Person with clipboard talking to a chef in a restaurant
Graphic that shows three different types of interview questions you should be asking.

Use these questions to identify a candidate’s technical knowledge and abilities

Use these questions to determine how a candidate handled situations in the past

Use these questions to assess a candidate’s personal traits and cognitive skills

Why this matters

If it isn’t properly handled, cooked, or stored, raw meat can pose serious health risks to the public—including food poisoning, E. coli, and salmonella infections. Since your next food specialist will play a vital role in training other staff and ensuring best practices are followed, they need to have a firm grasp of food safety and hygiene standards.

What to listen for

  • Demonstrated knowledge of current industry best practices for storing and handling raw meat
  • A clear understanding of the serious health risks that irresponsibly handled food pose to the public
  • The ability to share knowledge in a way that is easy to grasp

Why this matters

Ensuring the food your business prepares and serves is fresh is key to keeping your customers safe. An ideal food specialist is vigilant about monitoring expiration dates, spotting spoiled ingredients, and disposing of them properly. But they also take measures to minimize food waste by proactively managing inventory.

What to listen for

  • Mentions of “first in, first out” or other relevant methods for managing inventory
  • Knowledge of the temperatures at which perishable foods should be stored
  • Knowledge of how long different perishable food items can be stored before they should be thrown out

Why this matters

Restaurants and other establishments that serve food must always keep their customers’ safety top of mind or risk becoming liable for illnesses and injuries incurred. When beverages are too hot, customers have been known to experience burns, sometimes requiring medical attention, so it’s important for staff to recognize what temperatures are acceptable.

What to listen for

  • The ability to cite a reasonable temperature range at which hot beverages can be served
  • An awareness of safety standards and knowledge of how to execute them
  • Demonstrated care and concern for customers’ wellbeing

Why this matters

Customer service is an important component of most food specialist jobs. A strong candidate will prioritize customer satisfaction and remain courteous and accommodating (within reason) when addressing a patron’s dissatisfaction, even if the person in question is acting rudely.

What to listen for

  • Mentions of specific techniques and tactics used to de-escalate a tense or uncomfortable situation, such as offering a refund or free item
  • Ideally, the candidate will show they were able to resolve the situation in a way that left the customer satisfied

Why this matters

In any eating establishment, there’s plenty of side work that needs to be done when the employees aren’t busy preparing or serving food. Supplies such as napkins and condiments must be restocked. Inventory needs to be checked. Counter spaces and tables have to be wiped down. An ideal candidate will recognize that there’s always work to be done, even when business is slow, and won’t be afraid to roll up their sleeves.

What to listen for

  • Examples showing that the candidate always seeks out ways to support their coworkers and help the establishment run smoothly
  • Demonstrated willingness and enthusiasm for finding things to do without needing to be asked

Why this matters

Food specialists are often involved in recommending, developing, and leading training programs to ensure all team members have a thorough understanding of correct food handling procedures. As such, the best food specialists often exhibit strong leadership skills and are eager to impart their knowledge to their colleagues.

What to listen for

  • Examples of specific skills or procedures the candidate taught another team member
  • Demonstrated leadership ability, backed by an understanding of the importance of teamwork in a food service setting

Why this matters

To help their establishments achieve successful health department inspection ratings, food specialists need to continuously monitor evolving guidelines and regulations. This makes a constant learning attitude essential. Failing to follow guidelines could not only result in fines and reputational damage for the establishment, but could put customers at risk.

What to listen for

  • References to specific resources the candidate uses to monitor evolving regulations, such as health department memos
  • A commitment to keeping their skills and knowledge up to date

Why this matters

Great food specialists can think on their feet, even in a fast-paced environment. Many eating establishments and related businesses experience high volumes of customers, and a busy shift may present many scenarios where the resident food specialist needs to solve problems quickly and effectively to support their team.

What to listen for

  • Innovative solutions to the immediate problem, backed by steps the candidate would take to prevent the problem from recurring
  • Candidates may reference similar unexpected problems they were able to solve in high-pressure situations in the past

Why this matters

Food specialists work as part of a team, so you want to know that your candidate is willing to help their coworkers out during challenging situations to keep the business running smoothly and the customers happy. An ideal candidate will show they’re invested in the overall success of the establishment and that they take pride in offering customers exceptional service.

What to listen for

  • A strong teamwork ethos and enthusiasm for helping others
  • A great answer may draw on specific examples of occasions where the candidate helped a colleague, even if it wasn’t convenient for them