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Etiquette Tips for a Job Interview Held Over Lunch or Dinner

Updated on April 2, 2017
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I'm a business communications coach who teaches writing, speaking, and leadership skills to adults in the midst of a career change.

These days, it’s not uncommon for job interviews to take place over a meal instead of in an office environment. If you find yourself called in for an interview in a restaurant, here are some etiquette tips to keep in mind.

Brush up on your table manners before your job interview.

Unless your interviewer launches right into the questions the moment you sit down, don’t start talking business until you've both ordered your meals. It’s hard to have a meaningful conversation about job-related topics when the server is still bringing your drinks, pouring water, telling you about the specials, and taking your order.

And speaking of the menu, if you know the restaurant you’ll be eating at ahead of time, you might want to check out their website and have a look at the menu in advance. That way you’ll be able to order quickly (you’ll look decisive) and you’ll know how to pronounce the menu items (you'll look sophisticated). You’ll also get a glimpse into the menu prices which will tell you how formal or informal the dining environment will be.

Even if you're eating in a casual restaurant, don’t get casual with your attire. Always dress to impress, no matter where the interview is being held. Here are some more tips on how to handle yourself during a mealtime job interview:

  • Follow the interviewer's lead. Just as in an office interview, don’t sit down until you’ve been asked to do so by the interviewer.
  • Treat everyone in the restaurant---from the busboy to the waiter to the coat check clerk---with courtesy and respect. Your prospective employer doesn't just want to know how you'll treat him, he also wants to know how you treat people in general. Be your kindest, most patient self during the interview.
  • Compliment your host on his or her choice of restaurant but don’t gush about the place either. You don’t want your future employer to think you are a socially awkward bumpkin who never goes out to eat. You want your prospective employer to know that you have fine dining experience and a healthy social life.
  • Keep your cell phone off and out of sight. Whatever you do, don’t put your phone on the table. It doesn’t make you look important. It makes you look like you don’t know how to manage your time or coordinate your appointments so you won't be disturbed during the really important stuff---like job interviews!
  • Don’t order sloppy dishes like noodles or burgers. Order an entree that is easy to manage and that won’t drip or splash on your clothing. Also, avoid foods that are meant to be eaten with your fingers. Finger foods can lead to greasy fingerprints on any papers you may have to handle in the middle of the interview.
  • Don't be a high-maintenance diner. Now is not the time to interrogate your server about nutritional content, preparation techniques, sustainability, organic this, free-range that. If you take forever to make a decision, you can be pretty certain that your prospective employer will be taking note. If you have genuine food allergies, arrive at the restaurant prepared. Either check out the menu thoroughly beforehand or call ahead and find out what dishes would be suitable for any dietary restrictions you may have. Also note, talking about your food allergies could, unfortunately, cause an interviewer to have second thoughts about hiring you. Although it is against the law to discriminate against someone based one a disability or health status, it doesn't mean it won't happen. You are not obligated to talk about your health during a job interview.
  • Don’t order an expensive menu item.
  • Don't start eating until both your and your hosts meals have arrived.
  • Take small bites while you eat. Not only is it impolite to gobble your food in huge bites, if your interviewer asks you a question right after you've taken a bite, it won't take forever to chew up your food and swallow before answering.
  • Never talk with your mouth full. It's far ruder to talk with a mouthful of food than it is to have your dining companion wait until your mouth is clear. Imagine how embarrassing it would be to have bits of food fly out of your mouth while you are talking.
  • Avoid dishes with cheese or creamy sauces. Dairy products can create excess phlegm in your throat. You don't want to be coughing or constantly clearing your throat during the meal.
  • Keep your briefcase or purse in any easy to reach spot beside your chair. Don’t plop bags or cases down on the table. Keep your side or the table neat and tidy during the interview.
  • If possible, avoid drinking alcohol during the interview. Sparkling water with lemon is a smart choice. If your host insists on buying a bottle of wine and sharing it with you (and you normally do drink alcohol) then accepting a small glass of wine would be appropriate. You don't want to embarrass or offend your interviewer/host. Do not over indulge and do not drink and drive, ever.
  • Stir you coffee or tea without clinking the edges of the cup.
  • Wear appropriate interview clothing. Avoid distracting jewellry such as bangles that jingle and jangle every time you move your arm.

If you're really nervous about your job interview being held in a restaurant, go to the library and check out some books on modern manners and etiquette.

If a formal table setting intimidates you and you don't know which utensil to use first, watch what your host does and follow his or her lead.
If a formal table setting intimidates you and you don't know which utensil to use first, watch what your host does and follow his or her lead.

© 2016 Sally Hayes

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