why are job candidates balking at an interview over lunch?

A reader writes:

I am a recruiter for medical offices. I have been in business for 18 years. Most of that time, I have had a home office. I typically will interview my prospects (99% women) at a café or coffee shop. However, my latest client is a single man who is hiring an administrative person (higher than a clerk but not a manager). I have interviewed three great candidates, and they are happy about the opportunity—until the client says that he wants to interview them at a steak restaurant. At that point, each one has declined the opportunity.

He said he wants to do it this way rather than at his office because he has a temporary employee currently working there—but did not mention that initially.

He said that I was not screening them thoroughly (not so). I told him that we should meet them together at a coffee shop instead of for a more formal lunch setting. I don’t think he believes me and is insulted that one of them admitted she and her fiancée thought it inappropriate to meet for a first-time interview anywhere other than the employer’s office. I do not doubt his character at all. What say you?

A lunch interview at a restaurant isn’t outside standard business norms — it happens all the time — so I wonder if there’s something else going on here.

I mean, for the record, an awful lot of people wouldn’t be thrilled to do an interview at a steakhouse, from vegetarians to people who just don’t want to have to worry about eating while they’re trying to have their first interview with someone … but it’s not something that’s normally considered inappropriate, especially not in the way that it sounds like your candidate meant. (Unless perhaps you’re in a very conservative region that thinks it’s odd for a single man to have a business lunch with a woman? Hopefully you’re not because that’s pretty oppressive, but if you are, it would be smart to take that into account.)

I do think that if your client is running a small business, savvy candidates will be particularly attentive to signs that he might be operating outside of standard business conventions and/or that he might not respect normal professional boundaries (which can be common with small business owners). A lunch interview at a restaurant isn’t outside of professional norms, but if candidates are already picking up on other signs of boundary issues, it’s possible this is the clincher for them.

More important than any of this, though, is that it doesn’t matter what I think if all or most of your good candidates feel differently. You have three good candidates who seemed enthusiastic about the job and then withdrew when asked to meet this guy for lunch. That’s a pretty strong indicator that he should drop the lunch idea. If he won’t, I’d try to get him to nail down why he’s so wed to it.

{ 619 comments… read them below }

  1. Rocket Scientist*

    Have you asked the candidates for why they are declining? It’s highly unlikely all 3 will be completely open, but you might be able to read between the lines, if you ask.

    Is your client asking the three candidates directly if they want to meet at a steakhouse or are you doing that? If it is him, there might be something in the way he is asking, whether he is creepy or pushy, that makes them think he won’t be good to work for.

    You say that you trust his character but how he comes across to you might be very different than how he comes across to a potential subordinate.

    1. Jenn*

      This. A close associate of someone may not always recognize red-flag behavior that will unnerve new people interacting with him. And the fact that the one woman invoked the fiance suggests that she’s trying to put off someone she thinks is getting the wrong idea about their interaction. His character may be impeccable, but he may be bad at communicating with new people, to the point of creeping them out.

      1. AMT*

        Actually, I’m now wondering if there IS something weird going on. Might the client actually be engaging in creepy behavior when he contacts these women? Could he be looking for more than administrative help? LW might want to do a little investigating just to make sure his communications with these women have been professional.

        1. Violet Fox*

          Steak restaurant for lunch for a first interview comes off as creepy to me, and like he does not know the difference between a job interview and a date.

          1. olives*

            This is my thought as well. I’ve seen this happen in a couple of industries where the candidate is very highly sought after (because of a rare skillset, the candidate being highly in demand), but it’s not really something I’ve seen otherwise. If a potential male boss asked me, as a mid-twenties woman, to a private steak lunch interview? I’d find that weird. Very weird.

            I agree that lunch interviews aren’t out of the norm, but the steak thing really pushes this beyond the boundaries of normal. The level of formality is just strange – and while it would make sense for business associates of roughly equal standing, this reads more like a display of power.

            1. aebhel*

              Likewise. I’ve worked in a lot of administrative jobs, and I’d find that pretty weird. Not necessarily deal-breaking, but…weird.

            2. Violet Fox*

              The more I think about it, the more the power differential is what is making me so uncomfortable with the whole scenario.

            3. AnonyMoose*

              Weird, my first interview with my last boss was at a swanky restaurant (the view alone made me want to say yes), and I wasn’t creeped out in the least. Although, he had more of a fatherly vibe, so maybe that is why I was comfortable. Still, had I known that we were doing lunch, I wouldn’t have balked. In certain sectors, entertainment is an instrumental part of the business culture and folks like to see how you can behave in certain situations. Perhaps this role has to schmooze with other local business owners in an entertainment setting. If that’s the case, then recruiter needs to say this so they understand better.

              I have another thought too. It’s a medical office. I don’t think any of my medical friends have EVER been interviewed at a fancy lunch. I think because of their work environment they are expecting normal interview environment and when they find out about the lunch, they suddenly think that there is way more to the role than they previously thought (like possibly having to schmooze). I dunno. Or maybe the guy is a freak. Who can say?

              1. Anonsie*

                I have another thought too. It’s a medical office. I don’t think any of my medical friends have EVER been interviewed at a fancy lunch.

                Yeah, this is suuuper not normal for a support role in this industry. I would be extremely suspicious of anyone offering it, personally.

          2. Dahlia*

            I’m in a professional field, but this is super normal to me. I can’t think of an interview where they didn’t take me to a nice steakhouse or another upscale-type restaurant (sometimes for lunch but more often for dinner). I’m a female in my 30s and its often me and a man.

            It bothers me more that women would miss career opportunities because something that is absolutely normal is many fields is viewed as inappropriate due to outdated gender biases.

            I can accept, however, that this type of thing could be more unusual when hiring an admin. Would you find it equally odd if he took a male candidate to a lunch interview? Or if the client was a woman?

      2. Doriana Gray*

        And the fact that the one woman invoked the fiance suggests that she’s trying to put off someone she thinks is getting the wrong idea about their interaction.

        This. If she was uninterested in lunch (and there are many reasons why lunch interviews may not be the best idea from a candidate’s perspective), she could have just said that. Bringing attention to the fact that she’s getting married in this context makes it seem like she’s trying to ward off funny business coming from the client because, otherwise, the fiancé mention is odd and has nothing to do with anything.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        Yeah. One already said its weird for a first interview, which I agree. And even though it’s common in some industries, maybe in the medical offices, especially entry level, it’s not the norm. Coffee shop I can see, but let me get to know you over one of the the hardest longest to chew foods ever? Eh.

        1. sam*

          That’s what I was thinking. I like steak, but not really for lunch, and certainly not while I’m trying to talk through an interview. Just thinking about getting fat/gristle stuck in that one spot in my teeth where food *always* gets stuck is making me cringe.

          1. Wendy Darling*

            I basically can’t get through a meal without dropping food all over myself so a lunch interview is my worst nightmare. :(

            Also I get so keyed up I usually can’t eat on like 60 minutes on either side of an interview. When I did a giant half-day interview process for my last job I had to force myself to choke down one of my favorite foods. When it’s difficult to eat chana masala the situation has become dire.

    2. Bookworm*

      Yup, this was my thought as well. I wonder if it has something to do with the way that he’s asking.

      Perhaps he’s putting off an overly-familiar vibe and candidates are slightly taken aback, but willing to give the benefit of the doubt and move forward….until they learn the interview is at a steakhouse and then that’s one red flag too many.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        I’m confused – is he even speaking with these women? I thought the recruiter was the one who was acting as the middleman between them.

        1. Bookworm*

          I’m assuming she’s doing the legwork (like, writing and posting the ad, initial resume – maybe phone – screening) and then handing them off to him.

        2. Meg Murry*

          I’m interpreting the line “until the client says that he wants to interview them at a steak restaurant” to mean the client is contacting the candidates – because if OP was contacting them I would expect her to say “until I say that he wants to meet them …”

          I agree with everyone else that it could be the steakhouse/lunch meeting – or that could be a red herring and the client sounds either creepy, or like a jerk on the phone call and that is why the interviewees are declining.

          OP, when you initially screened these candidates, did you screen them for this position and tell them who it was for? Or did you screen them just for medical admins positions in general, and then pass on their names to the client? Have you Googled your client or checked your local paper to make sure there isn’t something sketchy there? Or asked some of your other clients about the doctor’s reputation in the industry? Its possible this doctor has gotten a reputation as being not someone you would want to work for, and the clients are declining for that reason. Or if you only screened them generally and not for this specific position, it’s also possible that the clients don’t want to work in that type of office setting (for instance, don’t want to work for a pediatrician or oncologist, etc) or don’t want to work for a doctor part of a certain hospital network – I work in a two with 2 giant hospital systems, and employees are often hesitant to jump from one system to the other, both because of reputations and because that means they have to find all new doctors (the insurance for System 1 doesn’t cover doctors in System 2 and vice versa).

