One of the most dreaded interviews are the ones that happen over a meal. I like these interviews because I want to see how people REALLY act and meals give lots of opportunities for problems. As I say “Any idiot can handle it when things go right, you see what people are made of when things go wrong.” Things always go wrong, sooner or later.
Where to go: If they give you the choice, give them two options to choose from. No matter where you go I would go by before the interview to scope the place out. Just like in other face to face interviews you want to know how to get there, where to park and how long it will take to get there with traffic. If you have any dietary issues, definitely plan ahead. Let’s say you have Celiac Disease, Crohn’s or some other intestinal related medical problem. Look at the menu ahead of time and if you need to ask detailed questions, do it before your interview.
What to eat: There are two schools of thought on this. One, eat something easy. It is a smart and safe move. Two, go bold and stand out… spaghetti with meatballs. Whichever route you take, don’t plan on eating a lot, you are there to talk so don’t go when you are very hungry.
Etiquette: If you are not familiar with etiquette be sure to brush up. Let’s say you go to lunch and you are at a tight round table with six people. Which water glass is yours? Do you eat European style or American? Figure this stuff out before you need it.
Tricky Situations: During an etiquette dinner I was hosting, a student asked “what do I do with my sugar packets from my coffee?” My answer, “drink it black and you don’t have to worry about it.” Remember, this is not about you getting what you want to eat and drink, it is about the interview.
Drinks: It is best to stay away from alcohol but if it is dinner and the host orders a bottle of wine they might take offense if you do not have some. If you do, just have ONE glass and make it last. I like to order an Arnold Palmer. I like the taste of it and it is a little unique, which can make a lasting impression.
Small bites: The rule of thumb is to only take a bite that you can get down in three chews. That way when they ask you a question right after you take a bite you don’t have to stare at them while you look like a cow chewing on your cud.
Remember, this is more about the interview than the meal. Lastly, the general rule is no to-go boxes, sorry.
A smiling face is half the meal.