my interviewer wants to meet over lunch, and I’m freaking out!

by Ask a Manager on March 15, 2013

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A reader writes:

I have been networking to try and find a job as an attorney or two years! Finally, one of my contacts has been able to get me an interview with one of the most prestigious law firms in Utah. At first I thought this would give me an inside track on getting the job offer, then the interviewer asked to do the interview during lunch. This has caused a lot of anxiety. Is this a serious interview or is he just doing a favor for my contact? Is this such a hassle that he can’t take time during his normal work hours to do it? What if he asks me where I want to eat? What type of place should I choose? What if he takes me to McDonalds? How should I deal with the check (I assume he’s buying)? You can see the thoughts I have been having. What do you think?

You are freaking yourself out unnecessarily, to the point that you’re not going to be able to eat without instantly vomiting on this poor guy. Take a deep breath!

First, no, I would not assume that a lunch interview means that it’s not a serious interview or that it’s such a hassle that he can’t take the time to do it during his normal work hours. Some people just operate this way — if there’s a candidate they’re interested in talking to, sometimes their default is to meet over lunch or coffee, particularly if they don’t interview a lot of people as part of their normal job. It’s not uncommon.

If he’s like most lunch interviewers, he will probably suggest a place to eat. But if instead he asks you, just suggest a mid-priced place near his office. While some people do hold interviews in more casual restaurants (although usually more along the lines of a Chipotle rather than a McDonald’s), the more common option is to do it in a sit-down restaurant with service at your table, so if you’re put on the spot, you should suggest a place like that.

Assume that he is picking up the check. This is a business expense for his company. This is always the case with any lunch interview, but you can be extra confident that it’s the case with “one of the most prestigious law firms” in your state. Seriously. They’re buying.

Let’s see, some other things that you should keep in mind:

* If you’re concerned about what’s appropriate to order, take your cues from him. If he orders an appetizer, entree, and dessert, do something roughly the same. If he orders water and an appetizer and no entree, restrain the price of your own meal accordingly. Either way, don’t be the only one ordering dessert.

* Don’t order alcohol.

* Don’t order anything that’s really messy to eat, like barbecue or tacos, or anything that you know from experience gets stuck in your teeth, like spinach.

* If you know where you’re eating in advance, look at its menu online ahead of time, so that you can decide what to order in advance, rather than spending a lot of time deciding when you’re there.

* Be unfailingly polite to the wait staff. (You should always do this, of course, but in case for some reason you don’t, now is the time to start.)

This probably won’t be the last lunch interview you encounter in life. Don’t agonize over it, and prepare as you would for a normal interview, and you’ll be fine.

{ 135 comments… read them below or add one }

Dulcinea March 15, 2013 at 11:20 am

My first interview for the firm I was hired at was a lunch interview. Don’t sweat it. However, I will say that unfortunately for me, the restaurant was a fancy pizza and salad place….both of which are pretty messy to eat! And they literally didn’t serve anything else. In retrospect, I wish I’d ordered pizza instead of salad, just because I think pizza is a little neater if you eat it witha knife and fork (normally I would just pick it up).

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Wilton Businessman March 15, 2013 at 11:26 am

Knife and fork? Nah, just fold it over in the middle, flip the tip up, and go to town.

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Sarah G March 16, 2013 at 12:32 am

Flip the tip up? I’m having a hard time picturing this. I get the folding-over part, but could you please explain the flipping of the tip?

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K March 15, 2013 at 11:44 am

Fun story: I once spilled coffee in my eye during an interview. IN MY EYE. Fortunately, I was the interviewer rather than the interviewee, but I actually really liked the candidate and I’ve always wondered if that stunning display of clumsiness was part of why he turned us down.

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Sascha March 15, 2013 at 11:45 am

Oh, I’m laughing because I’ve done that. I know how to spill beverages in my eyes. It happens way too often.

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A Bug! March 15, 2013 at 12:13 pm

I’ve done it, too, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how I manage to do it.

I think it’s not that I’m amazingly clumsy, but in fact secretly very dextrous, because really, how many people do you know who can spill something in their eye in the normal course of drinking a beverage? If I could only harness my latent superpower.

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moss March 15, 2013 at 12:36 pm

did it… jump into your eye? Am trying to picture this.

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ExceptionToTheRule March 15, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Think over-tilting.

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moss March 15, 2013 at 1:03 pm

OK that totally makes sense. I was picturing maybe putting the mug down on the table so hard the coffee bounced up into your eye. I am LOL at this.

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Anon March 15, 2013 at 1:31 pm

I’ve done that! With *lemonade* once, though not at an interview. Ow!

Sarah G March 16, 2013 at 12:33 am

I’m LOL too, literally! Thanks for that!

Ellie H. March 15, 2013 at 12:55 pm

I think this is analogous to getting water up your nose in the shower, which I also manage to do fairly frequently, with no real idea how.

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K March 15, 2013 at 1:56 pm

For me it was one of those stupid Starbucks cup lids with the raised edges and the narrow hole. I think maybe I tilted it back too forcefully and it bounced around the interior of the lid before splashing into my eye. Extremely impressive, I know.

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Sascha March 15, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Yes, that’s usually how it happens. It jumps into my eye. Wicked hot Americano in my eye.

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AdAgencyChick March 15, 2013 at 11:25 am

OP — no need to freak out! Bet your interviewer just has a busy schedule and wants to meet you without taking time away from his regular workday. Good luck, and Alison’s advice on how to handle the lunch is spot on.

