Etiquette for a Lunch Interview

Of all the different types of interviews, the lunch interview is one of the most nerve-wracking. Mixing a professional interview with food can feel like a recipe for disaster. You can do it though—take a deep breath, and keep some things in mind.

lunch interview

Before the interview

Many interview standards remain the same for lunchtime, including dressing exactly as you would for a “normal” job interview and never answering your cell phone. If at all possible, look over the chosen restaurant’s menu beforehand so you have an idea of the types of dishes offered. Ideally, go ahead and narrow it down to one or two meals you’d like to have on the day of the interview. That way, you’re not spending time perusing the menu and can focus on what really matters: your interview. Be sure to arrive at the restaurant early so you have a moment to relax. You can order a drink, but wait to order any food until the interviewer has arrived.

What to order?

One hard and fast rule you can always count on is don’t ever order an alcoholic drink during an interview (no, not even if the recruiter does). Also, don’t arrive starving. Eat a small snack beforehand so you’re not ravenously focused on your food during the interview. Skip ordering an appetizer, and leave it to your recruiter to decide whether to do so. When ordering, Business Insider recommends you avoid choosing any messy or particularly challenging foods to eat. This includes dishes that come with sauce or gravy, soup, spaghetti, or anything overly crunchy or garlicky. When considering prices, choose a dish that’s mid-range—nothing too expensive or cheap.

Table manners

Remember how you treat the server says a lot about you. While not directly related to the interview, you can bet the recruiter is paying attention to how you interact with the wait staff. Similarly, US News points out you should keep in mind the interview is not actually about the food—so if anything is wrong with your order, just let it go (unless, of course, it’s a matter of life or death in terms of food allergies).

During the meal

This is where a lot of people get nervous, but you can counteract your nerves with a few safeguards, like cutting your food into smaller than average bites. This ensures you’re not taking a ridiculously long time to chew while the recruiter is waiting for an answer. On the other hand, taking a (small) bite is also the perfect excuse if you need a few extra seconds to think of your next answer! Although it might be hard, try to pace yourself with the recruiter in terms of eating. This can be tricky if you find yourself answering at length to some of her questions, but do your best. You don’t want to still have half your food left on your plate when she has already finished (and, alternatively, you don’t want to sit awkwardly with an empty plate while she’s still eating).

Wrapping it up:

If the recruiter orders coffee and/or dessert, feel free to do so as well. But if he immediately gets the check after the meal, take that as your cue that he has somewhere else to be and doesn’t have time to linger. Never offer to pay the bill. This is one time where “politeness” actually comes off as awkward. You’re not expected to pay, so just say “thank you” and move on. And as with any interview, remember to finish it off with some questions of your own. Listening to your interviewer answer a question is also the ideal time to catch up on eating if you realize you’re way behind.

This type of interview can seem extra stressful, but just remember: a lunch interview is still an interview, so all of your normal preparation rituals still apply. The actual meal is a small part of the whole event, so don’t focus on the minutiae of eating and instead, pay attention to what you came to do—landing that job!

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