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National Restaurant Association - Interview questions: 5 important do’s and don’ts

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Interview questions: 5 important do’s and don’ts

You're the manager of a restaurant and bar. You're interviewing people for a server's position and know that state law requires servers to be at least 21 years old to serve alcohol. However, directly asking the applicants their age could land you and your restaurant in legal hot water. Rewording the question about age to ask, "Are you at least 21 years of age?" would gather the pertinent information and negate potential age-discrimination suits.  It’s an easy swap, but it can make all the difference.

"Asking the wrong kinds of questions could leave you vulnerable to bias charges under several federal and state antidiscrimination laws.  You should ask questions that are relevant only to the job and not request any extraneous information," advises Peter Kilgore, of legal counsel to the National Restaurant Association.

The following examples show how to avoid asking the wrong questions, and still get the facts you need.  Keep in mind that this information may vary based on state and local laws. 


Do: Show an applicant the job description and list or explain each essential function of the job, as well as what must be done by an employee to perform each essential function. Ask the employee if he/she can perform, with or without reasonable accommodation.

Don’t: Ask or inquire about the disability or what accommodation may be needed until after a job offer is made.

Family status

Do: Show an applicant the job description and explain the hours required and function of the job, and then ask if the applicant can meet these requirements.

Don’t: Ask an applicant his or her marital status, number of children or childcare arrangements.

Citizenship or nationality

Do: Ask the applicant to show proof of eligibility to work in the United States as to the applicant’s choice of documents outlined on the I-9 forms and to complete the required I-9 forms.

Don’t: Ask if an applicant is a U.S. citizen or where he or she was born.

Arrests or convictions

Do: Generally, avoid asking questions about criminal convictions. However, if you feel that an applicant’s criminal background has a bearing on performing the job, inquire if an applicant has ever been convicted of a criminal offense, other than misdemeanors or minor traffic violations, particularly if a job involves handling money. If the applicant answers “yes,” then ask for a full explanation, including how long ago the offense occurred, if the applicant satisfied any penalty imposed, and mention that the information will not automatically disqualify the person from the job, but simply be a factor to consider. Also, you may point out that falsifying information on a job application is grounds for dismissal.

Don’t: Ask if an applicant has ever been arrested.


Do: Ask if an applicant can comply and be at the job during the required hours.

Don’t: Ask if an applicant has a car.

Sometimes, despite carefully crafted questions, an applicant will volunteer information about his or her life that could be grounds for a discrimination suit. In this instance, the best defense is to not respond.

National Restaurant Association members who would like assistance crafting interview questions can contact the National Restaurant Association at (855) 514-8155.

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