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Wilton Businessman March 15, 2013 at 11:26 am

Some people like to do lunch interviews because it gets them out of the office where they can concentrate on you.

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Guera March 15, 2013 at 11:31 am

He may have chosen a lunch interview for his own personal reasons… an excuse to get out for lunch while working for a company where lunch breaks might be considered a luxury, sporadic or normally taken at one’s desk. It may be a nice opportunity for him.

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books March 15, 2013 at 11:31 am

And if you are a salter, taste first then salt. #urbanlegends

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Another Emily March 16, 2013 at 10:33 pm

This is also mentioned down thread so now I’m curious. What’s the urban legend? Wouldn’t you always taste your food before you salt it anyway (so you know if it needs salt)?

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Anonymous March 17, 2013 at 10:50 am

I was curious, too, so I looked it up on Snopes. Apparently if you salt your food before you taste it, an interviewer will reject you because you don’t analyze the situation before making a decision. It’s been attributed to everyone from Thomas Edison to IBM. I’ll put a link in a separate comment since I know it’ll go into moderation.

In actuality, though, it’s rude to the chef, though I doubt you’d lose a job opportunity over it.

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Anonymous March 17, 2013 at 10:50 am
Another Emily March 19, 2013 at 12:15 am

Thanks. That’s interesting.

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Ann O'Nemity March 15, 2013 at 11:36 am

I’ve only done a lunch interview once. The interviewer asked a lot of questions and kept me talking while he enjoyed his lunch. I ended up eating very little, so I would advice ordering something on the smaller side!

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Ann O'Nemity March 15, 2013 at 11:41 am

*advise, not advice

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Sascha March 15, 2013 at 11:43 am

I had an interview once at a coffee shop, and I really should have met with the interviewers first before getting my coffee, because they full intended to pay for it. It was one of those things were I didn’t see them when I first walked in, so I thought I had to wait, and I wanted my coffee, and I also didn’t even think that they would pay for it (first non-office interview). No harm done though, they were great people and I ended up working there in a different position.

So my rambling anecdote is to say, don’t worry, relax, be professional and authentic, and check in with your interviewer first. :)

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John Quincy Adding Machine March 15, 2013 at 5:10 pm

I do that almost every time I have an interview at a coffee shop, partly because I’m compulsively early, and partly because I want a fancy coffee drink and wonder if the interviewer will think I’m trying to scam extra espresso shots and hazelnut syrup out of them if I make them pay.

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K March 15, 2013 at 11:43 am

I’ve always figured the point of lunch interviews was that sometimes it’s nice to get a free meal on the firm. That is why I will volunteer to go out to lunch with candidates, at any rate. (We don’t do first interviews over lunch usually, but do sometimes as part of follow-up interviews.)

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LCL March 15, 2013 at 11:44 am

…and have a little snack before your meeting, so you won’t be starving and your mind will be sharper.

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Sascha March 15, 2013 at 11:47 am

Ah, good idea. Also so you won’t gobble your food down.

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moss March 15, 2013 at 12:37 pm

yes, was going to suggest this also.

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Camellia March 15, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Yes, because for the most part he will eat while you talk. You probably won’t actually get to eat very much. Alison, could you weigh in on the ‘doggie bag’ question? If the interviewee doesn’t get to eat much the server may ask if they want to take it with them.

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QQ March 15, 2013 at 3:26 pm

My understanding is that it’s pretty universally frowned upon.

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K March 15, 2013 at 4:24 pm

I believe Corporette once had an entire post about this. The consensus was that you didn’t want to look like you were taking advantage of someone else paying the bill to over order and get a free meal.

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Ask a Manager March 15, 2013 at 10:54 pm

Yeah, don’t do it. I know it’s not good to waste food, but for whatever reason, it’s considered a Don’t.

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Elizabeth West March 16, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Is it okay to do it if you’re having a lunch meeting with your department? And you’re paying with your corporate card? I only ask because we did this recently and there was way too much fettucine (mmm) for me to eat…I ended up not doing it because it was a fancy pants place and I wasn’t sure.

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Renee March 15, 2013 at 11:46 am

I recently had a series of interviews (I think there were 6 total, each half an hour long) at a big tech company in San Francisco. They scheduled my interview with the hiring manager to fall over lunch and told me it would be a lunch interview. This company had its own cafeteria so once the manager came into the room and introduced himself, we both walked out to the cafeteria to get lunch and then went back into the room. I think the company did this in order to show me some of the perks I’d enjoy if I got the job and to indicate that they were a fun/casual company, but overall it did stress me out a bit. Having to interview with your potential future manager while also trying to eat and not spill anything on your suit or get anything in your teeth was an added layer of stress that I wish wasn’t there! I do think that overall these type of lunch interviews are scheduled with the best of intentions though :) Maybe they even think that eating lunch and being in a more laid back environment will help put you at ease.

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Anonicorn March 15, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Having to interview with your potential future manager while also trying to eat and not spill anything on your suit or get anything in your teeth was an added layer of stress that I wish wasn’t there!

Yes! This is why I hate lunch interviews. I once had a lunch interview at a Japanese restaurant (their choice) where the interviewer ridiculed what I ate–something to the effect of, “Like most Americans I see you eat only meat.” I suppose I could see his point. I had been picking out the meat in my stir fry because it was far more fork-able compared to the rice.

