13 Industry Expert Tips For Finding Your Next Restaurant Job

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As restaurants reopen and diners flock back to their favorite spots, food service workers are in higher demand than ever — meaning it’s a job seeker’s market for the industry. In fact, data from Indeed shows that food prep and service job posts have surged almost a third as compared to their pre-pandemic baseline.*

With restaurants hiring urgently, many have evolved internal practices to make hospitality work more desirable. That means it’s a perfect time for seasoned workers to return to the industry or newcomers to break in for the first time, no experience required. 

To dig into the state of the job market — and how to get hired — OpenTable co-hosted a virtual workshop for job seekers with Indeed, the world’s number-one job site, and Matthew Kenney Cuisine, a company with more than 40 restaurants open or in development across the country. During the discussion, panelists covered changes in hiring, roles needed, skills to succeed, and tips for finding the right job.

Watch a recording of the conversation, download the full presentation, and read on for takeaways and tips below.

How restaurants are turning hospitality inward

Restaurants have long prided themselves on their ability to take care of diners and make them feel valued. Now, businesses are applying the same ethos to their own people.

“We’re seeing a huge shift, with restaurants wanting to create a hospitable and comfortable environment for their staff,” said Christopher Wagner, vice president at Matthew Kenney Cuisine, who focuses on development. “They’re refocusing hospitality from outward to inward to keep teams going and boost morale.” 

That shift ranges from increasing safety standards during the pandemic (enforcing mask protocols, scheduling vaccines) to taking better care of employees writ large. Today, many restaurants are offering new benefits, including paid time off for both salaried and hourly employees, a 40-hour work week, paid sick leave, and health care — all historically rare in the old-school grind of restaurant work. Add to that higher wages and new employment incentives, such as sign-on bonuses, and food and beverage jobs are looking better than ever.

Additionally, today the industry offers opportunities for people with no previous experience. Alejandro Garcia, Matthew Kenney Cuisine’s director of hospitality, said he hires for personality over anything else. When he meets someone fun, outgoing, and eager to learn, he’s keen to give them room to acquire new skills and help them grow. In fact, many of the company’s rockstar general managers and sous chefs started out as hosts or dishwashers, he said. 

“If you have curiosity, you have what it takes to succeed in this industry,” Wagner added. “People are willing to hire those with less experience because the job market is oversaturated. We’ll take the extra time to train them.” 

In both front-of-house and back-of-house roles, Matthew Kenney Cuisine looks for people who are energetic, clean, on time, organized, and professional. Employees should represent their brand well, whether they’re talking to diners, packing to-go orders, or cooking on the line. Passion and curiosity are key, such as questions like: What is this ingredient or technique? Why does a dish look the way it does? 

“So many life skills are relevant to restaurants — customer service, communication, interpersonal skills,” said Jenna Swigert, senior vice president of sales at OpenTable, who also co-owns two restaurants in Bend, Oregon. “Time management and multitasking skills are required for both the front and back of the house.”

Today’s hot restaurant job market presents a great opportunity to get a foot in the door and be trained in new skills. To help viewers get started, panelists shared some of their top tips for landing the perfect role. 

How to find a great restaurant job

Learn about different roles. Sarah Overmyer, who manages Indeed’s food and beverage segment, acknowledged that it’s never easy to start off in a new industry or come back when you’ve been away. She pointed to Indeed’s Career Explorer tool, which allows job seekers to learn roles and responsibilities that come with different job titles, compare openings between cities, and get answers to career questions. If you’re wondering what a Kitchen Team Member does, start with the Career Explorer tool. 

Revamp your resume. Even those with no previous hospitality experience can create a compelling resume. Include volunteer work, examples of customer service and teamwork, gig work, references, achievements — anything that makes you stand out and highlights transferable skills. Overmyer advised viewers to create a resume on Indeed and make it public, so employers can look for you at the same time that you’re looking for them. (Fact: job seekers with an Indeed resume hear from employers four times more often than those without one.**) The site also allows people to browse specific food & beverage industry resumes to use as examples, and to filter searches by salary, job type, location, and the like. 

