager just can’t overlook in a potential employee no matter how desperate times are.
In my former career in the corporate world, it was widely known what one needed to do to impress during a job interview. Rule No. 1 was to dress for the interview as you would dress daily if you got the job. In an office situation, this might mean a business suit of sorts, or at least very spiffy office casual wear. You wouldn’t show up to apply as an account representative or administrative assistant wearing overalls. You’d come prepared with a tight resume, not too long or descriptive, but with all the pertinent starting and ending dates of jobs you’d held for at least the last five years. You’d appear bearing your social security card and your driver’s license or state ID. You’d be freshly bathed and have combed your hair.
It seems the same can’t be said for the hospitality industry. Common sense should dictate that applicants for kitchen positions should present themselves in cook’s whites or at least a very clean pair of jeans and a t-shirt that doesn’t sport a potentially offensive message. Tank top and shorts? No. But I’ve seen it done. Applicants for front of the house positions sin in this direction as well. Please do not wear a neon lycra mini skirt, clear acrylic stilettos and a tube top if you want to serve or hostess in my dining room.
I don’t mean to vilify everyone who’s looking for a job in a restaurant. Some applicants do turn up well turned out and ready for a short interview. These may suffer whiplash as they are snatched up to be added to the team. The others, not so much.
Now, say you’re a bit eccentric but you know you have skills and have been a valuable part of other teams in the past. Then be prepared to show it! Don’t tell me you “worked for Wolfgang Puck” but be unable to tell me when, where or how long. Don’t tell me you were lead server at that revolving restaurant on top of that one tall building downtown without being able to name the restaurant or the chef.
If an applicant doesn’t have a formal resume, they should at least have a coherent job history jotted down that they can transfer to an application form. And they should have a few solid references. It’s often said that restaurants don’t check references, but they do if they’re provided (with viable phone numbers! Don’t make me search for a guy on Facebook that can vouch for you, but you just don’t happen to have his number.) A good reference can go a long way in the hiring process.
If you have restrictions on what times and days you can work, please reveal them during the interview. If you’re on house arrest and must wear an ankle bracelet – this may not disqualify you! But we’ll need to know that on the front end.
I once worked at a restaurant where the chef hired a cook, and the next time the schedule was posted the new guy told Chef he couldn’t work Fridays or Saturdays, ever. At another restaurant, a cook was over an hour late for his first day, because he “had to go see his pastor”. I was once given a new cook to show around and assign tasks to, and when I asked him to peel boiled eggs, he pointedly told me he did not know how to do that because in his experience “the women did the cooking at family reunions,” and that was the only situation in which he could imagine an egg needing to be peeled.
But there’s one thing that’s paramount in a restaurant job interview. Remember that thing I mentioned where you’ll have to transfer your notes about your job history to the short application form? If you have to ask the interviewer to borrow a pen to fill out your application, you can pretty much kiss that job goodbye. Bring a pen! Our standards are necessarily fluid in the great pirate ship we call a restaurant, but if you come without your sword, we may leave you on the pier.
Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, Café Lou Lou, Marketplace @ Theater Square, Fontleroy’s and Harvest.