However, OP shouldn’t worry. That’s my worst lunch interview experience and one that’s very unlikely to repeat itself.

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the gold digger March 15, 2013 at 1:27 pm

It is rude to comment on what someone eats or does not eat. That interviewer was a jerk.

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KellyK March 15, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Yeah, that is amazingly rude. Wow.

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Anonymous March 15, 2013 at 7:39 pm

Well, it really depends on the tone and the spirit in which it was intended. I personally don’t want to jump to “amazingly rude” based on the little context we have (namely, a stressed out candidate who is probably looking for those ‘signs’ that everyone tries to find in interviews). A little inconsiderate, sure, but I wouldn’t write off this manager just yet.

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fposte March 15, 2013 at 9:29 pm

I wouldn’t write him off as a manager, but yes, it’s completely rude to comment on what somebody eats, whether you’re a manager or a candidate; tone might make it less offensive, but it’s still a highly impolite thing to do.

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Ellie H. March 15, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Oh, wow. Getting food in a cafeteria is, to me, one of the most anxiety-producing activities, because you are not sure how to do it the right way, where to form a line, where to go to pay, if you are supposed to pay first, what you pay for by item and what is included with what, all the decisions about what to choose to eat, where to find a beverage and silverware, etc. etc. I grew up in a college dormitory eating in the dining hall every night for 13 years, and I STILL get cafeteria anxiety about unfamiliar cafeterias!

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Jen in RO March 15, 2013 at 2:09 pm

I thought I was weird for being stressed out by things like this! Glad to see I’m not alone.

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Jamie March 16, 2013 at 9:38 am

Not alone at all. Cafeterias and any type of buffets stress me out to an inordinate degree. Not knowing what to do, where to go, weird foods…sometimes touching each other…I don’t know if I could handle it in an interview.

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Elizabeth West March 16, 2013 at 1:02 pm

I’m okay if it’s well laid out, and if it’s familiar food, like an American or Asian buffet. I’m completely lost at anything more exotic, though. One time I tried this Indian place here for lunch by myself, and they acted like I was stupid for asking what stuff was.

I find going out by myself results in shabbier treatment than if I am with a date or friends. I’ll probably give you a big fat tip if you help me identify the chicken masala, or take good care of me in my solitary booth. If I have to get my own coffee refill, not so freaking much. :P

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Renee March 15, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Yes! I completely agree with you Ellie – the cafeteria was overwhelming to me too! I was lucky that this was the kind of company that had free food, so I didn’t have to worry about paying. However, I did have a lot of anxiety about what to eat, where things were located, and how long I was taking to get my food. Also, everyone else in the company was dressed in super casual clothes and I was in a full on suit, so I knew my outfit made me stick out to everyone else getting lunch. Overall, I do think they wanted to offer me lunch because I had 3 hours of interviews that fell over the lunch period, but I would much rather have skipped it and just powered through the interview!

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Chocolate Teapot March 15, 2013 at 11:49 am

I remember buying the book “Great Answers to Tough Interview Questions” which has a whole chapter on meal time interviews.

All I can remember is that you should always order things which are easy to eat, so no spaghetti in tomato sauce, meat on the bone (order things like chicken filet) or if in a sandwich bar, avoid those sandwiches which on first bite mean the filling ends up all down your front.

And for the bill, you should always assume they are paying. Apparently some interviewers test candidates by getting the server to put the bill by their elbow to see how they react.

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ExceptionToTheRule March 15, 2013 at 11:58 am

See, that would totally backfire with me. You put the bill by my elbow and I’m going to pay it and then not want to work for you because you invited me out to lunch and didn’t make arrangements with the server to get the check.

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Esra March 15, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Right? That is an impossibly dumb test. Exactly what is achieved by that sort of thing?

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fposte March 15, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Seriously. I don’t get how a company can mark against somebody for picking up the bill in any situation, let alone one where it’s been hinted that they should. Bullet dodged, I’d say.

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Ann O'Nemity March 15, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Dumb test. What exactly is the interviewee supposed to do?

If I was in that situation and the employer didn’t offer to pay right then, I would have a lot of doubts about accepting the job.

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anon-2 March 15, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Sounds a lot like the urban legend “don’t salt your food before you taste it” test.

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Natalie March 15, 2013 at 2:11 pm

It’s weird to me that anyone would use this as a test, mostly because I think these kinds of tests are dumb.

That said, it’s generally a good idea to taste food before salting it, particularly at a restaurant, because the food is usually seasoned before service and you could end up essentially ruining it.

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A Bug! March 15, 2013 at 12:19 pm

I agree, it sounds ridiculous, but I’d imagine a reasonable response to be to push it into the interviewer’s reach and say “You’re expensing this?” In a low-key, “just-checking” manner.

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Jessa March 16, 2013 at 2:50 pm

I know, there’s no excuse for an interviewer not paying for the meal. How on earth would they know if the person interviewing could afford it? Or even if they could, that they brought their money or credit card with them. Some people trying not to spend casually will leave their cards at home unless they’re specifically out to get something. They do this as a way of curbing their spending.

I had this happen in another way. I was promoted into a new job and they were “taking me out to lunch.” Now it never once occurred to me that I was going to be expected to pay MY bill. I mean if everyone was paying and they all put in a dollar or two, my lunch would be paid. And when someone says they’re “Taking you out to lunch,” you expect that they’re paying.

