By Martin Yate, CPC
Restaurant interviews usually happen once you have demonstrated that you are capable of doing the job. Consequently, an invitation to talk business over food means that you are under strong consideration. Meeting in a restaurant offers the interviewer a chance to see you in a social setting that encourages examination of the more subtle skills that play a role in work once you begin to climb the professional ladder of success.
Facing a hiring manager’s questions is bad enough, simultaneously eating and drinking only increases the stress. As the questions fly, your social graces, communication and inter-personal skills are all being judged, as is the question of whether you can be trusted to represent the company gracefully and in a professional manner. Interviews in restaurants can be recipes for disaster unless you pay attention to some simple rules.
The ultimate behavioral interview
Interviews in restaurants are behavioral interviews in the raw, so get buzzed on drinks and knock things over today and the interviewer has every reason to suppose that this is how you will behave in similar meetings with clients or management.
To the observant manager, your behavior at the table can reveal as much about you as any tough interview question. In fact you can answer every question well and still torpedo your candidacy with poor social graces.
The nature of the restaurant interview means that you are showing your considered professional profile to this employer, who in turn, gets real insight into how you are likely to interact with your peers, subordinates, management and clients if hired.
Order standard foods
You are at the restaurant for an interview, which means talking, not eating; in fact I advise you to eat a protein bar before the meal to keep your blood sugar elevated and to minimize the time you spend trying to talk with your mouth full.
Stay away from the expensive or exotic, avoid messy foods like long pasta or spare ribs, and instead, order something that you know is easy to eat. Avoid eating finger food, unless you are in a sandwich joint, in which case you should make it a point to take consciously smaller bites and of course avoid overstuffed menu items. Do not change your order once it is made, it shows needless indecision.
Don’t drink alcohol
More job offers have been lost over alcoholic drinks, than any other cause. Alcohol diminishes your clarity of thought and the stress of an interview in public increases the intoxicating affect of the alcohol and with it the chances of you saying or doing something inappropriate.
Stick with nonalcoholic drinks, or simply a glass of water. In the unlikely event that you are coerced into ordering an alcoholic beverage, order a white wine spritzer or light beer, don’t finish it and never have more than one.
Be courteous & considerate
Be polite to your servers under all circumstances. High-handed behavior toward wait staff reflects negatively on your teamwork and leadership skills. Don’t return food or complain about the service, because both actions find fault with the interviewer’s choice of restaurant.
Beware cups & glasses
Stress makes everyone a klutz, and disasters happen at a cluttered table when you stretch for your glass, the condiments or gesticulate to make a point. Those of us whose hands are an integral part of every conversation need to control exaggerated gestures and keep glasses out of harms way at the top of the place setting.
If you are new to interviews in restaurants and the waiter puts the bill on your side of the table, just ignore it. When ready, your host will take care of it, because that’s the protocol of the occasion. By the same token, you should never offer to share payment.
When parting, thank your host for the hospitality and recap your interest in, and suitability for the job, based on the topics of discussion at the meal. Of course, you should be sure to leave on a positive note by asking good-naturedly what you have to do to get the job.
It’s a two-way street
Hiring managers use restaurant interviews, at least in part, to see what kind of person you will be like to work with. You can use them for the same purpose. Observe how your potential employer behaves in each of the above areas, because his or her behavior can give you valuable insights into what working for this particular manager might be like.
Martin Yate, CPC, author of Knock 'em Dead: Secrets & Strategies for Success in an Uncertain World, is a New York Times and international bestseller of job search and career management books. He is the author of 11 job search and career management books published throughout the English speaking world and in over 50 foreign language editions. Over thirty years in career management, including stints as an international technology headhunter, head of HR for a publicly traded company and Director of Training and Development for an international employment services organization.