How to dress for your hospitality interview (from busser to executive)
You only have one chance to make a first impression.
It’s a saying we’ve all heard hundreds of times, but it’s also rooted in fact. A number of studies have found that people almost instantaneously analyze the status, intelligence, trustworthiness and potential of others the moment they meet them for the first time. While a warm smile and confident body language can certainly influence the results of this assessment, your attire can have a positive or negative effect as well—especially in a formal situation such as an interview. Fortunately, a little forethought and preparation can help you ensure your appearance is a help rather than a hindrance the next time you talk to a hiring manager about a hospitality job.
Start by observing the universal rules of interview fashion.
Whatever outfit you choose, it should be freshly laundered and wrinkle-free. It should also be modest rather than sexy. Whether you’re a man or a woman, this means avoiding too-tight bottoms as well as tops that are too low-cut. And for the ladies, no skirts or dresses that fall more than an inch or two above the knee. Footwear should also be clean, free of scuffs, and easy to walk in. Leave your sneakers and sky-high heels at home.
You may also want to remove facial piercings and cover tattoos. While such artistic adornments are accepted at many of today’s more casual and trendy establishments, they may still serve as a distraction during your interview. You want the hiring manager to be thinking about your excellent communication skills and not wondering how much your lip piercing hurt.
Then consider the position for which you are applying.
Whether you’re after a busser, dishwasher, host, barback, valet or housekeeper job or an entry-level server or front desk agent position, the previously mentioned universal rules apply. However, the main function of the job can give you clues as to the actual items of clothing you should choose.
For example, if you’re a male interviewing for a non-supervisory back-of-house position that requires little contact with the public, think ‘business casual.’ Khaki pants or even dark denim paired with a crisp polo or button down shirt (with or without a tie) is appropriate. If you’re a female, you can get away with pants and a blouse or sweater, though a skirt or dress is also acceptable.
If you’re interviewing for a non-supervisory front-of-house job in which you’ll regularly engage with the public, you may want to dress in ‘business formal’ attire. For both males and females, business suits (or dress separates that can serve as a suit) are generally good options. For men, a tie is essential. Women may also choose to wear business-appropriate dresses.
If you’re interviewing for a supervisor position—such as front desk supervisor, housekeeping supervisor or kitchen manager—business formal attire is also the most appropriate choice, whether your job will routinely require you to interact with the public or not. The same goes for executive roles including chef, restaurant manager, and hotel manager.
In every case, the type of hotel or restaurant may factor into your wardrobe choices. Managers at modern, trendy establishments are more likely to appreciate interview attire with a bit more sartorial flair—provided it’s still professionally appropriate. If you’re seeking a position at a high-end, old guard hotel or restaurant, conservative sophistication is the safest bet. It’s generally better to be overdressed than underdressed if you want to show that you respect the hiring manager’s time and are serious about the employment opportunity and your career in hospitality.
Note: Dressing inappropriately is only one way to ensure you don’t get that hospitality job. Explore four more reasons hiring managers reject candidates here.