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Top Tips for Lunch Interview Success

By Laura DeCarlo

Sure, it doesn’t happen all that often, but when an invitation to a job interview over food or drinks happens, you need to be prepared, whether the meal is breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Note: The rules for a networking lunch are different when you initiate the meeting.

Preparation for a Job Interview in a Restaurant

Meeting a stranger at a strange location, outside of the work location, offers some definite challenges for you.

Be sure to gather information before the interview to enable you to be at the right location, at the right time, and find the other party.

Particularly if you haven't met the person who is interviewing you, finding a stranger in a large restaurant full of people can be a challenge, and can make the start of the interview very awkward.

Follow these suggestions to make it go as smoothly as possible.

1. Logistics

When the meeting is being set up, in addition to the date and time, ask for these details:

  • The restaurant name and address.
  • The name and job title of the person who will be interviewing you.
  • The names of anyone else from the employer who will also be there.
  • Ask how you will connect with the interviewer at the restaurant:

    • Willl a reservation be made in the company's name or an individual's name? Which name should you ask for when you arrive?
    • If no reservation will be made, where will you meet the person -- outside the front door or inside the restaurant (where?) or ??

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2. Location

Be sure you have the right restaurant by confirming the location.

If you aren't familiar with the restaurant, research it online so you know where it is located. Hopefully, it has a website, so you can check out the menu, and decide in advance what you will order (tips below).

If you don't know the person/people you will be meeting, check them out on LinkedIn, if possible, or Google them. Look for photos to make it easier to recognize them at the restaurant. Look at other information about them, too, as part of your standard pre-interview preparation.

3. Restaurant set up

If you have enough notice, visit the restaurant before the day of the interview so you know how to get there and how long it will take you to get there.

Observe the atmosphere and how the restaurant is organized:

  • Can you see the whole room when you walk in or is it divided into different sections that aren't visible from the door?
  • Does it have a host or hostess who manages seating or do guests seat themselves?
  • Is it noisy, crowded, and busy?
  • Is it quiet?
  • How are people dressed?

Hopefully, you will be comfortable at the restaurant, not distracted by waitstaff in tiny uniforms or strolling singers seranading guests. If you research in advance, you will hopefully be better able to cope with anything odd.

If you really don't think that you will be comfortable in the restaurant chosen, suggest a restaurant in a similar price range and food type in a location that is convenient for the interviewer.

Guidelines for Succeeding at Your Job Interview

Once you have arrived and connected with the interviewer, it's easy to make a positive impression, just follow these simple guidelines:

1. Timing

Arrive at least 10 minutes early, if possible. Go to the pre-agreed meeting location.

Hopefully, you won't be the last person to arrive, but don't assume you are the first person. Look for the other party (or parties), or ask the host or hostess (if there is one) if the other person has arrived.

2. Etiquette

Use your best manners, of course. This means:

  • Put your napkin in your lap.
  • Don’t order the most expensive item on the menu
  • Avoid ordering messy or sticky finger food, greasy food, or stringy food like pasta. These provide just too many opportunities to embarrass yourself.
  • Eat slowly, and chew your food. If you are asked a question when you have food in your mouth, signal the need for a moment to finish chewing before you speak.
  • Hold your fork correctly, not like you are gripping a shovel.
  • Don’t speak with food in your mouth.
  • Don’t reach over other people’s plates.
  • Say please, and thank you.
  • Be sure to split your focus – make eye contact with the interviewer and other people at the table. Don’t focus only on your food.
  • Don’t complain about your food, or send it back.
  • Refuse -- and/or don’t request -- any alcohol with your meal.
  • Be polite to the wait staff and other restaurant employees.
  • Finally, don’t ask for a doggy bag. Yes, taking food home displays a cost-conscious attitude, but it is typically considered a no-no.

In general, follow the lead of the interviewer and other people at the table, but don't do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.

3. Attire

Dress as you would for any other professional interview. If you are meeting at a restaurant, you should be able to easily find out the typical attire there.

Keep in mind that a casual company with a casual dress code going to a restaurant might mean that you need to step it up a notch.

4. The Bill

If the bill is placed by your seat, simply ignore it. Sometimes the interviewer has this done on purpose to see how you will react. Don’t become flustered. He/she will eventually ask for the bill if he/she initiated the meeting.

5. Say Thank You

Be positive, say thank you, and let the interviewer know you have appreciated both the interview and the meal. As with any job interview, follow up with a written or emailed thank you, too.

Bottom Line

By surviving the all-important social engagement of a professional and engaging discussion over a meal, you will move onto the next step in the interview process! Go get ‘em!


About the author...

Laura DeCarlo is recognized as the career industry’s ‘career hero’ making a difference to both job seekers and career professionals as the founder of Career Directors International. She possesses 11 top-level certifications in resume writing, career coaching, and career management; 7 first place resume and job placement awards; and has written three books on interviewing and job search including Interview Pocket RX, Interviewing: The Gold Standard, Resumes for Dummies,and Job Search Bloopers. Follow Laura on Google+ and Twitter at @careerhero.


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Guide to Successful Interviews

Essential Job Interviewing Requirements:

Job Interview Tips:


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Succeeding at Different Kinds of Job Interviews:

Preparation for Successful Interviews:

Job Interview Follow Up:

More Information About Interviews:


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