I had to use money earmarked for bills to pay my share. I would never have accepted an invitation to “a lunch for me” if I knew at the time I’d have to pay anything. I was flat broke at the time. And I then had the worry of every time someone asked me to lunch of who was paying and what the right way to ask was. Cause you know that’s rude to ask who is paying.

In an interview? It would never even BEGIN to occur to me even after that incident with the lunch that I would be expected to pay in a place where I did not get to choose where or the cost level of the food.

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businesslady March 15, 2013 at 12:01 pm

chicken filet is a good idea, but our Dean recommends grilled fish for candidates for faculty positions (who inevitably have lunch/dinner meetings with the search committee). basically anything you can easily cut with a fork & that doesn’t require much chewing.

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maisie March 15, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Good god, no wonder the OP is stresing about this lunch meeting. I can’t imagine these responses are going to put his/her mind at ease! Lol. I really can’t see how ordering chicken instead of fish, and thus increasing the number of times you need to chew, is going to put off an interviewer. Or maybe I’m wildly misguided and that’s why I’m still job searching :D

And that “put the check next to the elbow” thing is insane. If I was at a lunch interview, I’d hate to think that the interviewer was judging me on more than a) skills/experience/actual fit for the work, b) how well I’d fit with the office culture/my interest in the company, and c) my general social etiquette. And general social etiquette, like AAM said, is that the company is likely to pay in this situation, so I guess I’d be more likely to think that if I offered to pay, then the interviewer would think I was being over the top and purposely flouting convention in order to impress.

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Rana March 15, 2013 at 9:51 pm

It’s less about putting off an interviewer, and more about eliminating the things you have to worry about during the interview, just as you shouldn’t wear shoes that hurt, or bras with straps that like to slide down, or pants that itch.

Unless you’re truly disgusting in your eating habits, I suspect most interviewers won’t care how you eat your food, or what food you eat (unless they are rude people like the person mentioned upthread). Instead, these guidelines are so that the candidate can choose something that allows them to focus on the conversation instead of on the meal and not spilling things.

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Zahra March 15, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Oooh, that’d get a “Can you please split the bill?” to the server. I ain’t paying for the interviewer’s lunch, but if the bill ends up with me, I’m paying mine.

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Laura L March 15, 2013 at 1:34 pm

What’s the correct response? I’d probably ignore it until the other person picked it up. But, I assume that would mean failing the test.

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Sascha March 15, 2013 at 2:34 pm

I hate stupid tests like that! So if I pick up a check, that means I’m potentially a bad employee? A better indication of my personality would be to see how I treat the restaurant staff.

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Chocolate Teapot March 15, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Just managed to locate my copy of “Great Answers to Tough Interview Questions” (It was stuck at the back of a load of Harry Potters and my Italian phrase book)

Anyway, apparently it’s “A test of composure” and the correct reaction is to do nothing until the interviewer picks it up. And apparently the ultimate reason for lunch interviews is to test “Can this person be trusted to represent the company graciously?”

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Michelle March 15, 2013 at 11:55 am

Two additional rationales for a lunch interview:
- To help build rapport. If you think about it, sharing a meal is typically what you do with friends and family. The thinking is that the environment will help get to know you better.
- Sometimes it is best to do the interview offsite so that people in the office do not start talking about the candidate that was interviewed. I helps avoid the office gossip on what job is it for, is someone getting let go, etc.

Overall, relax and treat it like a formal interview. Focus on making a connection and showing off your skills / abilities. You can expect that you won’t get to eat much during the lunch as you may be doing most of the talking so I recommend not being overly hungry and expect to eat light. And of course, don’t spill anything on yourself. Good luck!

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Elizabeth West March 16, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Re offsite/gossip:

Ooh yeah, that’s why I always say “I have an appointment at nine to see X,” instead of “I have an interview with X.” Then if they’re trying to keep it on the QT, they think I’m just a vendor or something. Most places don’t even ask why you’re there. I heard a story once (might have been here?) where a person found out she was being replaced when someone showed up and said they were interviewing for her job!

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SevenSixOne March 15, 2013 at 12:07 pm

To me, a lunch interview shows that the interviewer is trying to be respectful of your time and not make waves at your current job– taking a long lunch doesn’t raise suspicion like disappearing in the middle of the day, coming in late, or leaving early because of a vague “emergency” does.

One more thing, at the risk of sounding like your momma: Don’t slump over the table and shovel food at your face! Sit up straight, take tiny bites, and chew with your mouth closed. Good luck!

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Anon March 15, 2013 at 12:09 pm

What’s the best way to handle this when you actually can’t eat at any restauarents, or any that are nearby? I keep kosher, but it’s also relevant to people with non-religious dietary constraints. In my experience, ppl who want to meet over food feel personally affronted when you say you can’t, or expect you to “cheat” just this once or act like your medical condition, like allergies, exist to inconvenience *them*.

I mean, I’m willing to meet with you in the restaurant, but I won’t be able to eat anything, which I’m sure the restaurent won’t like, and it would be pretty awkward.

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K March 15, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Are there any kosher restaurants nearby at all that you could proactively suggest? I don’t think it’s a good idea to have a lunch meeting where you don’t eat anything, but I haven’t found people to take it amiss when you say something like “I have X restriction; can we meet at Y place?”

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Anon March 15, 2013 at 12:56 pm

As I said, there aren’t any. :)

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KellyK March 15, 2013 at 1:40 pm

In that case, I’d just let them know that, offer several options (different schedule, going to the restaurant and you just getting water, going for coffee instead) and see what they want to do.

