How to Handle a Job Interview in a Restaurant

Business people shaking hands in cafe
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Sometimes, employers will invite job applicants to interview over lunch or dinner, or even breakfast. This interview is just as important, perhaps even more so, than an interview in a business setting. That's because it's less formal and more conversational and, if you're not careful, you could let your guard down and share too much personal information. It's important to keep it professional and remember that you're being considered for employment, even though it's not a formal in-office job interview.

When you're invited to interview over a meal or a cup of coffee, take the time to prepare just as carefully as you would for an interview in an office setting.

Tips for Job Interviews Held at Restaurants

  • Get Ready for the Interview. You should prepare for a interview at a restaurant just as you would prepare for any other interview. If you are very nervous, check out the restaurant ahead of time. This way you will know exactly what’s on the menu, where the restaurant is located, and how classy or casual the restaurant is. Many restaurants have the menu available online to review.
  • Confirm the Details. Be sure to confirm the arrangements so you're sure that you will end up at the right place at the right time. Confirm who you are meeting and get a cell phone number and give yours to the person scheduling, so you can get in touch just in case there's a glitch.
  • What to Wear. What to wear to a job interview in a restaurant depends on the restaurant and how your interviewer(s) will be dressed. If you're interviewing for a job at a formal company and the restaurant is fancy, you'll want to dress in business attire. If the company and the dining are more casual, like a bar, business casual may be in order. Your best bet is to ask the person who invites you for advice on what to wear.
  • When to Arrive. Arrive a few minutes early, so you don't keep the interviewer waiting. Don't ask to be seated or order a drink at the bar. Greet the interviewer in the lobby or foyer with a smile and a handshake.
  • Order Carefully. When you order your meal, order conservatively. Don't order the most expensive entree on the menu. Also be careful about what you order. Food that you can cut easily works best. Pasta, burgers, and other food you have to pick up can be messy. I learned that lesson when I had a full schedule of interviews one day. I went to lunch with one candidate and made the mistake of ordering spaghetti. I spilled and had a blob of pasta sauce that I couldn't get out of my blouse for the rest of the day.
  • Mind Your Manners. Your mom was right when she told you that table manners matter. Interviewers are going to be watching to make sure that you are aware of proper dining etiquette, especially if you are being considered for a job where you will be dining with clients.
  • Drinking Alcohol. It's always important to be careful about drinking alcohol when you're interviewing for a job. If the interviewer orders a drink, you may want to follow suit, but don't feel obligated. If you choose to drink alcohol, don't have more than a glass of wine or so and be very careful to stay focused on the conversation.
  • Keep it Professional. Especially if you have had a drink, or two, there can be a tendency to ramble on during a conversation and to share too much personal information. Of course, you'll want to be friendly and personable, but do keep in mind you are interviewing for a job, not dining out with friends.
  • Who Pays the Bill. Be sure that, if a potential employer takes you out to a meal for an interview, you let him or her pick up the tab. The person who invited you will expect to pay both the tab and the tip. Of course, be sure to say “thank you” and follow up with a thank you note reiterating your interest in the job.