      2. Laura (Needs a New Name)*

        This is my guess. I think it is really easy for a man in a position of authority to be totally oblivious to signals that women would see as major red flags.

        “Let’s get together to chat about the position. How about Fancy Steakhouse Tuesday at 1p? My treat!”

        Dude thinks “I am being so casual and generous!” and interviewee thinks “No thanks, broseph. I do not chat on job interviews, nor do I consider having a potential employer cover the cost of a lunch meeting a ‘treat.’ I have no idea what this dude is looking for but we are NOT on the same page.”

        1. K.*

          Huh, interesting! As a young woman who is normally very attuned to red flags like these, this actually wouldn’t trigger for me. I’d think he’s on the casual side in his manner, but I’d probably just assume that Fancy Steakhouse has a business lunch menu and I could easily get a salad. I’d chuckle at the “My treat!” (because no kidding), but would ultimately think it was harmless if I was excited about the position. HOWEVER, I’ve mostly worked in D.C. and Boston, where meetings and interviews at fancy steakhouses are very common (due to the business lunch menu and also due to firms in my industry liking to appear at a certain status).

          Now, if he sent me a note from a personal email and subtly emphasized personal attributes (“I was a philosophy major too! I really feel like we’re going to click”) over professional accomplishments, then I’d be more on edge.

    3. BRR*

      Asking was my first thought as well. I’m really curious if it’s the lunch interview or the steakhouse? I don’t really have any solutions to offer, I’m just so curious. For me, interviewing at a steakhouse wouldn’t be a dealbreaker for a role I was otherwise excited about. I am also seconding AnotherAlison wondering if the candidates know this is within business norms.

      1. Meg Murry*

        It might be within business-people norms or doctor to doctor norms, but it does seem outside the norm for an admin person – admins don’t often do business lunches.

        1. BRR*

          By business norm I meant not unusual or not highly suspicious. Like if the interview was over drinks at 9 PM on a Saturday.

        2. One of the Sarahs*

          I’ve temped admin posts, and I’d find it super-weird to do it in a restaurant…

        3. Cari*

          Yeah lunch interviews seem more like the sort of thing one would go to for higher position jobs, the sort you get by a little networking. To me, at least…

          1. AnotherAlison*

            Maybe not just higher position, but also jobs where candidates are highly recruited. There are entry-level jobs that fit that, too.

          2. Melissa*

            Yeah, in public accounting it isn’t uncommon for partners or managers to take campus recruits to a dinner event. Even then, it’s not a (formal) interview, although they are screening people. It’s more a measure of whether recruits can make small talk and act like normal people (i.e. not talk about accounting all night).

        4. Renee*

          I have never had a lunch interview and I don’t know anyone that has. I have had interviews at coffee shops, but I think lunch/dinner interviews are definitely outside the norm in my community, which is a large city on the west coast. I would weigh toward declining a lunch interview as it seems awkward and distracting and it would be an odd request in my experience (I’m middle aged, so I’m not new to the working world).

          1. Doriana Gray*

            I’ve only had one lunch interview for the senior level position I’m in now. I went to lunch with my division’s VP and AVP, they let me pick the place (which is great because of my dietary restrictions), and I only found it awkward because I wasn’t sure whether it was an actual interview or just a networking/informational thing. I don’t think these kinds of interviews happen often at my company – I know my former manager in my last division had a lunch interview with the company when she was hired 13 years ago – but I think it could be a nice change of pace, more relaxed, than a typical interview in the office.

          2. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

            When I have had all day interviews, they have included a lunch session. However, I have never had an interview that was just lunch.

          3. Rana*

            I’ve had interviews that took place over meals, but that’s in academia, and there were always multiple people present, and it was part of a day-long campus visit. Outside academia, I’d expect to meet whereever I was going to be doing the work, unless it was something like nannying or other personal service (and then coffeeshop).

            1. Wendy Darling*

              In my grad program when we were hiring for new faculty the practice was to have the grad students take the interviewee to dinner. We actually got a stipend to cover people’s food and took the person to a local restaurant and just sort of hung out and chatted them up.

              Which in retrospect must have been a bit stressful for the candidate, being sat at a table with a halfdozen or more grad students who were in fact quietly judging them. But at least there was wine??

          4. Emily*

            I had one lunch interview but at more of a diner setting. The guy mad me feel comfortable and was not at all creepy in his demeanor so no red flags here.

        5. Stranger than fiction*

          Yes, so I’m also wondering if the candidates are then thinking its some sort of scam or scheme?

          1. Elsie*

            I was wondering that, too. For my industry, an interview at a steakhouse would not seem weird at all, but I could see how it might be unusual for an administrative role at a medical office. I know I’m always a little more suspicious when contacted by a recruiting firm and would be doubly so if talking about a very small business that may have little online presence, etc. I would be looking for indications that this is a legitimate role, so the interview location compounded with those other factors may be scaring people off.

        1. A grad student*

          This was what I was thinking- is it some super fancy place and he’s either saying they have to pay or even just not making clear that he will? Especially for a fairly junior role they might think it’s not worth it to go under those circumstances.

      2. INTP*

        For me, the steakhouse is an issue. In California the norm is to offer multiple options, ask the candidate’s preference, or at the absolute very least, suggest a place and make a point of checking that it is okay. Just choosing a place and not asking my input would be odd enough that I would question whether this is a domineering, inflexible type of person that I won’t get along with. And the fact that it’s a steakhouse is pretty much icing on the cake, especially if it’s a normal American one and not Argentinian or something. It’s super old fashioned which is not a vibe that businesses like to give off here, and it’s sort of an F-you to vegetarians and people with religious meat restrictions. Plus they tend to be pretty expensive, so it begs the question of why the interviewer WANTS to spend $100 on a lunch interview when the position requires no wining and dining and the candidate will be lucky to get a glass of water at her other interviews. Suggesting a lunch interview if the candidate can only meet at lunch would be one thing but making a point of suggesting that seems like someone that either lacks fiscal responsibility or has an ulterior motive, neither of which is attractive in a potential employer!

        1. the gold digger*

          interviewer WANTS to spend $100 on a lunch interview

          If he owns the business, it’s a deductible expense. If he’s an employee, he gets to expense it. Either way, it’s a nice meal on someone else’s tab.

          1. KH*

            Sure, it’s deductible or an expense. But.

            Part of what gives it an “icky” vibe is the power differential. And honestly it’s taken me most of today and reading other people’s comments to figure out exactly what I’m about to say:

            Admins tend to be younger/less experienced/female (not always, but many times). I get the impression that the person doing the hiring is a physician or other medical professional (OP is a medical recruiter) which implies that the hiring person is older/assertive/well off (or at least able to afford a steakhouse lunch for two) as well as being male. (And the “assertive” is pretty well established with his dictating the lunch location and not being open to a change.)

            A “power lunch” where one person sets out to impress the other with their financial situation and/or expense account is normal when it’s two people of relatively equal standing. When interviewing a jr/sr partner, a fellow medical professional, a “Director” level person or above, as well as someone of similar age/experience, there’s nothing wrong with some financial/power showcasing.

            But when an older, well-paid man in a traditionally authoritative profession (medical professional of some kind, owner of a business, etc.) wants to take a very junior female admin to an expensive lunch as part of an interview (and dictates the exact location of that lunch rather than giving an option) … well it doesn’t matter if he’s going to expense it or not. He’s putting on a show of financial power and authority that is either meant to impress or meant to intimidate.

            Now he could be arrogant and clueless, but he’s apparently coming across as “icky” in some form or another to 3 candidates in a row.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              …Or he just likes eating steak and enjoys the opportunity to do it for a business meal, as many people do.

              I think you’re reading a lot into it that isn’t there. It’s still really valuable data for the OP, because if enough people think of it this way, she needs to modify their actions accordingly. But many people just have business lunches at steakhouses because they like the food there.

              1. KH*

                I think you’re allowing your own regional biases to come into play here, Alison. You’ve already said as much in that in DC and surrounds a “steakhouse lunch” is no big deal.

                I’ve travelled a lot for my work and have spent my fair share of time in NYC as well. In that city I wouldn’t even blink twice at a steakhouse lunch. After all, there’s a reason that New York style Steakhouse is a *thing*. I think you’re not at all seeing any of this from the perspective of someone who has worked in Atlanta, Texas (both Houston and Austin), Portland OR, or other non-East-coast climes.

                Where I am in north Atlanta – in a place that is considered a “foodie” environment – there are 2 places that are considered “steak restaurants”. All of them are HUGELY expensive (as compared to other restaurants) and also considered “celebration”/”romantic” locations. There is another steak place just further south of me that is near a more corporate business district. It is also very expensive and is well known as the place you take people when you’ve got a lush expense account and want to impress a client or a job prospect (lots of banking companies in the area).

