Seeing Red: Red Flags In Hiring Bar Staff

By Loren Bornstein


Loren Bornstein

May 12, 2017

Posted in Restaurant Management, Industry & Culture

No matter your industry, we’ve all worked with the employee who should never have been hired.

We ask, “How did they even get past the interview stage?” We grumble about how HR or the hiring managers should have better vetted the interviewee. We are left with a negative environment and disgruntled workers all around. Whether it’s a bad manager or a bad bartender, problematic employees bring down the team and can lead to long term internal issues. It’s difficult because so many candidates do know the rights things to say. It doesn’t mean their stories aren’t true, but it also means they lack self-awareness.

Part of that is on them, but the bigger part is on us, the hiring managers, to know that something in our hiring system is a problem. Through years of trial and error, I’ve found the biggest change we can make to the system is the questions we ask.


I reached out to longtime industry professionals and hiring managers, Tyler Lymer and Jeff Terry. They shared stories of when they spotted red flags and gave questions or answers they found helped bring out some red flags during the interviewing process. Hopefully, you’ll find some amusement and insight from them.

Loren: Tell me a red flag story.


The biggest red flag I had was a person interviewing for a cocktailer/bartender position. While she was waiting, maybe 8-10 minutes while I was finishing up another interview, she ordered and finished a shot and a beer before she told my bartender that she was waiting for an interview. I saw this from where I was sitting and thought she was just a customer.

Did you still have the interview or tell her what she did wrong?


Yes, but I did shorten it. As I was closing the interview, I mentioned to save tasting the cocktails for after the interview.


Recently, I had an applicant keep asking about money and compensation more than twice during an interview. That was an immediate red flag.

I understand he wanted to know what/how he was getting compensated, but there’s no need to ask more than once and for clarification if need be. It tells me as a manager that this person is only looking out for themself/to collect a check and won’t make a good team player at the end of the day.

What are some examples of questions or things a hiring manager should pay attention for when it comes to interviewing?


Not being prepared. Bring a pen!


First impressions are critical. As I said in the story, don’t order a beer or cocktail. Yes, this has happened several times. I will say leaving a tip for the bartender or server that offered or served you a water/coffee/soda does get my attention. Showing up on time. If you’re going to be late, please call and ask to reschedule or if you’re no longer interested, call. Don’t just not show up. It’s good to confirm location and time over the phone–saves everyone trouble.

Dress appropriately for the location. Be mindful of the place you’re interviewing at. Craft bars dress differently than a strip bar or dive bar. Details matter.

What about the interviewing process?


I also like the two interviewer process, either same day/time or have them come back after the initial screening. Some questions will be redundant, but it gives us a better feel about tendencies and to see if you are consistent. It also makes it so there are more people involved so it’s not just one person making a decision. It’s more team oriented.


So, one of the biggest things I try to look for is passion. If someone is passionate about something, how does that translate into what they would be doing on a daily basis. The other part to that is through this passion, have they demonstrated a willingness to learn, grow, and develop? In other words, it’s culturally a deal breaker when someone is only in it for the money or you have an industry professional who knows it all and isn’t receptive to discourse and change.

Turns out, Tyler, Jeff, and myself all have commonalities in what we look for: Passion, team-mindedness, honesty, and personal accountability. (Hmm, this sounds familiar.)

One final note: Make sure your questions and actions in interviewing create space for your candidates to be in-depth and honest with you. Likewise, demonstrate the same. You are more likely to find those red flags of bad behavior, disrespect, and intolerance when your questions go beyond the surface.

Also, it might not be your job to tell a candidate why they didn’t get the job or why you are ending the interview early, but I’ve learned critical feedback is rare. If we want to get better candidates, we need to start also letting them know why things didn’t work out. Whether it’s a bad choice of outfit, showing up late, disrespectful behavior…etc., if nobody is saying anything, we won’t see more growth, and the red flags won’t decrease.

We know it’s not a one size fits all, so, if you have any successful questions you’ve used in interviews or any more examples of red flags you ran into, we’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.

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6 comments so far... Add your thoughts?
  1. I hear people talk a lot about passion for the job. Personally, I have found passion to be highly overrated. It’s great if you have it, but it’s really not necessary to do the job. I’m passionate about the service industry. I’m willing to put everything on the line, but I understand that sort of thing is very rare, and ultimately unrealistic to expect out of most people who come in for a job.

    I think a better word is “enthusiasm.” To me, enthusiastic people are down for the challenge. They don’t see a problem and become negative and defeatist. Instead, they want to know how to best attack the problem. They want to be successful (like everyone does), but that isn’t really the point.

    The enthusiastic person is willing to get their hands dirty without copping an attitude about it. Also, and best of all, enthusiasm bleeds into all aspects of life. In other words, they’re just a generally “up” person who wants to get involved.

  2. As a restaurant and bar owner for 40 some odd years I would look for neatness in dress and grooming knowledge in making drinks and the ability to carry on a conversation. In the end the proof of the pudding actually working. I can tell in 5 minutes when a person gets behind the stick if he knows what he is doing. Example you don’t shake rob roys, manhattans or martinis. One question I always like to ask. What is the difference between a dry manhattan and a manhattan dry. Another give away for what I call a gin mill bartender and a cocktail lounge bartender. When sharking a drink like a sour don’t bang the mixer against the bar to free up the glass shaker part. No cherries don’t go in a martini or perfect rob roys. The spoon you use to stir a drink in a mixing glass has been spiraled to stir the drink with a twisting action with your fingers It is not used to pump up and down like churning butter. The worst kind of a “bartender” is what I call the Tom Cruse effect. If I wanted a juggler I would have hired one.

  3. Joel. That’s a really great insight. Enthusiasm over passion. I was having this conversation with another person last night, and it seems perhaps that would be the wording better used in these situations. I’m going to mull on it a bit more. Not sure if I’d say passion is overrated, but I find passion and enthusiasm definitely matter. Thank you for providing a great thought.

    Henry. Absolutely. Those do matter. Do you find that it isn’t worth your time to train a bartender and break down the incorrect technique or has it been too much of an obstacle for you?

  4. Wait, I know a dry Manhattan, but what’s a Manhattan dry? Definitely not asking for a friend.

  5. It’s interesting that you put honesty into the mix. I was interviewing bartenders for an open position. It was during the winter and one prospective employee kept his coat on during the interview. He seemed to be qualified as a bartender, schedule availability, work ethic, team player and came recommended by a friend. I hired him and on his first shift I saw why he kept his jacket on during the interview. He was covering up some interesting neck tattoos. This was just before tattoos were becoming so popular. Now, I have nothing against tats, heck I’m also a musician and have seen just about everything, but it was the fact that he hid them from me to get the job, that I didn’t like. It also turned out he lied about his availability as he called out for 2 or his first 3 shifts. If he was up front and honest it wouldn’t have been such a great waste of time and energy and money as we had to put the ad back out there.

  6. I own a cigar bar and am always frustrated on quality and enthusiasm of applicants. No one has mentioned the idea of some chess and failure accountability. If the experience is really there then the P&L is the reference point for skills, enthusiasm, and ability to becoming creative with new ideas for financial and customer success. Is this not important?

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