One of the major pillars of running a successful bar or restaurant is having good bartenders.

Finding a good bartender is easier said than done. Sure, there are the standard, industry-agnostic interview questions you ask most job candidates, but what are the key questions you should be asking potential bartenders? We’ve looked into some tested questions and tells that will make the process for interviewing your next bartender candidate easy.

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What to ask and why

1. How do you cut off patrons?

It’s a sensitive and crutial question, and if you ask a dozen bartenders you may get a dozen answers. Generally, you’re looking for some variation of three different themes. The first of which is appealing to the patrons’ friends. Unruly patrons are more likely to listen to friends than a bartender. The second is to space out drinks and make sure they get plenty of water, usually ignoring the patron as best one can on a pretense of business. The third is the direct and honest approach. Some mention of these answers should be touched on.

2. How would you make [insert basic drink here]?

Ask them how they would make a fairly basic drink. Not something too easy like a gin and tonic—pick a well known drink with a few basic ingredients like an Old Fashioned. Do they add a personal flair? Do they name specific brands? Do they even know the correct recipe? If they describe something that you would put on the menu, it’s a good answer, even if it doesn’t match your recipe.

3. What do you know about our menu or venue?

This one can throw applicants for a bit of a loop. It reveals whether or not they’ve researched your establishment and what preconceived notions they may have. Whether or not their answer is actually correct, you’ll find out whether they’ll admit they don’t know and if they offer to learn.

4. A quick math and memory quiz

This has less to do with an actual drink-making skills trial and more to do with quickness of mind, strength of memory, and ability to logically piece together answers. Call out multiple item orders, including special instructions for some of the items, and test the applicants recall. If possible, lead them to your POS and ask them how they would ring the order up, especially if it requires on the fly judgment calls.

It’s not always the interview answer that matters

During interviews with potential bartenders, you will also be playing the role of a cold-reader. Psychics use the ability to discern details and small insights from people based on actions, body language, hesitation in speech, clothing, and myriad other factors. When asked questions about dealing with difficult situations, do they hesitate and avoid eye contact, or do they launch confidently into an answer?

It’s likely that the confident applicant will be better able to handle the actual difficult patron or situation. You also want to make sure that they can carry on a conversation and keep people engaged and entertained, while also staying focused.

Pay attention to their actions and questions

Some of the best job applicants will be the ones who take initiative to show you how much they want it or are willing to work for it. An applicant that shows up in person to inquire about employment is usually favored over one that sent an email or made a phone call.

Also pay attention to their questions. When given the opportunity, do they ask about pay and scheduling? Or do they take the opportunity to ask about your menu, how often it changes, bar operations, regular patrons and the like?

Bringing on a bartender is one of the most pivotal hiring decisions you can make at your establishment. What they do and how they act that reveals what kind of employee they may be just as much (and if not more) than the answers they give in the interview.

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