                In any situation, an older man taking a younger admin to any of those places for an “interview” would be subject for gossip. Especially in the South where this type of gossip can flourish. It would most definitely be seen as a power play or even a seduction play on the part of the man and it would likely damage the reputation of the woman who was seen at any of those restaurants with him.

                Do I think that sucks? Yes. Do I recognize it as a fact of life in this very conservative part of the Deep South? Yes. Do I think that plenty of men who have expense accounts to flaunt take advantage of it? I absolutely know they do.

                In this case I think you need to recognize your regional bias and understand that DC and NY are NOT typical of much of the rest of the US.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I absolutely hear that, and it’s totally possible that this is entirely different by region. (I’m certainly getting that impression from many of the comments.)

                  But I don’t think that this is a case of the restaurant being really expensive or romantic, judging by the menu someone posted below after the OP updated with the name of the place (http://www.saltgrass.com/pdf/menu/menu-l.pdf). It’s definitely not expensive for a business lunch, and Yelp says it’s family-friendly and pretty casual. That doesn’t change your larger point, of course; that still stands, regardless. But it’s an interesting thing to throw into the mix.

                2. SayRee*

                  I have to admit that I’m a bit flummoxed by all of the controversy about the meal/steakhouse aspect of this, but I have to say that I don’t think Alison is being particularly regionally biased.

                  I work for a large national employer in its major office in Atlanta, and I just don’t get this vibe at all. I have lunch alone with coworkers and candidates and I don’t think there’s any gossip to be had (not that I care). I think it is demeaning to men and women to say that there is a power play or seduction involved with the restaurant choice. I’m a woman and I frequently go to steakhouses and other high-end restaurants in major cities alone with men of higher and lower positions and me. When I’m the higher ranking person, I pay using my expense account, according to corporate policy, but it certainly isn’t a power play, and yes, sometimes these are recruiting meals.

                  This really, really is standard business in many, many industries and geographies and it is a daily occurrence, especially for travel heavy jobs.

                  If I were this client, I’d rely on the recruiter to dig deeper to find out why candidates aren’t moving forward. I have to admit the fiancee excuse would annoy me as a business owner as well. Was the candidate told about the temp situation? I’ve conducted interviews in hotels lobbies and bars and coffee shops for various reasons. I understand this may be more of the ‘norm’ in management positions, but it isn’t wildly out of professional standards and certainly happens in many industries for internships and other lower level positions. The fact that the business owner is using a recruiter, to me, means he wants candidates that have been well screened and prepped, so maybe in this case that includes letting them know that the in person interview may be offsite and over lunch. It seems the larger issue is there was a communication issue between the client and recruiter that needs to be resolved before further interviews are conducted.

                3. KH*

                  @SayRee – you say “when I’m the higher ranking person” and that “I pay using my expense account” … which means you are approaching this from the perspective of someone who HAS THE OPTION of being the higher ranking/power play person and someone who HAS an expense account.

                  You are not looking at this from the perspective of a young, hourly paid, female admin. Likely one who does not have an expense account or a lot of disposable income.

                  And @Alison I get your points, but for the record, I’m the person who posted the menu below and I still think it’s a pushing it a little for an admin interview. :)

                4. One of the Sarahs*

                  Alison, looking at that menu, there’s nothing there a vegetarian could eat, except sides – I’m wondering if you think that’s OK/normal for an interview? Granted, I grew up in London, and have only lived in cities with all sorts of options/diversity etc, so my eating culture could be v different, and I know parts of the USA are much more meat-focused than the UK, but having such a “meat only” restaurant just seems weird for any kind of business occasion to me.

                5. Bleu*

                  My small town Mom loves going to Longhorn for lunch. Outback Steakhouse has a lunch crowd where I’m at. I’m not sure why people are assuming it’s a super – fancy thing.

                6. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  @One of the Sarahs, totally NOT okay — and also something that loads of people still don’t think about because they haven’t had to (particularly in some areas of the country, and Houston is one of them).

                7. SayRee*

                  @KH Of course I am replying from my position of being the “power play” person, but I’m regularly not the “power play” person as well — often by a much larger order of magnitude than in this situation. I think it is helpful to look at these situations from a variety of angles, and it seems that most of the commenters were approaching this from the perspective of why it was weird or why they’d be uncomfortable as the interviewee. I was offering a perspective of a manager/business person who would consider this normal and doing so without ill intent at all. It is easy sometimes to forget that people like this business owner are just people, and from reading the email from the OP, it sounds like the business owner was new to hiring and not coming from a bad place, just coming from a place of inexperience, which is probably why he hired the OP. Judging from the response below, I’m still not sure that the fundamental issue isn’t some communication between the business owner and the recruiter as she’s insisting that the candidates are turning down interviews because they are uncomfortable with lunch when one of three has stated it was a childcare issue. It seems like there is more to it, but that isn’t our problem to solve.

                  I also would not at all consider this restaurant out of line for taking an admin for a business lunch. It seemed very much in line with an Longhorn or Chilis (I guess) price-wise, but the lack of options that meet various dietary needs is obviously an issue. I would hope anyone with a restriction of an sort (allergy or preference) would speak up and/or offer an alternative.

                8. AP*

                  Now that I see the menu posted, I kind of have to agree. I’m from Philadelphia and I wouldn’t blink at a steakhouse for a lunch interview. My boyfriend, however, is from Texas, and views this particular steakhouse as very nice, kinda celebratory. Years ago, he declined to go there for his high school graduation party because it was “too fancy”. We actually went when we were in Texas, and… it was a steak house. Whatever. It very well might be a regional thing!

                9. AG*

                  +1. I had a similar situation happen, having work lunches in a conservative industry (legal). Almost everyone above me was male, including my boss. I was a twenty-something female manager of a small department. There were 2-3 other specialized but non-admin-assistant positions outside of my department (think paralegals/researchers). Those positions were generally staffed by college-educated women. Admins generally had a high school diploma or the equivalent.

                  Among the specialized roles, it was not a big deal to eat with a member of the opposite gender, just as it would not have been weird for two men or two women with the same power dynamic. The admins found it very inappropriate for a young woman to eat with a higher-ranking man. Gossip would fly. It didn’t help that several of the male attorneys’ wives were actually their former secretaries, though.

                10. SenatorMeathooks*

                  North Atlanta is not particularly conservative. No one would blink much of an eye in the area you’re talking about. As they say, “There’s Atlanta, and then the rest of Georgia.”

                11. PM Jesper Berg*

                  “Where I am in north Atlanta – in a place that is considered a “foodie” environment – there are 2 places that are considered “steak restaurants”. All of them are HUGELY expensive (as compared to other restaurants) and also considered “celebration”/”romantic” locations.”

                  With due respect, you really think there are only two steakhouses in a city (or even half-city) of a few million people? A cursory Yelp search will show otherwise.

                12. PM Jesper Berg*

                  @KH wrote: “@you are approaching this from the perspective of someone who HAS THE OPTION of being the higher ranking/power play person and someone who HAS an expense account….”

                  An interviewer is almost always the higher-ranking person. By this logic, an interviewer can’t reasonably set any kind of venue for an interview. That’s not the way the world works; the interviewer wants to know how the admin will behave in a social setting, which is legitimate. I agree that the company should make it clear the candidate isn’t expected to pay.

            2. Blake A*

              As you said, it’s highly likely that the people interviewing for this job are mostly female. I think might be the key issue. In the area where I live lunch interviews would be highly unusual, and even if it were at a coffeehouse I would consider it weird. Speaking as a female in a relatively junior role, if someone wanted to interview me outside an office setting I would find it unprofessional and would make me suspicious of it being a scam. I might still go if the interviewer is a woman and saw no other red flags (which might be why the OP is scheduling interviews at cafes with no problem), but if it were a man I would definitely say no.

            3. the gold digger*

              He’s putting on a show of financial power and authority that is either meant to impress or meant to intimidate.

              Hmm. Having been the junior woman and having eaten many nice meals that the boss or the grandboss expensed (although never for an interview), I have never felt that. But I have also never spent any time thinking about the power dynamics of restaurants. It’s food and someone else is paying. Cool.

              RE: My regions – Texas, Memphis, Miami, upper Midwest

              1. TootsNYC*

                @ the gold digger:

                were those meals your first interaction with the boss?

                I think that matters a lot.

            4. PM Jesper Berg*

              “He’s putting on a show of financial power and authority that is either meant to impress or meant to intimidate.”

              No. He’s wanting to see how the candidate’s social skills are in terms of interacting with the public, or how the candidate reacts when a server messes up an order, etc. All of which may be just as important in administrative jobs as in senior roles.

