Lunch interviews are becoming an increasingly popular recruiting method. Some interviewers are so busy that meeting you for lunch is the only way to fit it in their schedule. It also allows them assess your business credentials, while observing your table manners, social skills, and ability to mix business with pleasure. The lunch interview may also be a test if the job you are seeking requires a lot of “working lunches” and meetings, or face-to-face interaction with clients.
As if regular interviews were not intimidating and stressful enough, now you have to have lunch while doing it! Fear not, we are going to discuss how you can listen, give intelligent responses, present confidence, all the while enjoying a meal.
Selecting the Venue
In the rare instance the interviewer asks you to select the dining venue, choose somewhere that is not too expensive, not too casual. You may want to ask what type of food they like, and then pick a place where you know the service and food is good. Reserve a nice table the day before. Get there early the day of the interview. Let your host or server know you are there for a job interview, so you need to make a good impression.
Minding Your Manners
No matter how casual the settings, maintain proper table manners. Be mindful of any bad habits and suppress them during a lunch interview.
• The rules of an office interview still apply, which include dressing properly and not answering your cell phone.
• Get there a little early so you can settle yourself and make yourself comfortable. You may order water or other acceptable drink, but do not order food until you both are ready to order.
• When possible, let the interviewer guide seating. If they motion you to choose the seat, then feel free to do so.
• Be polite, courteous and respectful to everyone, especially your servers. Always say “please”, “thank you”, “sorry”, “excuse me”, etc. The interviewer is assessing your personality and behavior to determine if you are a good fit for the company.
• Be aware of your actions and mannerisms.
o Sit up straight and comfortably
o Do not pick your fingernails
o Do not put your elbows on the table
o Do not lean on the table
o Put your napkin in your lap shortly after taking your seat
o Wait until everyone has been served to begin eating
o Use the proper utensils
o Do not play or make noise with your utensils or other items
o Do not cut up your entire meal at once
o Cut food into small pieces and eat small bites
o Chew slowly with your mouth closed
o Do not talk with your mouth full
o Do not make unpleasant remarks about the food, place or anything else
o Do not belch, sneeze, blow your nose, etc.
o Do not lick food from both sides of your utensil
o Do not place unwanted food on the table
o If finger food is served, never put your fingers in your mouth or lick them
o If you are sharing a dish, as in Seinfeld, no “double-dipping”!
o Do not make the sound of eating or slurping
• Drink from the right and eat from the left. Think “BMW” to remember the table setting: Bread plate (and fork) on your left, Meal in the middle, and Water glass on your right.
• The fork goes in your left hand and the knife goes in your right hand. Use the knife and fork to cut your meal, not tear or butcher it.
• No matter how much you dislike what you ordered, or if your server messed up your order somehow, just go with the flow. Show that you are sensible and composed.
• Be prepared. If you feel unsure about your habits and table manners, do some research and consult the experts.
o Dine with a good friend and ask for honest feedback.
o Refer to the well-known etiquette books by Emily Post.
As much as you would like to, even though you are being treated to a nice meal, you cannot just order whatever you want. This is still in an interview, so you must maintain professionalism and formality throughout the meal.
• Do not order an alcoholic drink, even if the interviewer does. Order water, juice, iced tea, coffee, lemonade or a soft drink (unless sodas cause you to burp).
• Order foods that can be cut into small pieces with a knife and fork.
• Avoid messy or hard-to-eat foods that have to be eaten with your hands (sauce, gravy, soup, spaghetti, wings, etc.). Even some salads can be messy (and loud). You do not want to get anything on yourself, or worse, your interviewer!
• Avoid foods that have a strong or unpleasant order (onions, garlic, etc.). Do not be remembered as the “candidate with bad breath”.
• Avoid loud foods (crunchy and noisy to eat), so you can have a civil conversation. Restaurants can be noisy as it is, so do not make it harder to hear each other.
• Avoid foods that are too chewy or require a lot of chewing.
• Order what they order, or something similar and in the same price range. If you are worried about ordering something too expensive, or if it is OK to order an appetizer, etc., the best thing to do is follow your interviewer's lead.
• Order the same number of courses (no matter how hungry you are). Try to finish eating at about the same time as your interviewer. You do not want to be sitting there while the recruiter is still eating. Likewise, you do not want to be the last one done because you have been talking.
• If you are asked to order first, order something moderately priced, light and easy to eat; use your common sense.
• When in doubt, simply ask your interviewer, “What do you recommend?”
Discussing and Dining
It can be tricky to balance food and conversation wisely. In most cases, you do more talking than eating.
• Cut and take small bites so you do not delay too much after being asked a question. Small bites are easy to pick up and easy to chew. Also, you do not have worry about getting a stomach ache.
• Never talk with your hands while holding your utensils, especially the knife!
• Do not pick at your food. It makes you look nervous and unconfident.
• Do not feel like you have to keep talking so that you do not eat at all. This can be interpreted as nervousness too.
• Listen and use proper eye contact.
• Ask questions. When going to any interview, have questions prepared. You learn about the company and show that you care. During a meal, it also gives you a chance to eat while your interviewer responds.
• This is a great time to ask about the company’s culture. Try asking, “Why do you enjoy working for the company?” or “What are characteristics of successful people at the company?”
• Lunch conversation tends to flow more easily, because it is a more relaxed format. Talk about companies you used to work for, your family, hobbies, and traveling. These topics let the interviewer find out a lot more about you. As you become more comfortable talking, be careful not to divulge any information you have intentionally left off your resume.
Concluding the Meal
As with a typical office interview, let the interviewer set the pace and tone. If they are not in a hurry after the meal, order a cup of coffee and keep talking. But recognize cues that they want to wrap it up (e.g., asking if you have any final questions, looking around for the server, etc.).
• If the interviewer orders dessert, then feel free to do so. Otherwise, do not order it.
• The interviewer pays, so do not offer to pay, pitch in, or use coupons/gift certificates. They do not expect you to and it actually comes off as awkward rather than polite.
• Do not ask for a doggy bag, no matter how delicious your meal. It is inappropriate.
• Reiterate your interest in the job and the company.
• Say “Thank You" with a firm handshake. Thank the interviewer for taking the time to meet with you and that you enjoyed and appreciate the meal.
• Follow up with a thank you letter the next day (thanking them again for the nice meal and their time).