Dishin' That: Don't let the job interview eat you up

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There’s been much rambling here recently on the do’s and dont’s of landing and/or keeping a restaurant job.

Chiming in with their own suggestions, a few hospitality brothers and sisters made good points through email. Further brainstorming with my Restaurant Creative Consulting Team (which is always an excuse to drink wine), we dug deeper for subtle things I had overlooked.

“In an interview, don’t talk about money first,” said one bartender from South Portland. “If it comes up, be persistent in finding out who you have to tip-out and how much. Find out about credit-card tips, too.” The same person added, “Ask if you get tipped-out after each shift, or once a week in your paycheck. Keep records of what you rake in.”

More than one person mentioned the uniform policy.

“Ask what ‘a black shirt’ means,” suggested a server from Yarmouth. “Is it button down? Are short sleeves OK? I work with a guy who wears a V-neck and his long chest hair sticks out. It’s gross. I can’t imagine what his customers are thinking.”

A broke college student, thrilled with her new hosting job at a seaside resort, was not pleased when told she had to pay for “two really ugly polo shirts that are way too big for me. Like, when will I ever wear them again?”

And the beat goes on.

No matter how valid, advice and observations can be perceived as thinly veiled complaints. The same applies to the surprising amount of feedback about the people doing the hiring.

“I had more than one phone interview with the same restaurant, and they both went well,” said a veteran server. “Then, the owner asked what my ‘dream schedule’ is, which is way different from my actual availability. I told her my work-week fantasy and that was it. Boom. It went from ‘When can you start, to don’t call us, we’ll call you.’ I didn’t even get to explain.”

“Restaurant owners and managers are busy,” a member of my team offered. “But how hard is it to pick up the phone and say, ‘Thanks for coming in, but we’ve hired from within, or blah, blah blah.’ The courtesy of a phone call or email isn’t that much to ask. I have a friend who was seriously led to believe she got a job, and then never heard from the owner, who avoided her phone calls. By that time, the ship had sailed on another great offer she got.”

“You can’t sue people for being jerks,” one friend said. “I was excited about an interview at one of the newest, most talked-about places in town. The manager was a 20-something kid who was screening for the GM.

“‘I’m not sure you’ll fit in with our staff, if you know what I mean,’ he said. Saying I didn’t know what he meant, I diverted the conversation to the quality of the food. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.”

Without HR departments, interviewing and hiring in the restaurant business is often renegade. But it isn’t always negative. There was the time my friend Melissa was hired on the spot and began working a full section within an hour. Another friend was hired for a job, sight unseen, via text messages, and yet another was asked to be a supervisor five minutes into an interview.

At last glance, jobs are still being posted on Craigslist, but in places far south (York) and far north (Bar Harbor). The next round of postings will be second calls, replacing new hires who didn’t work out, or were no-shows.

Check it daily. You may still have a chance to buy an ugly polo shirt.

Peas & Q’s

Many of us remember the outstanding management skills and bartending banter of Steven Lovenguth. Best known for his long stint at Walter’s, Lovenguth dropped out of sight to focus on personal priorities. He’s a friend from years back, and I was thrilled to see him behind the bar at Boone’s, shaking and stirring like he never missed an order.

Having come full circle, Lovenguth is now back at Walter’s, at the top of his game, in fine health. Go visit him to find out what a true craft cocktail should be, and to people-watch from the luscious, over-sized chairs in the lounge windows.

Sidebar Elements

Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @natalieladd.