          2. INTP*

            The manager is the only other employee, so I assume he’s the owner. Even if it’s deductible, I don’t think the attitude of spending money freely just because it’s deductible is necessarily a good sign in a small business owner for his professionalism or ability to keep the business afloat. If he thinks it’s an investment in the hiring process and will net him a better employee than doing an interview in the office or more casual setting, he’s probably a bit out of touch with norms and worker motivation, which is the last thing you want in a boss when there is no one else in the company to back you up ever.

            I can think of a million non-creepy reasons he might want to go to a steakhouse, but can’t think of any that wouldn’t be a red flag for a job I would already be hesitant about because of the one-other-employee thing. There are other circumstances where it wouldn’t be a red flag (besides the unilaterally choosing a steakhouse thing) but not this one.

            1. One of the Sarahs*

              Yeah, if it’s $100 per meal, the owner/manager is spending at least $300 on interviewing in a small business – on top of hiring a recruitment professional? I mean, maybe he’s swimming in money, but equally I’d worry about how he manages the business (especially if the job is at the lower end of the admin scale…

              1. Wendy Darling*

                Looking at that menu, lunches are all under $20/plate, so unless he’s doing apps + dessert + booze he’s probably spending like $50/interview.

                It still seems weird to me to do an interview not in an office but I think that’s just my industry generally.

        2. steeped in anonymtea*

          Maybe they think it’s like the Brazilian steakhouse in “Bridesmaids!’

    4. Kate M*

      I was wondering if he was the one asking too. I mean other than 1) being in a conservative/religious area where this is out of the norm, or 2) all the applicants thinking that they will have to pay for an expensive lunch, that seems to be the only commonality. I wouldn’t love a lunch interview (eating is kind of a…more intimate thing to me? Not extremely, but having to balance how I look chewing on a piece of steak while making a good impression and answering interview questions doesn’t seem like a great time), but I wouldn’t turn down a great job over it. It’s unlikely you got three vegetarians in a row who wouldn’t have mentioned that’s the reason.

      1. AVP*

        For me I would worry about the timing – there’s no way I can get to a steakhouse, eat, interview and get back to my desk in a standard hour lunch. I wonder if people are having a hard time getting away from their jobs and don’t want to bother with the usual fake doctors appt?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’d expect them to just say that then — “It will be hard for me to get away that long during my work day.” At least from one of those three candidates. So that makes me think something else is going on.

          1. Kate M*

            Exactly – not that there couldn’t be another reason, like taking time off, but the fact that three people declined an interview without giving a reason. The things that to me would be awkward to bring up would be if I got the sense that the employer was hitting on me, religious reasons, or money. Everything else I would think a prospective employee would mention, or at least it wouldn’t make them ALL back out of the process. I’m probably forgetting other reasons that might be too awkward to bring up, and it’s not impossible that they all three had different reasons, but seems highly unlikely.

      2. Student*

        If the hiring manager is the one asking the candidates to this lunch, you might ask him to forward a copy of the exchanges to you. Maybe he thinks he’s being “charming” and is really scaring off the prospective employees with a poor choice of words. Maybe he’s being too brusque or thin on details and that’s off-putting. Maybe he’s being too condescending or some other communication failure.

      3. One of the Sarahs*

        I’m wondering if it’s an area where there are lots of admin jobs (like my city) – because in a good job market, where I had a couple of interesting openings, I’d turn down a lunch interview because as you say, trying to eat decorously and answer questions (plus I’m vegetarian, plus I’d worry about being stiffed for the bill, plus I can’t put my finger on why, but I think it’s just *weird*. Maybe it’s because it seems overly intimate? I don’t mean in terms of sexually, but it feels non-business to me, dunno why).

        I also wonder if, as Alison says, there are other red flags about the job, like low pay or something else, and this is the last straw?

        1. Renee*

          “Intimate” is the word that came to mind for me too. I’m wondering if this is a case of geographical norms, because this doesn’t feel business-appropriate to me either.

          1. irritable vowel*

            It sounds like a scene from “Mad Men” waiting to happen. Guy invites female applicant for “secretary” position to a steak restaurant, calls her honey and puts his hand on her knee, that sort of thing. I would be put off by it as well. It’s the steak restaurant, more than anything, though! It just seems…old-fashioned, and not in a good way. If he said “Let’s meet at Panera [or similar inoffensive sandwich place]” that has a completely different feel to it.

            1. Tess McGill*

              I came here to say exactly this. If he’d said Panera, no problem. But he said steakhouse and I immediately got the “dark-restaurant-sleezy-vibe”. That one word — steakhouse — sent up red flags for me. Does anyone actually go to lunch at a steakhouse during a weekday anymore? Except maybe a high powered lobbyist in DC? Maybe I’m old fashioned (or just old), but as a woman, I find a lunch interview at a steakhouse creepy.

                1. Anna*

                  Even for a medical office? Because I can see it in the legal field or political work, but for a doctor’s office it just comes off as weird.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I can’t speak to the medical field at all, only that broadly speaking it is indeed A Thing.

                  It’s definitely possible that it would feel odd in some fields (the comments here certainly seem to indicate that, although I remain surprised that knowledge that this is a common thing in other fields doesn’t temper that reaction somewhat).

                3. olives*

                  I’m also from DC and I would agree that this is in fact a thing people do…in DC. Now that I live elsewhere (off the coasts, and a much smaller city) and the norms are a bit adjusted, I agree with a lot of the dark-sleazy vibe stuff. A steakhouse sends a particular kind of signal that would be downright odd given the particular power dynamic of sole male boss and young female admin, and trying to treat it as a casual thing would be strange for a lot of people.

                4. olives*

                  Thinking on it a bit more…there’s also a lot of class stuff in play.

                  For a lot of the people I knew in DC, going to a steakhouse was something you did weekly. A minor thing, no big deal. For people I’ve met elsewhere, it’s something you do on birthdays, first dates, and holidays, unless you’re basically king of the universe locally, because it’s simply unaffordable to do anything else. Maybe if you were interviewing to be secretary for the governor, but not if you’re interviewing at a doctor’s office!

                  So yep, would cosign that this is definitely weird to do under many circumstances.

                5. aebhel*

                  What olives said. Where I live, going out to a steakhouse is a rare treat for most people. So if you’re having someone do a first interview in the kind of place that they would normally only go to on a special occasion…it’s weird. Particularly for an administrative-type job.

              1. JB (not in Houston)*

                I live in Texas and am in the legal field, and it’s quite common here. And aside from steak places, lunch interviews at nice restaurants are common.

                1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

                  When my ex had his last interview he drove to the firm’s headquarters in San Antonio for a lunch interview.

              2. Just Another Techie*

                New England here, and honestly, I’m not even sure where the nearest steakhouse *is.* Unlike other commenters I didn’t jump to “this looks like a date” but it is just so weird and out of step that I’d probably consider it creepy and a potential red flag for harassment or worse on the job. And I’m in a field where lunch interviews are really normal, but usually at, like, a cheap sushi place or a seafood house or a mid-price Asian fusion restaurant.

                1. Granite*

                  We’ve got a couple chains throughout New England (Longhorn’s, Outback, etc.) and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Boston is the big one I think of.

              3. K.*

                I mentioned above that I work(ed) in DC and now Boston, and I’ll agree with Alison that it’s really not a big deal here. I know that Smith & Wollensky, for instance, is right in the financial district in Boston and has a Business Lunch Menu, meaning they have a limited number of options for a decent price that they promise will come out in less than 45 minutes. If someone invited me to an interview there (and I’ve had plenty of meetings over the years both there and similar places), I wouldn’t bat an eyelash.

                1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

                  I miss working in downtown Boston – don’t miss the commute but I do miss those places to eat.

                  Especially if the company’s paying.

              4. Carly*

                Ottawa, Canada and I eat lunch at the Keg Steakhouse at least twice a week for work. I’m a Business Development Manager for one of the larger transportation companies.

              5. Dr. Ruthless*

                I run a very small consulting firm on the East Coast, and we always do part of our interviews over lunch. This is for a variety of reasons–we want to see if you have table manners, we like being able to write off a nice meal, and we have some higher-up folks who might be bribed with lunch to come to your interview. Also, we’re a very, very, very small office (as of now, three people who work in our office regularly) so being able to get along and make small talk about what books you’re reading is important–you can’t not get along with a colleague when you only have two.

                For what it’s worth, we’ve never had anyone squicked out by a lunch invite, but we have had one (entry level) candidate who was unclear as to who was paying (us, obviously).

              6. INTP*

                I learned business norms in California, and “steakhouse” sounds so weird to me that I would wonder if he were either 80 years old with office expectations to match or purposely ruling out vegetarians, Hindus, or something. It wouldn’t be THAT insane to include a steakhouse in a list of options (“We have steak, sushi, Thai, and Indian near the office, any preferences?”) but to just choose a steakhouse without asking if it’s okay would be so weird.