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KellyK March 15, 2013 at 1:02 pm

I like that idea a lot, although it doesn’t help if there’s nowhere nearby where you can eat anything.

I think if there aren’t any options, then the best bet is to be up front and ask what they’d prefer. Would they want to schedule later or earlier, would they rather do it at the restaurant and you’ll have lunch beforehand, etc.

There will be people who will take it as a personal affront, but there’s no real way around that other than to make yourself sick or violate your religious belief. If you’re as accommodating as possible, you at least avoid offending reasonable or mostly reasonable people, and if someone still has an issue, you probably dodged a bullet anyway.

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Jessa March 16, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Now, I don’t know if this will work for you, some people keep stricter Kosher than others, but my keeping Kosher/Halal friends usually ate whatever was vegetarian (or all strictly pareve or occasionally milchig because the rules are less strict than fleishig) Yes the plates might be an issue but 99% of most food service dishwashers are enough to properly sanitise. But that’s a totally personal decision and shouldn’t be held against you if that’s not how you choose to live your religion.

On the other hand if you keep Kosher, there are other issues involved that are not…if the boss can’t respect you being frum enough to be Kosher, how are they going to respect needing Yom Kippur off and possibly leaving early on Friday and not being able to participate in office lunches without bringing your own food.

Seriously, if they’re not okay with you not being able to eat at a restaurant near by, how are they going to be for any other religious stuff. As another example for my Halal friends, breaking up their breaks so they can pray.

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Tiff March 15, 2013 at 12:43 pm

We’ve got a great kosher place around the corner from my job. Just thinking about it has me hungry, and they serve shawarmas. My biggest fear if I had a lunch interview there would be letting out a loud “Mmmmmmmm!” when I take the first bite.

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moss March 15, 2013 at 12:44 pm

So there would not be ANYTHING you could eat? Not a plain salad or anything?

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Anonymous March 15, 2013 at 12:52 pm

I think that keeping kosher involves maintaining the kitchen in a certain way (knowing that meat dishes aren’t washed with dairy, etc) and so if you’re observant, you’d eat out at places you knew kept the rules. Otherwise it’s not observant.

I could be wrong about that.

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moss March 15, 2013 at 1:05 pm

OK, yeah, that would make eating out completely impossible!

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KellyK March 15, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Yep, that’s my understanding too. That’s probably much more the problem than just not being able to eat pork, shellfish, or dishes that contain both meat and dairy.

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the gold digger March 15, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Yep. It has to be separate dishes (dairy plates cannot be used for meat) and the kitchen itself has to be – forgive me if I get the term wrong – kashered. I read a book about this recently. Basically, they have to go in the oven and heat the heck out of it. That’s about all I remember from the book. I remember the rest from babysitting for a kosher family when I was in high school. They showed me all the dishes and told me the rules, but I was always too scared I’d mess up to eat while I was there. Which was sad, because eating while I was babysitting was my favorite pastime after watching TV. (We did not have TV at our house. Nor did we have Cap’n Crunch or Fritos.)

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Katharina March 15, 2013 at 1:35 pm

How about ordering a glass of water and simply explaining in 1 sentence that you keep kosher, but that you are thankful for the invitation and opportunity to interview in this setting. I would not want to work for anyone who felt keeping kosher was a personal affront to them.

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QQ March 15, 2013 at 2:17 pm

I think most interviewers would wonder why you didn’t say something earlier so that they could arrange the interview in a way that didn’t make it super awkward.

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Jamie March 16, 2013 at 9:44 am

Absolutely. It’s not that keeping kosher is the issue, it would be that if nothing was said ahead of time I didn’t have the opportuinty to suggest a non-food meeting so now its totally awkward for me …since I’m not eating if the other person isn’t.

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Katharina March 16, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Thinking about it, I completely agree that it would be weird to agree to a lunch-interview without bringing it up beforehand. So I guess my comment is only applicable if for whatever reason I got put in this situation without having any say in it, which is, as I now realize, neither very likely nor what the question was about.

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anon-2 March 15, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Several reasons why they’d do it at a restaurant –

1) For the time reasons, as AAM suggested.

2) Hey, it IS a business lunch. He gets lunch on the company’s nickel, too!

3) There is the possibility you’re interviewing for an incumbent’s position. They might not want anybody in the office knowing that they’re interviewing.

Three things NOT to do

1) Do not order a double scotch on an interview luncheon.
2) Do not appear anxious to get the hell out of there.
3) Worry too much about appearing nervous. It’s expected.

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some1 March 15, 2013 at 3:02 pm

“Several reasons why they’d do it at a restaurant”

4) You are interviewing for a position that isn’t vacant yet. Could be they are letting someone go and haven’t told them yet.

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Rayner March 16, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Basically, number three on the first list, then.

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Rayner March 16, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Well. Kinda. *fudges it a bit*

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anon-2 March 16, 2013 at 3:38 pm

Not “kinda”. But the same thing. And it can be a disaster for a company if they are “hiring to fire” and they get caught with their pants down on it.

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KarenT March 15, 2013 at 12:19 pm

We do lunch interviews sometimes, and it’s usually for candidates we are trying to woo (away from competitors–very normal to do in publishing). Also, because the industry is so small sometimes the discretion is needed, especially for higher level jobs.