Develop your network and ask around. “This industry is unique because you don’t necessarily need a degree or special training,” said Patrick Lingle, director of hospitality at Matthew Kenney Cuisine. Instead, “it’s who you know.” He found most of his restaurant jobs through former colleagues, friends, or family members and noted that a referral, even from someone in a different industry, can help build trust with a potential employer. Swigert added, “If you have a friend who works in a restaurant you want to explore, I can almost guarantee that restaurant is hiring right now.” 

Always be hospitable. Because so much in the restaurant industry happens through personal and professional networks, Garcia emphasized that it’s critical to put your best foot forward at all times. “Everyone knows everyone in this industry. Be the best you can to people, and it’s going to pay off.” Make sure you perform well and radiate positivity, and you’ll go far. 

Do your homework on companies. As with any potential job, research the company, its mission, and its trajectory to make sure it’s a good fit. Matthew Kenney Cuisine is a plant-based restaurant company, and while it doesn’t hire exclusively vegetarians, it helps when people have taken the time to learn about its philosophy, Lingle said. Look into the person you’re interviewing with, too, and try to find connections and conversation starters.

Get the full dining experience. If you can, dine at the restaurant yourself before an interview and see what people experience. Are people happy working there? Is the restaurant busy? How do other diners look and behave? Try to get a feel for the atmosphere and determine if it’s a culture you’ll fit into. Plus, you can talk about your personal experience during the interview to show your enthusiasm and attention to detail. 

Follow up, in person and online. If you don’t hear back about an application, don’t write the restaurant off just yet — know that they may have received dozens of resumes. Set yourself apart by appearing in person, shaking hands with the manager, and bringing a hard copy of your application and resume. (Just call ahead to ask about a good time.) Follow up via email, too, to make sure your resume stays at the top of the virtual pile. 

Sell yourself over your skill set. As you prepare for an interview, remember that employers want to see your personality more than they want to hear about the mechanics of the job, Lingle advised. Show up on time and dress professionally. (See what servers and managers wear, and dress accordingly.) Use welcoming body language and good eye contact. Always bring a printed resume, even if you already sent a digital copy. 

Don’t obsess over job requirements. Don’t be discouraged from applying for a job if you don’t meet every single qualification — with the right attitude, you may still land an opportunity with the company that allows you to grow. Similarly, former owners may worry that they are overqualified for a general manager role. Wagner said that candidates can make themselves attractive to the company by explaining where they succeeded and where they failed, and how they used the lessons to learn and grow. 

Prepare for insightful questions. There are a few questions every restaurant job seeker should be ready to answer. First and foremost: Tell me about yourself. A clear pitch about who you are, what you like to do, and where you want to go in the future will set you apart. Why do you want to work at that restaurant? What do you enjoy about the work? Recall a terrible restaurant experience you had and tell what you would have done as a server or manager to make it right. Finally, Wagner asks interviewees to look at the menu and be ready to sell a dish — “romanticize it and make it exciting.” 

Ask your own smart questions. During an interview, come with a list of questions about the company to show you’ve done your homework and are eager to work there. Also, ask how the company hires and promotes — the answer will give you insight into where you’re going to go and if it’s a good match for you. Plus, you’ll show that you are excited to grow within the company. 

Know your value, and communicate it. If you want to negotiate an hourly wage, now is the time to do it. “Let people understand your worth and what you want to make,” said Wagner. Prove to them that you’ll go above and beyond with attention to detail and hospitality. 

Be honest and authentic. When it comes to explaining resume gaps or job changes, especially in the context of COVID-19, don’t be afraid to tell the truth. The pandemic delivered a blow to the whole industry, and almost everyone can relate. Make it clear that you’re ready to start working again. “The restaurant industry is one of the most open-minded when it comes to different backgrounds,” said Overmyer. “Get out there and see what happens.”

Find more resources from Indeed below: 

* Indeed Hiring Lab (2021), “The Impact of Coronavirus on US Job Postings Through June 18: Data from Indeed.com”
** Indeed data (US)