Employers may take their leading job candidates out to lunch or dinner, especially when they are interviewing for jobs where there is a lot of client interaction, to evaluate their social skills and to see how the candidates handle themselves under pressure.
Taking you to breakfast, lunch, or dinner provides the interviewer with a chance to check out your communication and interpersonal skills, as well as your table manners, in a more casual environment than an office setting.
Good manners will give you an advantage over other candidates, so take some time to brush up on your table manners and to be aware of good interview dining etiquette.
What to Wear
Dress professionally for your dinner interview, just as you would for an interview in the office. The venue has changed, but you are still interviewing for a job and it's important to make a good impression. Here's what to wear for a job interview at a restaurant, with tips for the best interview outfits for everything from a casual cup of coffee to fine dining.
Remember to be Polite
“Please” and “Thank you” go a long way in making a good impression. That means thanking the host or hostess who seats you, the waitstaff, and your host. Follow up your dinner interview with a thank you note to the interviewer(s) which reiterates your interest in the job.
Remember Your Table Manners
Remember what your mom told you about not chewing and talking at the same time, keeping your elbows off the table, and sitting up straight? Table manners are important when you're dining with a prospective employer. Don't be too casual and do pay attention to good table manners – this includes using a napkin and holding your fork properly.
Engage in a Conversation
Dining interviews aren't one-sided. They are an opportunity for the interviewer to get to know you and vice versa. It's important to be engaged in a conversation with the interviewer and whomever else is there.
As well as responding to questions about yourself, ask questions and carry on a conversation.
Maintain eye contact, and do your best to draw everyone at the table into the conversation – don’t just focus upon whom you perceive to be the lead interviewer or senior member of management. The more comfortable and relaxed everyone is, the better chance you have of moving to the next round.
To Drink or Not to Drink?
There are two schools of thought when it comes to alcohol and interviewing:
- The first is that it is important to not drink and to keep your wits about you
- The second is that it could be awkward if the interviewer orders a bottle of wine and everyone at the table, other than you, has a glass.
Of course, if you don't drink alcohol there is absolutely no need to drink just because the host is drinking; you can gracefully abstain with a simple “No, thank you.” 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.
Interview Dining Etiquette
If you have never attended a dining interview before, it pays to review basic dining etiquette:
Arrive Early. As you would in an office interview, you need to know the location of the restaurant ahead of time and allow yourself extra travel time to ensure that you arrive a few minutes early – this will allow you to compose yourself before the interview.
Turn Off Your Phone. Before you meet your interviewers, turn off your cell phone completely and stow it where you won’t be tempted to look at it.
Choose Carefully From the Menu. When you order, don’t select the most expensive item on the menu – this may come off as very crass behavior.
Don't be a Slob. Avoid food that is messy or difficult to eat gracefully – you want your interviewers to focus on your conversation, not the way you are eating or the spaghetti sauce that ends up on your face. Take small bites that allow you to swallow quickly so you aren’t talking with food in your mouth.
When You're Done. When you have finished eating, place your utensils in the “four o’clock” position on your plate; place your folded napkin to the left of the plate.
Thank Your Host. At the end of the meal, thank your interviewers for their time. You shouldn’t offer to pay the bill or the tip – it’s understood that these will be covered by the interviewing committee.
For more information on handling interviewing during a meal or coffee, please have a look at these additional tips regarding interview dining etiquette.