Also, lunch interviews are good for candidates who would be doing a lot of work with clients (such as taking clients out for lunch!). It’s nice to see how someone behaves in a social setting. It does make for a more relaxed interview.

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AnnaBanana March 15, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Also, consider that you may have business lunches with clients in the future as part of the normal duties of this position. If that is the case, the interviewer may be judging you realted to the position expectations, in the same way you could be asked to give a presentation, etc.

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Nate March 15, 2013 at 12:51 pm

As an interviewer, I would totally do a lunch interview even if I had time to meet at the office. My reasoning is that I actually like talking business over food, people let their guard down (in a good and bad way), and I think it paints a more realistic image of what the candidate is like personality wise.

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Anonymous March 15, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Take mad money, just in case. OP was wondering if he/she had misinterpreted the ‘interviewer’s’ intent, so if there’s even a ghost of a chance, take some cash just in case.

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Lisa March 15, 2013 at 1:12 pm

I’ve never had an interview over lunch, but I think another general rule would be not to get anything too smelly (ie – with raw onions or garlic). I’m reminded of the interview scene in The Devil Wears Prada when Stanley Tucci makes a face and asks if someone had eaten an onion bagel…

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Ha March 15, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Who is that sad little person? Are we doing a before and after piece I don’t know about?

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hindenburg2002 March 15, 2013 at 2:18 pm

*whistles, points, and mouths – Who is that?*

That, I can’t even talk about

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Cimorene March 15, 2013 at 1:42 pm

If you’re a woman, and the interviewer is a man, how can you take your cue from them about what to order? Servers usually turn to women first. And if you just get a sandwich while they get an appetizer, main course, dessert, and a glass of wine, wouldn’t that be awkward?

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fposte March 15, 2013 at 1:57 pm

It’s been a long time since I’ve encountered a server who factors gender into ordering, but no, I don’t think it would be awkward to have much *less* food than your interviewer–as noted above, you’ll be talking a lot anyway.

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S.L. Albert March 15, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Actually, I’ve found that a surprising number do turn to the woman (women) at the table first, especially at nicer places (maybe it’s a Southern thing?). I agree that you should be fine – just order something mid range or less (ie, not the filet) and don’t worry about ir.

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T March 15, 2013 at 4:06 pm

I think it’s definitely a southern thing (I’m in Louisiana). I also think it’s more common in nicer restaurants, too

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fposte March 15, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Yes, it definitely used to be a restaurant rule, but I suspect it’s not as commonly found as it used to be. Even less common is the old-school “gentleman orders for the lady” and the lady’s menu has no prices.

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Emily March 16, 2013 at 2:57 am

I don’t know, I live and work in the northeast and can’t remember a time I wasn’t prompted to order first, before either of my two male colleagues.

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Brittany January 24, 2014 at 2:04 am

Agreed. I live in the pacific northwest, and before this, Nevada. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t asked before the men. And if I’m the youngest woman at the time, the elder woman is normally asked first.

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Joey March 15, 2013 at 2:03 pm

You’re way overthinking it. Just order what you want. Most reasonable people aren’t going to hold it against you or even think twice about it. If you’re freaking out about it tell your interviewer you haven’t been there before and ask for her recommendations.

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QQ March 15, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Sometimes the interviewer will tell you what he is planning to order, or say something like “feel free to get an appetizer.” Or you could ask him what is good at that restaurant (if he’s been there before) and he might clue you in to what he is planning on ordering.

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Sascha March 15, 2013 at 2:38 pm

I would say, I need a second to decide, and signal that your interviewer should go first.

However it’s not really a hard and fast rule. You just want to avoid extremes. Like don’t order to Super Mega Rib, Steak, and Lobster Sampler.

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Jessa March 16, 2013 at 3:06 pm

“Oh, I’ve never eaten here before. What do you recommend as really good?” It’s a reasonable presumption that someone is not going to interview in a place they’re not comfortable. And it’s a polite way to ask and even if they’re very savvy they’ll understand that you’re politely fishing for a cost point and they SHOULD think “Oh polite educated person, doesn’t want to spend too much of the company’s money.”

And take your cost cue from that.

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DawnSpringHR March 18, 2013 at 4:00 pm

You can always say plesantly “Would you mind coming back to me — I need just a second or two more?”

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mel March 15, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Hmm an easy way to turn the server over to the interviewer first would be to look uncertain and nod toward him. Though if the interviewer does that to you first, welp, you’re screwed I guess!

Maybe it is more relaxed because then you’re not on that person’s “turf”, lost in a field of fluorescent-lit corridors and trying to ignore the glances from curious staff members.

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Another Emily March 16, 2013 at 10:43 pm

I agree. You could say, “I’m still deciding, why don’t you go ahead?” Which is pretty normal when ordering anyway.

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Lily in NYC March 15, 2013 at 2:00 pm

I am so excited to be able to share a lunch interview antecdote. I went to one with my former boss -so it was two of us and the candidate. My entree came with a side of roasted asparagus, and when she saw it, she said “Oh I love asparagus but it makes my pee smell weird.” My boss was very proper and I thought he was going to faint in horror. I was just trying to keep a straight face, which was not easy. Needless to say, she didn’t get the job. I still cannot imagine what possessed that woman to say that during an interview. She did not seem nervous or embarrassed after she said it and was pretty weird in general.

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Anonymous March 15, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Apparently not a good culture fit, but now I’m wondering how a person would know that – no flushing?