                1. Earthquake mania!*

                  I’m in the lovely Golden State. There are steakhouses here. They’re open for lunch, and I’ve been to them for lunch. They’re usually packed, which means someone is patronizing them. I agree that offer a choice of locations is polite to candidates.

              7. Lady Bug*

                I’m in the NY suburbs and when I worked in manufacturing we would have business lunches at steakhouses a few times a year. No inappropriate behavior ever. This doesn’t strike me as weird at all. I’m surprised the location is raising so many red flags.

                1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

                  Probably because many of the people in here aren’t used to it, or expecting it.

              8. RegularAAMPoster-InNewField*

                Tess McGill, yes, in my previous industry (granted, in NYC), this was done often when clients were in town. Many of the offices in my prior industry are in Midtown and there are a lot of steakhouses — famous ones even! — that we NYers are quite proud of. We like to “show them off” so to speak when inviting people in from out of town.

                I worked in a more conservative area of the country, however, and would agree that outside the NYC/D.C./[other big city] context, a steakhouse lunch, especially for an admin interview, might seem excessive to candidates. Even those who aren’t thinking about a power differential or the potential of unwanted romantic attention might be thinking about how awkward it can be to eat in front of someone you’ve never met — and have the way that you eat determine, to a certain degree anyway, whether or not you land the job.

              9. Unegen*

                Late to the party and had to reply, because I work in DC too….
                A steakhouse lunch interview is a high-powered, fancy thing in DC too. It’s not common for below-management positions (excluding politics, which I’m not involved in and don’t know the norms for). I’m 16 years into my career and looking for a senior role in my next job, and *I* would be weirded out by a steakhouse lunch interview invitation. 1) I do not take it for granted that my lunch is being paid for, and don’t particularly want to cough up for an expensive meal; and 2) more importantly, a steakhouse interview screams “power play.” It’s supposed to be impressive. And I would be put off (not that I wouldn’t go through with it, just put off) by the possibility of my new, single* boss feeling like I owed him something right off the bat. That the guy is expensing the lunch means nothing; plenty of business owners consider their business’s money their money by extension.

                *And really, why was “single” thrown into the recruiter’s description of him? That lent a flavor to the reading.

              10. Dahlia*

                I’m an MD and steakhouses for business lunches are not unusual at all.
                If the MD is young and this is one of his first hires, he may be thinking back to his own job interviews (for jobs, or fellowships or even residency) where steakhouse trips were de rigeur.

          2. Misc*

            Yeah, intimate works. Sexual undercurrents entirely aside, sitting around eating food with someone is always a fairly extended social interaction that requires a higher level of social effort than a strictly business interview.

            There’s the close focus on each other, the distraction of very non-work related food, the difficulty leaving early if necessary, the highly personal diet/behaviour aspects (my dietary restrictions, for example, suck and I’m lucky to find one thing I can eat on any given menu, plus I am bad at table manners) and the fact that sharing meals is a bonding activity for humans.

        2. INTP*

          California is pretty casual, and in my time recruiting there, we only ever arranged a few restaurant interviews and that was for high-level positions where the candidate could not interview during the workday, so the client suggested a dinner, or it was a final interview to wine and dine the client or see if they fit in well with the team in a more casual setting. And the candidate was asked if the restaurant choice was okay, if not allowed to choose altogether.

          I wouldn’t say that it’s inappropriate for a formal lunch interview to EVER happen, but it’s weird for it to be the interviewer’s first preference. It’s just not normal for an interviewer to want to leave their office and pay for lunch to interview someone who isn’t C-level or similarly in demand, so these candidates are of course going to question the interviewer’s motive. Why does he want to leave the office when he could stay in the office (I guess we know that now, but it’s not a reassuring answer for the candidate’s part)? Why does he choose the most expensive type of restaurant he could suggest rather than something more economical and appropriate for casual business? Why does he choose the restaurant for that matter, when it’s standard to offer multiple choices to the person being treated? (Or maybe that’s a regional thing – food restrictions are super common and not highly stigmatized in California, and unilaterally choosing a restaurant, let alone a steak restaurant, without consulting the person being treated would be seen as old-fashioned, out of touch, and inconsiderate.)

          There are a million possible answers to all of those things, and most of them aren’t good. So I can’t say that I blame the candidates for declining.

          1. Renee*

            I’m in California too and this jives with my perception of it. I could see it at C-level, especially in connection with an out of town candidate or a lengthy interview. We’ve sometimes offered lunch to candidates from out of the area (we are in a niche technical field so we recruit nationally), but that would follow the in-office interview rather than replace it.

        3. INTP*

          To me, there only being one other employee in the office would be a red flag in itself, so I would be disinclined to accept the job unless the guy showed absolutely no signs of remotely unprofessional behavior. They could be hesitant already for the same thing, and this was enough of a second red flag to push them over.

      4. Mephyle*

        It’s unlikely you got three vegetarians in a row who wouldn’t have mentioned that’s the reason. As a vegetarian, that’s the first thing that came to my mind. I agree it’s way down on the list of reasons for this series of refusals. But they might not even be vegetarians – just people who abstain from red meat.
        The chain of logic for not mentioning it could be: he chose a steakhouse when he could have chosen a restaurant with a variety of meals – he’s a big fan of steak – chances are he’ll be judgey on me for only eating salad/fish/chicken.

        1. Mephyle*

          Now that I’ve read farther down, see Kristine’s comment below, relating exactly such an experience. This happens in real life!

          1. Jonas*

            Oooh, I might decline the interview. On top of being a vegetarian, I’m also a very picky eater and I have pretty bad social anxiety. The idea of trying to interview while navigating a menu looking for something I could eat without seeming high maintenance with substitutions (“I’ll have the Cobb salad, but without the meat or the eggs, and no dressing, but could you add avocado?”), all the while wondering if he’s going to pay or if we’re going to split the bill, makes me sick to my stomach.

            1. KH*

              I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch to jump to “decline”. Aside from Jonas’ thoughts above, I’m dealing with a dental issue right now that could potentially be pretty awkward (and potentially funny as well, but that’s another issue!)

              I’m sporting a temporary crown as part of an ongoing implant process. It’s temporary enough that I have to be very careful about what I eat or risk having it pop right off and land in my plate (yes, has happened). Pretty much anything from a steak house would be a high-risk proposition for me. And, in fact I frequently remove the crown prior to eating anyway just to avoid the risk of having it pop out and then biting down on it. The missing tooth is near the front and 100% visible; it’s annoying and visible enough that I’ve cut way back on eating out until the whole thing is fixed.

              I can’t think of any way to gracefully ask that an interview NOT be held over a meal that doesn’t come across as picky or unaccommodating. If I didn’t think I could get out of an “eating” interview, I might actually decline as well. I simply would not feel comfortable either risking the crown going flying in the middle of a bite (or in removing it and appearing partially toothless in front of a potential employer).

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                “I have a medical condition that’s currently making eating in restaurants difficult. Would it be possible to conduct the interview somewhere else?”

                1. KH*

                  Yes, but if I were young enough or new enough to interviewing/job hunting, I might not realize that was an option. And I kind of think “a medical condition that’s currently making eating in restaurants difficult” has potential to solicit additional questions/comments that would be unwelcome. (Which takes us back to young/inexperienced enough to not know how to comfortably fend those off.)

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  You had said, “I can’t think of any way to gracefully ask that an interview NOT be held over a meal that doesn’t come across as picky or unaccommodating.” This is one way — although yes, of course people without a lot of experience might not realize they can say that.

        2. Mephyle*

          And even further below, Master Bean Counter even used the same word “judgy” as I did. Various among us independently thought of the same angle.

        3. Syler*

          For the record, I’ve never been to a steakhouse that did not also serve at least a couple of chicken and fish dishes, as well as at least one big salad.

          Steakhouse doesn’t mean literally House of (only) Steak. It’s just a place boasting that the preparation of delicious steak is their specialty.

          1. Kelly L.*

            True, but a lot of times there’s only one or two other options and/or they’re not very good compared to their steak.

            1. Florida*

              But when you decline a job interview for a job you wanted because it would require you to eat an average quality salad? I think there is more to it than the veggie issue?

              1. Kelly L.*

                Oh, sure, and I think that’s been covered elsewhere–I was only addressing that one thing.

              2. neverjaunty*

                Right, giving up an otherwise inviting potential job because “ugh, I might have to eat pasta primavera” doesn’t jibe.

                1. TootsNYC*

                  I agree–especially since there’s a recruiter available that perhaps the candidate could use as a buffer.

