A component of many interviews is a lunch or dinner. This is particularly true during call back interviews. While you may not get a job offer because of your proper dining etiquette, you certainly can lose a job offer by making egregious dining mistakes.
The key to successful interview dining is to avoid drawing attention as to how you are eating and to focus attention on what you are saying. Below are a few tips to assist you in successfully navigating the meal and the interview.
It’s not about you.
Remember that the lunch/dinner is NOT about satisfying your appetite; it is about you connecting with the interviewer(s). Focus on making eye contact and building rapport through good conversation—not savoring every bite of your filet mignon.
The interviewer expects that you will be polite to him/her. Your treatment of the waitstaff is a reflection of your character and will NOT go unnoticed.
If you have a brief case or handbag with you, place it on the floor to your right. Wait staff serves from the left and clears from the right and they prefer to encounter an obstacle when reaching for an empty plate rather than when placing a full plate of hot food.
Go with what you know.
Avoid putting yourself in the position of having to send something back to the kitchen or being distracted by the daunting task of consuming a food that you find repulsive. In some cases, the firm contact will be able to tell you in advance where you will be eating. Most restaurants have on-line menus. You can pre-select a few options in advance of the evening, which removes the anxiety of seeing a menu for the first time.
Easy does it.
Avoid seafood with hard to crack shells, challenging pastas such as angel hair, and messy items such as spare ribs and French onion soup. Employ common sense—if you are in a rib joint and everyone orders ribs—go for it!
Be consistent. Often interviewers will defer to you, the student, to order first. It is quite appropriate to ask the others at the table if they recommend a particular entrée or to inquire about what they intend to order. You don’t want to be eating a cheeseburger and fries while everyone else is having steak and shrimp. Never order the most expensive item on the menu or the least expensive item on the menu.
Stay on course.
If at all possible, you want to have the same number of meal courses as the other diners. This is more of an issue at lunches than dinners (where multiple courses are assumed). If you order first at lunch, do not order a soup, salad and entrée unless it is apparent others intend to. If you do not order a soup, and subsequently all the other diners do, you should add one (a good server will come back to you and inquire whether you want to add to your order). The same is true for dessert. You never want to obligate attorneys to dessert during a lunch. Billable hours await them at the office.
Be patient. Do not begin eating until every individual seated at the table receives his/her entrée. If one of the individuals meals will be delayed for a lengthy period of time, request that your food be returned and kept warm.
Be a teetotaler.
This is an interview and you need to be at the top of your game. If everyone else at the table orders an alcoholic drink, and you would feel less conspicuous if you joined them, order ONE drink and sip it slowly through the meal. Lunches should NEVER include alcohol.
Which fork is which?
Always use the silverware from the outside in—start with the fork furthest from the plate. The fork or spoon above your plate is a dessert utensil, not an appetizer utensil. In a nice restaurant, your salad fork may come chilled on ice.
Know the rules of the rolls. Bread and rolls should be pulled apart by hand one bite at a time. Only butter the piece of bread that you are about to eat. If the butter is in individually wrapped pats, place the wrapper under your plate to avoid a messy place setting. By the way, your bread is on your left and your water on your right (think “b” and “d”—–when your left pointer finger connects with your thumb your left hand makes a “b” for bread” and similarly your right hand forms a “d” for drink.)
Take a stab.
When ordered with a finger food such as a sandwich, eat your fries with your fingers. When ordered with an entrée that is eaten with a knife and fork, use a knife and fork to cut and eat your fries. With regards to fingers and foods more generally...if the food is intended to be eaten with your hands (e.g. chips and salsa) don’t try to use a fork and knife!
Don’t talk with your mouth full. Cut your food into smaller than usual pieces. Smaller pieces are easier to swallow making it less likely you will be caught talking with your mouth full.
Keep pace with the rest of the diners at the table.
If everyone else is finished eating—so are you. By the way, you are not taking a “doggie bag” with you.