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Natalie March 15, 2013 at 2:16 pm

This is one of those trivia things I wish wasn’t taking up space in my brain, but apparently some percentage of people can smell a very strong odor. There’s actually a section about this in the Wikipedia article about asparagus.

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ExceptionToTheRule March 15, 2013 at 2:22 pm

If asparagus affects you that way, you know it with normal, proper bathroom hygiene. Be glad you’re part of the 50% of the population that isn’t affected.

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Ellie H. March 15, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Yeah, I was going to say, clearly you’re one of the people who does not have that!

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Lily in NYC March 15, 2013 at 4:13 pm

It’s a common thing. But the issue is not that it makes her pee smell – it’s that she felt like it was ok to say during an interview!

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Rana March 15, 2013 at 9:56 pm

Yeah, you don’t want to talk about bodily functions at the table!

(If you are one of the asparagus pee people, trust me, you know. No special effort required to detect it!)

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Sarah G March 16, 2013 at 12:55 am

I had thought it made everyone’s pee smell, but I guess I had just assumed b/c it’s not like I did a poll or something. So if it’s only 50%, I guess that’s my “learn something new” for today.

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Joey March 15, 2013 at 2:24 pm

I personally hate lunch interviews. I don’t mind a casual conversation with a candidate over lunch, but I have to have to refer to and take notes for a real interview. I expect most serious candidates to do the same.

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QQ March 15, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Is there any chance that he thinks this is an informational interview? Not to create more anxiety, but I wasn’t 100% sure from the way the letter was written that there couldn’t be a misunderstanding here.

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Lexy March 15, 2013 at 2:28 pm

I love lunch interviews! I finally get to use all the etiquette rules from my sorority days. If I’m lucky my interviewer will eat continental style and I can flip my fork over.

I had a super awkward one for my present job… it actually wasn’t awkward at all until the very end. We were looking over the dessert menu and talking about how good everything looked and what we might like. When the server came by to take our order the two people I was meeting with said no to dessert so I did too, but one of them was like “oh no, you should get that (whatever it was) it looks so good! And we have plenty of time” and I sort of hemmed and hawed but ending up getting it because she was so insistent, it was a little weird.

BUT! Even with being a little weird and awkward I got the job, so yay! Don’t stress, eat what you want and relax and be yourself.

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Joey March 15, 2013 at 3:09 pm

You’re kidding about why you love lunch interviews right?

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Rana March 15, 2013 at 9:57 pm

Why? Using one’s skills is fun!

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Anon March 15, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Question: if you’re a woman and the men or the server ask you to order first, how do people gauge whether to order apps and an entree? I socialize with colleagues a lot, most of whom are male, and this comes up a lot. Generally, I don’t order a salad/app when I’m invited to order, but if other people do, then I conveniently “remember” that I’d like a salad too. It seems so indecisive though, which I’m not. I just don’t want to add a course no one else plans to order. Any other ideas?

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JT March 16, 2013 at 9:43 am

Don’t worry so much.

There’s a meta-issue running through this whole discussion: lots of fear of not doing the exactly “right thing” – if such a thing exists. But you know what? If you can’t know, then you can’t know, and its’s not worth stressing about.

Other posters have written about the anxiety they have in cafeterias where they don’t know the system of how to pick, order, etc. Anxiety is normal, but focusing on it is not. If you don’t know the system, ask someone. And if you can’t, you can’t. If you “screw up” so what? No one can get it right the first time. Just let it go and focus on stuff you can control.

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DEJ March 15, 2013 at 3:26 pm

We did lunch interviews when we had a job open recently – it was part of a half day with each candidate. We’d meet them early in the morning, have a juice/bagels/muffins ‘meet the staff’ in a conference room (the candidate usually didn’t eat anything, besides some juice/water), they would meet with the head of each department in their offices, and then the immediate coworkers would take them out to lunch.

As we were headed out to lunch we usually joked with them that the hard part was over, and we wanted to be able to answer any questions about our boss, the working environment, etc. This is when the candidate usually let their guard down a little and we would be able to find out more about their personality.

Bonus – I got four lunches out of it at some of my favorite restaurants.

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Construction HR March 15, 2013 at 4:51 pm

I like a lunch interview:
-how does the person interact in social settings
-how do they treat the server
-how well do they re-establish their train of thought when interrupted
-what are their table manners like
-can they make small talk
-free meal ;-)

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Rachel March 15, 2013 at 7:02 pm

At my organization a lunch interview comes before the office interviews- especially if it’s a high-level position and they’re trying to whittle the candidates down to a reasonable number. Usually they are looking for your personality during the lunch interview to see if you would fit into the culture of the office- and to make sure you could handle yourself with patrons/clients of the company during a lunch.

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just me March 15, 2013 at 9:34 pm

Agreed.

You are an attorney looking to land a job in one of the most prestigious law firms in the state. Whether this is casual or a more formal interview if you look like you are stressing my guess the interviewer will see it and may question your ability to handle the job/clients if you are unable to handle lunch.

I am not saying you have no reason to freak or be nervous. But check it at the door before you sit down to eat. Yes that is hard. But an interviewer wants to see confidence.

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Construction HR March 15, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Yeah, this.

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JT March 16, 2013 at 9:50 am

Yes. Deal.

And don’t’ worry about things you can’t control. Prepare with the basic concepts of business lunches mentioned here, then stop stressing about it.