            2. Lynn Whitehat*

              It does make things a little awkward when you have to order the Mediocre Salad of Grudging Accommodation. I wouldn’t turn down an interview for a job I wanted over it, though. Worst case, the manager decides he doesn’t want my herbivorous kind around and doesn’t offer me the job. In which case, I’m no worse off than before.

          2. BeenThere*

            I have, these are the same places that don’t even have a vegetarian option, they just expect you to eat all the vegetable sides. Oh and in Texas more than half of those are going to be unsuitable for anyone that doesn’t eat dairy.

            1. RegularAAMPoster-InNewField*

              NYC steakhouses (certain ones) can be the same as the Texas ones. Generally the lunch menu focuses on steak, with some chicken and fish dishes. You can stick with sides if vegetarian, but since the starch dishes contain dairy and the vegetables are usually prepared with butter, it’s difficult to find anything if vegan. Even the lunch salads usually have a protein included.

          3. I'm not a lawyer, but ...*

            I’ve been on more than a few “mid-level admin” interviews in the last 40 years and only 2 took place in restaurants. The first was with the guy who was trying to fire the (long term Union member) admin he inherited; the second was the jerk who tried to sexually assault me my third week on the job. If you are hiding something about the place you want me to spend 1/3 of my days, I’m not interested. You might have reason to interview an executive in a restaurant, but not someone who wears scrubs for the commute.

        4. INTP*

          Yeah, I would assume that someone who insisted on a steakhouse for an interview is going to judge me for ordering a side salad without the croutons and a baked potato. This could be regional, but choosing the restaurant without asking the person’s preferences or giving multiple choices is so strange in California that I would suspect it was a test and they don’t like vegetarians or Hindus or something.

          1. Elsie*

            It’s interesting to me the number of people who feel it’s unreasonable he didn’t offer options. The rule of thumb in my company is whoever sets it up gets to pick – pretty much the only benefit to setting it up! This goes for internal lunches/dinners, external hiring lunches, etc. I like business lunches because they are often a fun treat at a restaurant I may not be able to easily afford on my own. But I also remember once being told that the main point of a business lunch isn’t necessarily to eat – so I would imagine almost anyone could find something they could eat for the sake of one interview/one business conversation and covertly grab something else to eat later if required. I’m in DC, though, so this could indeed be regional.

            1. Misc*

              I would imagine almost anyone could find something they could eat for the sake of one interview/one business conversation…

              You’d be surprised >.<

              Between severe IBS, blood sugar issues AND a bunch of fun sensory issues that render many common foods gagworthy to me (red meat is on that list!), there are entire restaurants I have to avoid, and I have to be super paranoid about when and how much I eat (there are entire fortnights were any food – or even drink! – doubles me up in pain and sends me running to the bathroom for half an hour, then causes me to crash in somnolent fatigue. Not at all ideal for an interview. Oh, I also can only drink herbal teas, as dairy, sugar (incl. juice) and caffeine are of the table, so I sit there looking weird with a pot of tea half the time that I don't even like.

              So yes. Options. PLEASE.

      5. katamia*

        Some people can be really judgmental about vegetarianism, though. This guy definitely has something off about him in some way, and if he’s coming off as extremely “Yay steak!” then that could be part of the problem. I used to be a vegetarian, and if I thought I wouldn’t be able to eat anything/would really just be opening myself up to ridicule from a stranger, I might have declined the interview.

    5. AF*

      Yes – and then accusing her (not sure of tone) of not screening them thoroughly when she brings it up – another red flag.

      I had a lunch interview for my current position, because the manager wanted to see my interpersonal skills and how I’d fit with the team. It was a second interview (after the phone interview). But it was at a restaurant with lots of menu options.

    6. Lizard*

      I can totally believe that there may be something about the guy’s demeanor or conversational style that is offputting to these women, but doing lunch interviews in the medical field is totally normal, especially if it’s a private practice where the person doing the interview is the doctor. It’s often the only time during business hours when you are not seeing patients, and if you’re at a busy practice, you don’t want to cancel or turn away patients. And the doc certainly doesn’t have any other time to eat during the day!

      If these are experienced medical office staff, it’s probably not the “lunch” part that’s bothering them.

  2. AnotherAlison*

    I’m wondering if the candidates for this type of position are unaware that a lunch-interview-at-a-steakhouse situation IS within business norms, so they think the client is trying to pull something skeevy?

    My sister used to be a OB/GYN office admin, so that’s the full extent of my knowledge of these types of positions, but it didn’t seem that they did a lot of normal professional office things that I was used to.

    1. Not me*


      This looks pretty out of the norm to me, at least, and I wonder about what exactly he’s going for. You, OP, know that he’s fine and this is normal; applicants might not get it.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        It would be out of the norm for my industry, too; if I had an interviewer suggest a lunch at a steakhouse, I probably wouldn’t immediately decline (unless there were red flags and this was the final spot of weirdness or something), but I would think “what the what?” It would strike me as extremely strange.

        Now, I think it’s partly just that “steakhouse” gives off a more… hm… conservative vibe than would be normal in my industry. (I don’t know that I’d have the same response if someone suggested a lunch interview over Thai or sushi or a sandwich place, and I’d see nothing at all odd about doing an interview in a cafe or coffee shop.) And there are enough people with dietary restrictions that I work with that I’d be a bit taken aback on that point too (in my experience, steakhouse menus can be somewhat limited if you have dietary restrictions). But yeah, in my industry this would be odd.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Plus, a steakhouse feels a bit… hm. I want to say “heavy” in terms of the cuisine, but I’m not sure if that’s exactly what I mean with it. It’s a meal you really have to dig into, which makes interviewing harder. A café, coffee shop, or sushi/sandwiches/etc — those all seem lighter, easier to manage when you’re not really there for the food itself.

          1. Koko*

            Oh goodness, a sushi interview would be my nightmare. You have to put the whole roll piece in your mouth at once and then it takes a solid minute of chewing before you can swallow! I can just see myself getting flustered and trying to avoid talking with food in my mouth or making my interviewer wait too long for my answer while I furiously chew and sip water.

            1. Kelly L.*

              Yes! And you risk meeting with someone who knows more formal sushi etiquette than you do. Remember the restaurant owner who wrote that screed a few years ago about how nobody in America knows how to eat it properly? I’d be in a panic and trying to cram.

            2. So Very Anonymous*

              Sushi = NIGHTMARE for interview. I’m clumsy with chopsticks anyway, but trying to maneuver chopsticks plus the whole eating-a-whole-roll-piece: no. And of course it would look gauche to just ask for a fork.

              I’m in a field where it’s standard to have a dinner/interview the night before a full-day interview (higher ed). For a first interview, though, I’d be extremely uncomfortable with having it be over a meal. I’m an extremely clumsy person. I’m also not a foodie, I hate talking about food, and I now have dietary restrictions. Even having to select the restaurant would be a total minefield for me — did I pick one that’s “cool” enough? Are they going to mock my plebeian eating tastes after I’m gone?

              1. Turtle Candle*

                This is really hammering home how culturally specific these impressions are! In my region and industry, sushi is considered a fairly unremarkable casual dining choice, and most sushi restaurants offer a wide variety of foods (including vegetarian/vegan/gluten free options, and cooked dishes of noodles, vegetables, meat, or fish), so I’m pretty confident saying that it would be seen as a more casual and accommodating choice than a steakhouse in this region and industry. But I could totally see someone from a different region/industry feeling exactly the opposite!

                1. Kelly L.*

                  Around here, most of the sushi places are pretty expensive. They do have noodle dishes and such, though those can be awkward to eat too!

                  I love sushi, but I think I probably look like Garfield when I’m eating it. It’s just toooo gooood! LOL!

              2. the gold digger*

                it would look gauche to just ask for a fork.

                Don’t care. I do not know how to use chopsticks and a job interview is not the time to learn.

                Actually, at this point in my life, I don’t care if I learn ever. I’m hungry. I want to eat. I always ask for a fork. I don’t care.

    2. Manders*

      I worked for a doctor who sounds very similar to OP’s client, and he liked to meet with business contacts at a steakhouse, but he still did interviews in his office. It’s an appropriate spot for a networking-type lunch with a peer, but not a good idea for a first interview. I’d imagine that a busy doctor without much work experience beyond being a doctor in a hospital or private office might not understand the distinction or think a lunch meeting is the most convenient option.

      If my first interview had been at a steakhouse, I might have been concerns that he was either 1) expecting me to pay for a potentially very expensive meal or 2) Trying to hide something about the conditions of the office.

      1. entrylevelsomething*

        ding ding ding- those were my thoughts exactly. I’m in an industry where meeting over a coffee is common, but the interviewer and interviewee generally pay for their own coffees. I could see maybe agreeing to a bagel or something, but a steakhouse-sized bill? It’s already giving me clues that I won’t fit into the culture.

