Lunch Interview Strategies

Before we get into specific lunch interview tips, please keep in mind that this type of interview is not very common.

If you have not been specifically invited to one, I would not be too concerned that it will happen. If, on the other hand, you have been invited to a restaurant interview, the tips below will help you prepare.

An employer may have a specific reason for using this technique.

  • The employer may be quite busy and really wants to meet with you but can only fit the interview into his or her schedule by conducting it over a lunch break.
  • The employer may feel that you will provide more candid answers to questions if the interview is conducted in a more social setting, like a restaurant, as opposed to a more formal office setting.
  • On some rare occasions, the employer may want to observe your manners and the way you carry yourself in this type of social situation. If, for example, you were interviewing for a job that would involve frequently dining with and entertaining clients or other business contacts, the employer may want to observe you in this type of situation.

Lunch and Dinner Interview Tips

All of the general tips for preparing for a job interview apply to lunch interviews. That preparation should include:

  • Research the company so you understand the type of work the company does, the factors that will be important to the employer when making a hiring decision and the skills and experiences you should highlight.
  • Practice frequently asked questions, and be particularly careful to prepare good answers to any questions that you find difficult to answer.
  • Choose all of the clothing you will wear, try everything on and ensure everything fits, is clean and in perfect condition. Standard interview attire is expected in this situation.
  • Complete some salary research so you will know what salary level is reasonable if the employer starts to discuss salary or asks about your salary expectations.
  • Compile a list of job references, and contact your references to let them know that you have an interview coming up and they may be contacted by the employer.
  • Collect all of your job search documents and put several copies, along with a couple of pens and a pad of paper in a professional looking folder.
  • Be sure to turn off your cell phone before the meeting so you can give the employer your full attention.

Additional tips that apply specifically to lunch interviews are:

  • If you have never been to the restaurant where the interview will take place, go there a day or two before the interview so you will know exactly where the restaurant is, how to get there, where to park and whether you will need to pay to park (if you are driving), and what type of atmosphere to expect at the restaurant.
  • Try to go at the same time as your interview will take place so you will have an idea of how busy traffic and parking may be at that time of day. That way you will be able to allow the correct amount to time for travel.
  • Check out the restaurant menu ahead of time. You can either look at the menu when you go there a couple of days before the interview, look for the menu online, or call the restaurant and ask them to fax or email a copy of their menu to you.
  • Review the menu, and decide on an entree ahead of time. If you choose your entree ahead of time, or at least have a couple of appropriate menu items in mind, it will be one less decision that you will have to worry about on the day of your lunch or dinner interview.
  • Choose an entree in the mid-price range that you will enjoy, but that will be simple and won't require a lot of your attention while eating. Be sure to choose something that you can eat without a lot of effort because you want to focus on the conversation, not the food. Spaghetti, mussels, lobster etc. are not good choices because they are too messy, and they require too much of your attention to eat them.
  • Even though you will have already decided what you will order, let the employer take the lead when it comes to ordering the meal. That way you can take cues, such as whether to order an appetizer or not, from the employer (i.e. If he or she orders soup or salad, you should, too. If the interviewer just orders a main course, you should avoid ordering soup or salad). Also, try to ensure that the entree you order is in the same price range as the entree the employer orders.
  • Typically, you should avoid ordering alcohol. Even a single drink can make it difficult for some people to express themselves clearly or can cause them to slip and say something (a gripe about your past employer, perhaps) that is better left unsaid.
  • In most job interviews, it is perfectly acceptable to take notes. In a lunch or dinner interview, however, it will not be possible to take notes, so do be certain to take the time to make notes immediately after the meeting so you remember all of the most important details of your conversation.
  • A lunch interview may consist of formal, traditional questions, or the interviewer may simply want to have a more casual conversation with you in a setting that is less formal than an office. Follow the employer's lead in terms of the tone of the conversation.
  • If you have any concerns about table manners, take a moment to review basic table manners and dining etiquette before the interview.
  • Be sure to be positive about the meal and be friendly and polite to all staff you encounter at the restaurant. Employers are not interested in hiring someone who complains a lot or is disrespectful to others. The way you treat others at the restaurant will give the employer information about how well you will interact with others on the the job.
  • The bill will probably be paid by the person who initiated the interview. So, if the employer is the one who asked you to come to the lunch interview, he or she will normally take care of the bill. If, on the other hand, you, the job seeker, initiated the lunch meeting (perhaps you had asked for an informational interview), then paying the bill will be your responsibility.

    Just to be safe, bring some money with you to the lunch interview even if it was the employer who initiated it. You should be prepared, just in case you are asked to cover your meal.
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