What do we look for in a employee? The interview questions we ask for front of the house candidates and back of the house candidates may surprise you?


For me, the key ingredient for front or back is always attitude. A person can be taught process. They cannot be taught attitude. Whether it’s cleaning floors or crafting a soufflé, I want someone that is driven to craft a masterpiece that will assuredly provide the ultimate guest experience.

With regards to capabilities, we do follow a few guidelines.

For chef’s, I have found that offering externships for the local Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Dallas is the ideal way to get classically trained chef’s that have not yet formed bad habits.

Our biggest challenge is servers. Our fine dining Forney, TX Bistro is in a town that does not have any other fine dining establishments. Accordingly, we have a hard time finding servers that understand the difference between food delivery (which is what you get at most chains) and fine dining. In this case, I would rather train a new server from scratch. More time consuming but more rewarding to our guests in the end.

I also want someone who has compassion for others and easily assimilates with other team members. I learned many years ago, that one employee who has a bad attitude can quickly destroy a team.

My favorite questions are ones that Apple’s retail boss Angela Ahrendts uses in her interview process.

ME vs. WE
I want to gain insight into how they see themselves in the world.
• How big is their ego and what role does it play in their everyday life?
• Do they focus their energy on being an individual contributor, or on connecting and enabling a wider group?
• Do they care more about their own success or about the greater good of the whole?
Ask simple questions about their family, friends, peers, personal interests, sports, spirituality, and community to glean a better understanding of their true motivation and leadership attributes. This is usually the easy part, because people love to talk about themselves.

Two of our favorite quotes that sum up our leadership philosophies. See how the candidate responds to these:
A great coach used to say, “When ordinary people connect, extraordinary things can happen.”

One of my favorite quotes is from management expert Gary Hamel, who was once asked, “How will you know if you are a great leader?” He replied, “Turn around and see if anyone is following you.”

IQ vs. EQ
Now that they are comfortable and their guard is down, you want to understand how they naturally navigate in the world.
• Do they typically think or feel first?
• Do they instinctively use their head or their heart?
Ask a few business questions about how they handle challenging situations and optimize opportunities. Ask what their team and peers would say about them to gain deeper perspective on how balanced they are intellectually and emotionally.
Once you have satisfied that they are knowledgeable in their field, you’ll want to make sure they are culturally compatible. Are they empathetic, compassionate, caring and giving of their mind and heart?
A quote  from Maya Angelou is what you should be looking for in every hire: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” You want to sense if they truly care about the impact they make on people.

LEFT BRAIN (create pristine stacks) vs. RIGHT BRAIN (have a natural urge to sprawl and display)
You should then go a little deeper to discover what lens they look at the world through.
• Do they lean into analysis or their instincts? Do they get into details, or carry on a more conceptual conversation?
• Do they make linear decisions, are they a creative thinker, or do they use their whole mind?
Then go back to asking more personal questions, as you’ll find that you can better assess their left brain-right brain balance by understanding what they studied, what they do in their spare time.
• What do they read, watch, listen to?
• Do they light up when talking about the arts, their kids?
A company’s success is predicated on you putting the right people in the right place at the right time. You know what you need, and you need to find out who they truly are so both can thrive over the long term.

A good example of this is where we place our chef’s. Most new chef’s will tell you that they are equally proficient as a savory chef (cook) or pastry chef (baker). But through experience, I have learned that right brain persons make better savory chef’s and left brain people make the best pastry chefs.

Lastly, learn what guides them in the world, or frames their reference points.
• How much do they look to the past for trends, and how aware are they of the underlying influences impacting their business today?
• Do they have an opinion on the future and how their organization and strategies will need to evolve to keep pace? Are they adverse to or do they thrive on change?
This is how you should wrap up the interview, and before they leave it is important to let them know how you feel.
If you loved them,  tell them so and say you look forward to continuing the conversation. If they are not right for the position, it is best to be honest while you are together so they don’t get their hopes up. Always treat them as you want to be treated, and make sure they leave feeling positive even though they are not right for the current position. It is important we all sleep at night and that they leave with respect for themselves and the company.
Good luck, and remember: Building a brilliant team is your job. Nothing you do is more important or adds more value.

If they pass these questions, only then do we explore their actual hands-on capabilities.

J Stephen