        1. Florida*

          If I were the interviewee and I was expected to pay for my own coffee, THAT would be a red flag.

          1. Kate M*

            If I have a coffee interview, I try to show up early and already have my coffee and a seat by the time the interviewer gets there. There’s nothing more awkward that navigating the payment at the register, and also trying to find a seat in Starbucks, to the point where you’re standing up, balancing your coffee/purse/portfolio, and trying to interview.

            1. Dahlia*

              So weird. It would literally never occur to me as an interviewee that I would pay for anything. I would awkwardly stand there with my coffee waiting for them to pay for it. hah.

          2. Doriana Gray*

            Right? I’ve never had to pay for my own coffee when asked to grab one by a hiring manager or higher-ups in my company. Same for when I go to lunches with higher-ups – they always pay. It’s company policy that the senior most member at the lunch takes care of the bill and expenses it.

          3. the gold digger*

            I was expected to pay for my own coffee, THAT would be a red flag.

            Exactly! I have a friend who comments here (hi Owl!) who was worried about paying for her hotel room, etc, if an out of town company wanted to interview her. I told her that if they expect her to pay her own expenses for an interview they requested (she would be interviewing for professional-level jobs in a field where people are in demand) then that would be a problem.

            I have never gone on a job interview where food is involved where I was expected to pay. And I have never gone to a dinner with the boss and higher where I was expected to pay. It’s just Not Done in the corporate world. The highest-level person pays.

            1. Just me*

              I disagree. I don’t think it’s a problem if a company doesn’t pay for anything in order for you to interview with them. I’ve had plenty of interviews out of town and I wouldn’t expect them to pay my way for anything. Unless they specifically contacted me to fly across the country, I paid my own gas, train fare, etc.

              1. Dahlia*

                I only paid my own interview costs once in the many interviews I’ve gone on. When I contacted the recruiter ahead of time to ask about flight booking and hotel and he said I was responsible for my own travel expenses, I was shocked. I ended up going to the interview since it wasn’t too far away (they also didn’t take me to lunch…) and although they offered me the job, I turned it down. It was one of several ways that they showed me that they didn’t really value me.

    3. TootsNYC*

      I’ve never, ever had a luncheon interview. I’ve had interviews on my own lunch period.

      And I’d find it weird, even with a small business, to have a first interview at a coffee shop (I’d be thinking, “Is this a scam? Why doesn’t he have an office?”). I might think it’s OK to meet at the office, and then step around the corner to the coffee shop bcs it’s a one-room office.

      But an expensive-sounding restaurant? That’s weird.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        When I was a college senior, I had my first off-campus engineering job interview, and it included lunch at a fancy restaurant. My old job also subjected new grad hires to day-long panel interviews, and if you were lucky, you got the lunch slot and took the interviewee to lunch at a nice place. I do think it’s different than just asking them to show up at a restaurant (they wouldn’t get to see where they would be working), but I probably wouldn’t balk at it after having a lot of lunch interviews in general.

      2. Michelenyc*

        In the span of my career in fashion (20 years) I have had 2 interviews where I was taken to lunch. At first I thought it was a little weird but it actually was a really nice way to get to know the director and manager. It waas a similar situation as the LW where they did/could not have it in the office because the employee was being let go and they did not want the employee to know that she was being replaced. The recruiter actually told me this and obviously not to bring it up in the interview. I just feel like there is more to this if all 3 turned down the interview. It would be interesting to know if the recruiter reached back out to the candidates after she found out the reason.

        1. Just Another Techie*

          Every interview I’ve ever been at had a lunch component, but then, the norm in my field is a 4-8 hour interview with 3-6 interviewers. If they didn’t take interviewees out to lunch, half of them would pass out from low blood sugar!

      3. myswtghst*

        I think part of what would rub me wrong in this situation is not the interview at the steakhouse on its own, but both interviews being away from the office. If I’m going to work somewhere, I want to see where I’ll be working – even if it was just briefly, as you mention TootsNYC, before going somewhere else for the interview.

        If I have my first interview at a coffee shop, and my second interview at a restaurant, I’m going to start wondering… Is the office is a terrible place to work they’re hoping to hide from me? Do they not want other employees to know they’re hiring (and if so, is this lack of transparency to employees the norm there)?

      4. lfi*

        i have… it was with the entire team that i’d be working on plus their hiring manager. hiring manager gave the green light – lots of cheersing, toasting, etc.

        needless to say.. didn’t get the job.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      It might be normal for this place/industry, but I have never had a lunch interview for an admin job. I did have a job where we got a new manager and he took us each out individually for lunch, but it was at Cracker Barrel, not a steakhouse. My new manager likes to take the team out for dinner when they are in town–the latest was at a Very Nice Restaurant and I am included in these. Most places would NOT bring the admin along. :)

      But never an admin interview. I would think it was weird. Plus I suspect there’s something in the way he’s communicating the request that is putting them off. I can’t imagine getting three vegetarians in a row. Even if so, unless merely stepping into a steakhouse would make them violently ill, I’m thinking that’s not the problem.

    5. TootsNYC*

      well, there are 3 of them, so who is defining “business norms”? The three of them apparently don’t think it’s normal, so maybe it isn’t.

  3. AMT*

    Could the candidates be wondering whether they’ll be required to pay for their own (possibly expensive) meal? People without a lot of professional experience might not know that it’s the norm for the hiring organization to pay.

    1. Bookworm*

      Yes. Is he making it clear that he will cover the check? This is doubly true if he’s picking a place like Alexander’s Steakhouse.

    2. Kelly L.*

      My first thought. Steakhouses can be pricey and job hunters can be hurting for cash but too shy to ask.

    3. justsomeone*

      This is what I thought too. Steakhouses are generally out of my budget, so an interview at one would stress me out enough that I’d possibly turn down the interview.

    4. Shell*

      Yeah, this. I feel weird about interviewers buying me a coffee, never mind a steak! But I wouldn’t be happy to fork out for a steak lunch out of pocket either.

      Plus it’s really hard to be articulate and thoughtful while eating a heavy meal like steak.

    5. AllieJ0516*

      My thoughts exactly – if he’s not making it clear who will be picking up the check, that could be a big part of the problem.

    6. KT*

      This was my first thought. When I was broke and job-searching after college, someone suggesting a steakhouse would have made me panic because I wouldn’t have known how to gracefully ask who was expected to pay, and a steakhouse would have been beyond my budget.

    7. Allison*

      Or they might feel weird about going to a steakhouse on someone else’s dime? Steak is one of those things you’re typically not supposed to order on someone else’s dime, so when someone (even a boyfriend) takes me to a steakhouse I always wonder, do I just get one of the cheaper steaks? Or stick with something cheaper than steak? What does it mean if they’re theoretically willing to pay a lot of money just for the interview? Am I even capable of eating steak and still looking polished and professional? (answer is “probably not” because I’m a ravenous carnivore, and it’s wicked hard for me to not hork down the hunk of meat in front of me)

      1. I'd hate this*

        Huh. I view this completely opposite. I In my experience when someone has invited me out to dinner at a steakhouse (or other specialty restaurant) they have always intended to be the one paying, whether work related, family, friend or romantic. Same if I invite someone else out. The exception would be if I made the plans myself or jointly with someone else. But when invited I usually anticipate putting it on someone else’s dime.

        Don’t mistake that as me being insulted if they didn’t. That’s just been how it’s played out.

        1. Allison*

          You may have missed my point, I never said they might doubt who’s paying. My point was that, even if invited to a steakhouse, the idea of ordering steak on someone else’s dime might make people nervous if they don’t know the person well.

          1. Kate M*

            Yes, and if someone else is paying, it always makes me nervous about what to order. My thought process goes, “well I definitely shouldn’t order something too expensive, because that looks entitled. But how do I know what is to expensive for them? I should probably order something cheap. I can’t order the cheapest entree though, because that’s too transparent and they might get insulted. I think ordering the second cheapest thing and then pretending that I’m really craving chicken is the way to go. But what if they don’t order an entree? What if they go with soup and salad? I can’t order an entree then. I don’t really like salad, but I guess I’d have to suck it up and follow their lead. Oh wait, they’re asking me to order first. I’ll try to push it back to them…nope, they said they’re still looking at the menu. Oh well. *closes eyes and blurts out something that hopefully puts me in a good light.* And water to drink.”

            My anxiety over ordering food on someone else’s dime doesn’t mean that that’s what these interviewees are doing, but that’s definitely what goes through my mind haha.

            1. Allison*

              Me as well. I remember when a boyfriend took me to a steakhouse, and I thought “gee these steaks look expensive, I should stick with a cheaper cut” and then when he ordered a porterhouse which was on the more expensive side I panicked and said “wait, I’m having second thoughts, can I have a minute??” I was not gonna miss out on a good steak!

