Last time, we talked about a basic overview formal dining. Now, we are tackling a smaller niche of dining etiquette: the interview meal. Interviews over lunch or dinner are a separate ballgame from traditional interviews in a conference room. The casual environment gives the interviewer a chance to see a candidate in a different light and evaluate other qualities like interpersonal skills and yes, table manners. So, let’s check out how to have a successful interview over a meal.
Dress for your Party
Before you ever step through the door of a restaurant, make sure your outfit is appropriate. When deciding if you should dress business professional, business casual, or casual, consider how the rest of your party will be dressed. Don’t base your decision on the normal attire of the restaurant or the venue. When in doubt, ask your host. You might want to lead with, “I’m assuming dress for this evening is business attire, but wanted to make sure I was in line with the team.”
Be Yourself (but perhaps with a filter)
Often times, employers choose to interview over lunch or dinner so that they can see the candidate in a casual setting. It allows the candidate an opportunity to show a little more of his or her personality. However, even though you are in the middle of a restaurant, don’t be fooled: this is still an interview. Be genuine in your answers, but remember to keep it professional.
Turn around, don’t drown: Avoid these topics!
In general, your safest bet is to avoid certain topics – or at least tread lightly. Religion, politics, and other controversial topics are not appropriate for most interviews. Save those conversations for when you are with your friends. If these topics do come up, however, be respectful. Tread lightly. You don’t want to miss out on a really great job opportunity because you inadvertently offended someone at your table.
What to Order
When it’s time for you to order your food, don’t order too cheaply or too expensively. If you only order a side salad or a soup, it can give the impression that you lack confidence. If you order the lobster and steak special, it may come off as arrogant or greedy. Find a happy medium. If you are unsure of what is an appropriate meal to order, ask someone in your party if they have dined at the restaurant before and what they recommend. Feel free to follow their lead.
What NOT to Order
Fun fact: you have a 0% chance of getting spaghetti sauce on your white shirt if you don’t order spaghetti. Avoid ordering meals that are messy or complicated to eat. The goal of an interview is for the employer to get to know the candidate and vice versa. You want the focus to be on the conversation, not on you wrestling with spaghetti or fighting your crab legs. Also, be cautious about ordering alcohol. Even if your interviewer offers you alcohol, it’s often better to just abstain. Don’t ever feel like you have to drink during your meal just because your interviewer ordered a glass of wine with his or her meal. If you do choose to drink alcohol, don’t go overboard.
Be Kind to Your Waiter
How you treat the wait staff will reveal a lot about yourself to your party. Be respectful to your waiter. If your waiter gets your order wrong, it’s okay to speak up, but don’t complain or be a jerk. If the error is something small, it is probably best to just let it go and not draw attention to it.
I know this seems like common sense, but keep in mind that your interviewer is not only evaluating your answers, but also how you carry yourself throughout the meal. Never underestimate the value in simply having good table manners. Put your napkin in your lap. Don’t talk with your mouth full. Turn your cell phone off during the meal. Don’t chew on a toothpick. All of your basic table manners help leave a good impression on your interviewer – I promise!
Keep these tips in mind and you’re well on your way to knocking your interview out of the park. And with any luck, you got to enjoy a delicious meal, too.