What do I do if I am invited to a lunch interview?
Many of us have a formal education, but our business eating etiquette is limited to what our parents taught us at the dinner table. Having your first interview lunch can be intimidating. Remember, you are there to interview, not to eat. Eating is a tertiary task.
When you are invited to a lunch interview, stay positive. They would not be buying you a meal if they weren’t interested. At this point, they are seeing if you are a good fit.
Dress as you would for any formal interview. Make sure you arrive first, and wait in the lobby. Avoid waiting at the bar. After you are seated, wait for all parties to arrive before opening the menu. Do not forget to put your napkin in your lap, making sure to wait for all parties to arrive before doing so.
When the waitress arrives for your drink orders, avoid alcoholic beverages. Order water or iced tea, which will seem more adult than an orange soda or Mt. Dew. When the drinks arrive, avoid using a straw.
Now comes something a little difficult: what do I order?
As far as the entrée, do not order the most expensive or the cheapest item. Remember, this lunch is not about the free meal. Try to find something middle of the road that you can eat reasonably with a knife and fork.
Make sure to stay away from anything that has a strong odor or is crunchy. You do not want the interviewer to hear you chew your food. Avoid spaghetti or any other challenging or messy items. Especially stay away from big sloppy sandwiches, ribs, or tacos.
When speaking with the waitress, make sure to order efficiently without starting discussions about your weight, likes and dislikes, or especially your lactose intolerance. You can also in most cases find the menu online before the interview so you can look decisive. Interviewers do not like indecisiveness. Treat the waitress with respect, as it shows your people skills in a real-world environment. After ordering, let the interviewer know if you have brought documents or a portfolio. This will allow the interviewer to be the one to decide when it is a good time to show those items.
When your food arrives, if something is wrong, deal with it. Again, this is not about the food and you do not want to appear to be high maintenance or a complainer. Tear pieces off your dinner roll with your fingers and avoid shoving the entire thing in your mouth.
The pace at which you eat also says a lot. If you do not eat, you will appear nervous. If you eat too fast, you will appear nervous. The key is to eat slowly and try to finish at least half. Again, the meal isn’t about the meal! You do not have to clean your plate so you can get desert. Speaking of desert, order it only if the interviewer does.
As far as eating etiquette goes, make sure to keep your elbows off the table, use a napkin, and sit up straight. Do not talk with your mouth full. This has its advantages! When the interviewer asks a question, you have more time to think of an answer while you finish chewing. Also, avoid biting the fork or allowing your teeth to hit the silverware (My wife’s suggestion).
When finished, fold your napkin and set it next to the plate. Thank the interviewer for picking up the bill. When sending your thank-you note for the interview, make sure to mention the meal.
Lastly, many of the suggestions in this article are multi-purpose. If you are going to your in-laws for dinner or on a first date anytime soon, you can apply many of the same tips and strategies.
By Chris Nunn