If you have applied for a position recently, don't be surprised if you are asked to meet for a meal and interview. Why would employers take potential employees out to lunch or dinner? Many times it is because the workplace setting can get really hectic, so employers choose to find a more comfortable setting. And, much like the behavioral interview conducted in an office, it provides the perfect setting for an employer to assess a job candidate's social skills and how well they handle themselves in pressure situations. The breakfast, lunch, or dinner interview provides the interviewer with a chance to view, first hand, your interpersonal abilities, as well as your dining etiquette, all within a more informal environment.
What You Should Wear
Don't let the fact that you may be going to a less formal setting fool you. You should dress just as you would for an interview within an office. Black, gray, and blue are the preferred colors. Make sure your hands are well manicured and keep your jewelry to a minimum; closed toed shoes for the women, polished dress shoes for the men, minimal jewelry, no tattoos showing. As with any interview, do not chew gum! The location has changed, but you are still interviewing for a job and it's important to make a good impression.
Make sure you have researched the company and know something about what they do. Take extra copies of your resume and work samples, if available, with you to the interview and keep them in a file or briefcase. Place them out of the way (under the table or under your chair) but within easy access if needed. Turn off your cell phone upon entering the restaurant and keep it off during the entire meal.
Greet the Interviewer with a Firm Handshake
Nothing demonstrates self confidence like a firm handshake whether you are male or female. Shake the interviewer's hand and thank them for the interview opportunity.
Good Manners Count
Saying "Please" and "Thank you" go a long way in making a lasting impression with anyone. Wait to be seated (if you are female, and your interviewer is male, he may pull out your chair for you) and you would then need to say "Thank You". Thank the wait staff when they serve you and make sure that you order items from the menu that aren't messy and complicated to eat (such as ribs, large seafood, pasta with lots of sauce, or large sandwiches). Try to order food that is easy to cut into small portions. Don't order the most expensive item on the menu. If in doubt as to what to order, ask your interviewer if they have a suggestion as to what might be good to order. After ordering, and before the food is served, listen carefully to what is being said and let your interviewer set the tone for the conversation. Sit up straight, keep your elbows off the table, and eat slowly.
Know the Table Setting
The bread plate, typically with a butter knife, will be placed to the top left of the dinner plate, at approximately 11 o'clock, if the dinner plate was the face of a clock. Next the coffee cup is placed to the right of the dinner plate at 1 o'clock. Then comes the water glass (this can be placed before a white wine and/or red wine glass), to the top left of the coffee cup, at 1 o'clock of the cup. From left to right of the dinner plate in order are: the salad fork, dinner fork, followed by the dessert fork (which may be placed horizontally at the 12 o'clock position above the dinner plate in some restaurants). The dinner plate, with salad, or soup bowl on it are next. To the left of the dinner plate are the knife, teaspoon (for tea or coffee), and the soup spoon. The placement of the napkin varies with different restaurants. Wait until everyone has been seated at the table and then carefully take the napkin and place in your lap. When the meal is served, eat from the outside of the plate in. Resist the urge to "clean your plate" even if you are ravenously hungry. Keep your drinks to the right of your plate at all times. Leave a small bite or two on the plate.
Participate in the Conversation
Just as in a regular in-office interview, you should be actively participating in the conversation and respond to questions just as you have in a mock interview. Because you are in a more relaxed atmosphere, be careful not to say too much. Let your interviewer finish a statement before you start one. Three sentences to answer a question are more than adequate. Hopefully, you practiced responding to behavioral questions in your mock interviews so you will be prepared for any tricky questions that might be asked. Remember, that you want to demonstrate to the employer how you are going to fit into their organization so gear your answers in that direction. Remember that after the meal has been served, don't talk with food in your mouth... If you need to leave the table during the meal for any reason, place your napkin in your chair seat or on a chair arm, if available.
Should you drink during the interview?
If you don't drink, just say "I believe I would just like a glass of water or tea". Even if you do drink, it is perfectly acceptable to decline a glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage. If you feel you must drink because your interviewer is having a drink, then limit yourself to one drink and sip it very slowly to reduce the urge by either you or your interviewer for a second drink and to remain focused and on track during the interview.
After The Meal
Once you have finished your meal, move your knife and fork to the four o'clock position to let the server know that you have finished your meal. If you have no further use for your napkin, you can partially fold it and place it on the dinner plate over the knife and fork. Do not drape the napkin entirely over the plate, as this is considered rude and tasteless to many persons. Let the employer take care of the check and the tip for the meal.
Another Thank You is in Order
A final thank you to the employer followed by another firm handshake completes the interview. If you haven't been offered a business card, then ask for one. You should consider sending a follow-up thank you to the employer (but remember that it must be sent not more than 24 hours after your meal). Reiterate how appreciative you are of the opportunity to interview and to be considered for the position.