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Kit M. March 15, 2013 at 7:55 pm

More ways that interviewing is like dating! Well, except for the not ordering alcohol.

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Elizabeth West March 16, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Really shouldn’t be ordering alcohol with someone you don’t know well. Just Dating Safety 101. :)

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K March 16, 2013 at 7:40 pm

If nobody ordered drinks on blind dates, the number of blind dates would decline precipitously (and more seriously, I think most people know their limit and how much they can safely drink around strangers, and for a lot of people that number of drinks is more than “zero”).

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Ali_R March 16, 2013 at 9:03 am

Wow, can’t believe it hasn’t been brought up! I was always taught to not make any special requests at all, i.e. substitutions, drilling the staff on ingredients, particularly onerous “doneness” requests.

Am I too stifled since this hasn’t been mentioned? It was my understanding you come off as difficult if you can’t handle a tomato slice on your sandwich or need your dressing on the side.

Since you’ll know where you’re going ahead of time you have the benefit of finding something to order that shouldn’t require special attention anyway.

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just me March 16, 2013 at 11:11 am

I see your point overall regarding being too picky about things when ordering, but I am not sure I would go so far as to not order what I like.

If you don’t like tomato’s there is nothing wrong with saying, ” no tomato please ” or like your burgers rare or well done, you are not going to be written off for that.

If are rude or ask for way too much of accommodation way off the menu or what the item is, yeah that might look bad, but most requests like above are pretty common.

You still have to be yourself. What is going to happen when you say to your now new boss who is giving you some tomato’s from his garden.. ” no thank you I HATE tomatoes….” after you just ate one at lunch?

OK I am just being funny here but seriously, that stuff isn’t going to matter.

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Editor March 16, 2013 at 2:15 pm

There are foods to avoid when the Occasion Matters, whether it’s a lunch interview or something else. I can personally testify that the Shrimp Provencal with Fettuccine is not something you want to struggle with in front of a stranger.

Salads with frisee as part of the greens also cause me problems. That stuff is so floppy and wiggly it sprays dressing randomly at inconvenient times. I love salad, but it seems like when I eat out I have a salad-dressing-target on my top, right above the V in my jacket so the spot can’t be covered up the rest of the day.

I like to order something I can fork neatly into my mouth. I tend to get salmon a lot. When I get a large piece of meat, I tend to cut a few pieces at a time so I’m not always shifting the silverware around, but technically a person is only supposed to cut off one bite at a time. I ignore that rule for broccoli, too, and just cut the giant clumps into smaller bites at the beginning of the meal. I don’t know if this has bothered other people or not.

I avoid pasta because I am a klutz. The Shrimp Provencal was lesson enough — there’s nothing more slippery than an olive-oil, herb and lemon sauce, but even marinara sauce spills when I eat out.

I also dislike hard rolls at on-show lunches. The crisp crust is wonderful, but the crumbs go everywhere.

The latest addition to my only-with-friends menu is fajitas. Stacking a lot of stuffing in a too-small tortilla is too messy, and the plate of seared stuff, the plate of condiments and the tortilla container just take up too much space on the table.

If you know the name of the restaurant before going to the interview, Google it and see if you can read the menu before you go. That may prepare you better so you don’t get too anxious about remembering all the advice when you choose what to eat.

I don’t eat really spicy foods or a large serving of hot soup at on-show lunches or dinners if I can avoid it. They loosen up my sinuses (so I have to wipe my nose even if I don’t have to blow) and make my face red. A cup of soup doesn’t seem to affect my sinuses as much.

When I go out for a lunch like this, I like to wear something with pockets (if you’re a guy, the pocket problem is probably not an issue), and I put a packet of tissues in a pocket or a couple of folded-up tissues in a spot where they’re easy to get to. The tissues are there if I need them for the usual reasons, for supplementing my napkin, or for any other emergencies.

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Law Firms May 26, 2013 at 4:14 pm

As an FYI to others reading this thread, this was almost certainly a “just doing a favor to your friend” interview. We frequently give courtesy interviews (spending sometimes several hundred dollars on fancy lunches and attorney time) to contacts of coworkers, clients, or well-regarded members of the community to candidates that otherwise don’t meet our standards. If they’re close to the line, they may actually be in the running, but more often than not, this is just a pleasant lunch out on the firm’s dime. It’s misleading to the candidate, but is viewed as a professional courtesy to the person who recommended the candidate. (The firm can then say, oh, we interviewed OP, he was lovely and a sharp young man, sure to be successful, but not a great match for the opening we had at the time–looking for someone a bit more senior/different practice area– but we’ll certainly keep him in mind!)

A typically interview process at a prestigious law firm (even regional law firms) is going to be a half day interview, meeting with a range of attorneys in 20-30 minute time slots, followed by lunch or dinner with 3-4 attorneys. (If you interview in the morning, sometimes you will even get an offer at dinner, although not usually at lunch.) But OP should set their sights on less prestigious firms if they’ve been out of school two years and have yet to obtain employment as an attorney. Most prestigious firms hire exclusively through their summer program or (more rarely) on-campus hiring programs in fall of 3L year.

Anyway, whether or not this is a real interview, you should treat it like one. There’s no harm in making a good impression and meeting with someone in a hiring position in the field. They may not (or may!) hire you for their firm, but interested partners can also help you network. We will infrequently (but sometimes!) recommend a candidate we chose not to hire for internships with judges, pro bono clients, etc. who may be interested in hiring OP.

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