Hiring Servers not Warm Bodies – Guest Blog

By: Richard Averitte, ShiftZen

Not everyone belongs in the restaurant business. Some people belong in a profession where they aren’t responsible for serving people. They may look the part, but that could very well change by their actions and speak. The restaurant industry is not about rolling silverware, stuffing napkin holders or other restaurant related tasks. It’s about providing service to guests.

Too often restaurant managers forget the “service” criteria when hiring servers. When I managed restaurants, I always to tried to hire those who seemed to have a server’s heart. I hired servers, not waiters. You can train anyone to do a task, but you cannot train an eagerness to please.


During the hiring process, I looked for intangibles not found on a application. I often found these intangibles during the interview. Here are four things I always did during an interview that spoke volumes about the candidate:

1. Drop the pen – Sometime during the interview, I always dropped my pen and waited for the candidate’s reaction. If the candidate picked it up (or at least went for it) immediately, I knew this would be a good hire. If the candidate did not even try to pick up, that told me they did not have a server’s mentality.

2. Yes sir/no sir – If they’re not going to say it to me during the interview, they’re probably not going to say it to the guest. You need to hear “yes sir/no sir” (or ma’am) in an interview. Sounds old-fashioned, but it’s actually timeless when providing service.

3. “Thanks” vs “Thank you” – This may be a personal pet peeve, but I am big believer there is a difference between “Thanks” and “Thank you”. The former sounds can be perceived as insincere and snarky, while the latter is rarely perceived as nothing but upmost gratitude. I want to hear my candidate say “Thank you” when the interview is over, not “Thanks”. I want to hear it because I’m sure my guests will want to hear it too.

4. The door – After the interview, I always walked the candidate to the door. I tried to do it when some guests were near the door. I would open the door for the candidate and observe their actions. Would the candidate allow the guests to pass first? Or perhaps take the door from me and hold it for the guests? If the answer to either question is “no”, I would not hire the candidate. The guests is the most important person in the building and they always come before staff. This snapshot told me all I needed to know.

I prided myself on a low turnover rate in the restaurants I managed and I firmly believe these four details were a part. Look for the details during the interview and you’ll hire more server’s hearts instead of warm bodies.

Richard Averitte is a twenty year restaurant veteran and marketer for ShiftZen (www.shiftzen.com), a restaurant scheduling software company in Durham, N.C.


  1. Great article! Thanks so much for laying these out as I notice myself doing some of these suggested duties daily and hope to keep up.

    Points I’d Like To Add:

    1) I also feel it is important to note an important human quality of a person reciprocating kindness and sincerity to the other person who has initiated it from the heart in the 1st place relating to the karmic law/gesture of “What comes around, goes around.” How do you measure this in applicants?

    2) Also, another important quality I notice about people that stands out is treating all types of people with respect, sincerity, kindness and even personability. It has got me to the heart from remembering situations where I or others would feel excluded even when a specific person or more treated me with respect but would not playfully mess around with me unlike others. Mainly, I see how being inclusive of all especially to others who try to be warm and friendly with inclusiveness is crucial rather than ‘cliquey’ which is off putting. How do you test for this?

    3) Most important of all, a big crucial characteristic is one who is polite and friendly to people’s faces and even the same behind their backs and one of the worst rubs are certain people who come across 2-faced or deceitful with no class of malicious gossip, negative talk behind backs and yet being opposite to the face. This clearly is the commonsense worst behavior to be avoided or nipped in the bud. I feel this should be screened and dealt with and wonder what you do to screen?

    4) Lastly, are there techniques you utilize to see how a person reacts to stress in a mature, professional and humane way?

    Thanks and hope to hear from you.

    • Hello John, I would like to share my thoughts for the 3rd question you mentioned above. In fact, observing whether a person is willing to blame others would be a good solution. For example, you may ask several scenario questions about conflicts when working with others. Try to irritate them by telling them you think this person is wrong in the scenerios, and see whether they would blame other people they worked with rather than admitting directly.

      Normally, people who can actually keep their mouth shut in the work place would rather give up arguing.

  2. One technique I have used is to walk from the area where I met the applicant to another area. Does the prospective employee walk smoothly and with a sense of purpose? How is their posture? A server walks in public and the ability to do so with grace AND efficiency is a requisite.

    You can thank me later.

  3. Excellent article.

    I totally agree that not everyone has the necessary abilities to be a server. I am from Costa Rica and here since the Servers make about double what a cook makes everybody wants to be a server. Unfortunately, not everybody has what it takes and you end up loosing excellent cooks to another restaurant that is willing to give them a serving job. It is hard for a person to understand that even though they are great at one position they might not be great in another position; until they try it and find out for themselves.

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