              Now I make a point of ordering based on what my host orders – I have my “ideal” entree and a cheaper backup, just in case.

              But still, even if there’s a dish with lobster and it’s not one of the more expensive items, I think “but it has lobster, what if they go ‘ooOOOoooh’ when I order it??” Anxiety is fun.

    8. Anxa*

      My first reaction was that if I didn’t have money budgeted for such an affair, I’d probably have to turn it down or confirm ahead of time that I wouldn’t be expected to contribute toward the bill (which I’d be too embarrassed by).

      Even if it’s the norm to pay, you can’t always take that chance.

    9. Anon Accountant*

      That’s where my mind jumped to was that candidates were worried they would have to foot their share of the bill. Maybe make it clear up front to future candidates after asking prior candidates for feedback.

    10. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      Then you ASK that. If it’s for an entry level, etc. they cannot expect you to shell out $50 for a lunch interview.

  4. animaniactoo*

    Interesting. You have a client who criticizes the professionalism of your work, does not take your advice, and gets insulted when one candidate is either 100% correct about his intentions/positioning or may be considered off her rocker.

    But you don’t doubt his character? I would be doubting something at this point…

    However. If he’s willing to spring for 3 steak lunches, is he willing to spring for a small hotel conference room/office to use off-site for a few hours?

    1. F.*

      I would be more creeped out about the hotel conference room/office than the more public steakhouse.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Why? It’s a conference room, hotels frequently offer them for business use. If meeting in a hotel room (aka bedroom), I’d understand being creeped out. But why would the hotel conference room/office do it for you?

      2. Michelenyc*

        I would be creeped out too! The times I have interviewed at hotels it has been in the lobby or the restaurant.

        1. LawBee*

          Hotel conference rooms are just empty rooms – they’re used for depositions all the time. Like, ALL the time. There’s nothing inherently weird about meeting at the Magnolia Room at the local Hampton Inn.

      3. Sarahnova*

        …I don’t understand being creeped out by the conference room usage either? Like, it’s not a hotel *bedroom*, the point of their existence is to be booked by the hour for business usage!

        1. Xarcady*

          When I was interviewing for academic jobs, most universities sent an interview team to the MLA conference each year. The first round of interviews would take place at the conference, in the hotel rooms of the interviewers. Universities with enough money might get a suite, so the interview could happen in the “living room” space, but quite a few were held in a hotel bedroom, with the bed not made up yet, and the interviewee sitting in the one chair in the room and a team of 4-6 interviewers perched awkwardly on the beds.

          This may be “normal” only in academia. And while it was odd, the presence of so many interviewers meant nothing creepy was going to happen.

        2. Ignis Invictus*

          Honestly, with a single male (single as in alone) I’d hear “hotel room” and my brain would shut off before the “conference” part. It’s a self preservation instinct that may or may not be counterproductive in this situation. Dude’s already doing something sketchy “doesn’t want to interview in the office because of a current temp worker”. While there are many valid reasons for this stance, they ask felt less than wholeheartedly ethical, add “insists on meeting at a steakhouse” and it feels really red flag squishy.

    2. Mando Diao*

      I wanna say…you don’t doubt his character, but how about his personality? Tangent-ish, but I’m sick of jerky men getting away with iffy stuff by pulling the “But he’s a good person!!!!” card. The guy’s character has nothing to do with it, and the fact that OP volunteered that as a preemptive defense tells me that the client might have been accused of unsavory things in the past.

        1. Zillah*

          I agree. I can understand why the OP volunteered it – it’s not a huge leap to take, particularly when one woman actually cited her fiance as a reason she was uncomfortable.

  5. Trillian*

    My objection would be — restaurants are noisy. I would come out exhausted and irritated from the strain of trying to hear and think.

        1. fposte*

          Yup, and that’s the place the OP needs to look. I can see a lot of people thinking they’re not thrilled about an interview at a restaurant–but if they’re consistently put off enough to drop out of the running, there’s something more than Outback involved.

          1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

            I’m with Shannon. An interview is stressful enough. Throw in the social anxiety of interviewing in a public place, plus the upclose anxiety of eating and chewing in front of someone – nope. Even if I wanted the job badly, my ADD-addled brain would not be ready for this experience. I’d bomb the interview anyway.

                1. Susan*

                  I don’t find it to be random; I agree that I would HATE to interview at a lunch and I think many, many people would feel this way. Not only do I need to worry about answering all of the questions well, dressing professionally, making a first impression, but now I have to also worry about table manners, noise, ordering the right thing, nothing in my teeth. Seems like a nightmare to me. If people prefer not to do it I would definitely avoid it at all costs. Even a coffee shop is not an ideal location: still too informal for my liking.

                2. Elizabeth West*

                  @Susan — I don’t mean people not liking a lunch interview is random; I mean it’s too random a sample of people for ALL of them to refuse it. The only common denominator here is the guy.

              1. Jenna*

                The steakhouse lunch may just be the tipping point. Admin level folk where I live aren’t used to lunch interviews, and steakhouses sound like a certain level of expense and possibly obligation. Some men feel entitled to a certain amount of goodwill because of steak, though this may depend more on region and personal experiences. Interviews away from the office also don’t give you a feel for the office atmosphere so all you have to go on is the interviewer and whatever hints they give in wording and behavior.
                Still, I would probably go to the interview unless something else felt off.
                If these were good candidates with lots of other options, though, that means that the job offer that the interview was for was not tempting enough to get them to the interview. If I have several interviews lined up, and one feels slightly off and the job is the least attractive of the bunch, then, well, maybe concentrating on the better jobs that feel solid is a better use of time and energy.

  6. BuildMeUp*

    OP, you say you don’t doubt his character – but I’m assuming you’ve spent at least a little time getting to know him during this process. These candidates haven’t met him yet and don’t know much about him. If this invite to a restaurant is their first real interaction with him, that’s really all they have to go on. If they would normally interview at the doctor’s office and they’re being asked to go to a restaurant with no explanation as to why, that could understandably throw up some red flags for them.

    To be honest, the fact that your client is “insulted” that a woman doesn’t feel comfortable having a lunch meeting in a fancy restaurant in order to interview for a job is a little troubling. I think most people would understand why this might make some people feel uncomfortable and would do their best to explain why they prefer it or be open to meeting elsewhere. His attitude about the interview (if he’s interacting directly with the candidates) could have more to do with them dropping out than the interview location itself.

    1. Roscoe*

      I’m going to disagree with that a bit. Not that I’m saying she should or shouldn’t feel whatever way about meeting, but I also can see why someone would be taken aback that you question their professionalism enough that meeting in a public place would be something to have to worry about. That assumption is kind of offensive. If he wanted to meet her in his office, after hours, when everyone was gone, I’d understand being wary of that a whole lot more

      1. BuildMeUp*

        I think the problem for me is that he goes so far in his reaction that he accuses the OP of not screening candidates enough and seems unwilling to meet in a different location. Maybe he thought meeting in a steakhouse would be no problem – but to these 3 candidates, it is a problem, and jumping to “They’re overreacting! You didn’t screen them well enough! These candidates feeling uncomfortable is a personal insult to me!” instead of, “Oh, these candidates don’t feel comfortable with this alternative interview situation; maybe I should rethink it,” is what worries me.

        1. Zillah*

          This is really well-put, and how this situation comes off to me as well. The fact that he doesn’t want the OP there on top of all of that really does make my spider senses tingle.

        2. Doriana Gray*

          All of what BuildMeUp said. Dude is acting very sketch about this entire situation. He sees this is a problem that’s costing him candidates and instead of changing his approach to a more formal interview in his office, he doubles down on the thing making people uncomfortable? Even if he’s not a perv, I wouldn’t want to work for someone that tunnel visioned and inflexible anyway.

          1. myswtghst*

            Completely agreed! Even if there is nothing sexist in his behavior (which I doubt, even if it is completely subconscious), it’s still a bit of a red flag for someone to try the same thing three times, get the same (negative) response each time, and then to blame the interviewees / recruiter, rather than examining his own behavior.

      2. PM Jesper Berg*

        It’s extremely offensive — basically Mike Pence-level offensive. A lot of business networking gets done over lunch. The inference that some folks are drawing here (“it’s inappropriate for a woman to have a business lunch with a male superior”) is only going to perpetuate sexism and inequality in the workplace.

        By all means, if the interviewer thinks he’s recreating a “Mad Men” episode and touches the candidate inappropriately, I’ll be the first person saying he should land before the EEOC. But far, far more likely is that the interviewer wants to assess the candidate’s social skills in a setting outside the office, which is completely legitimate.

    2. Allison*

      “the fact that your client is “insulted” that a woman doesn’t feel comfortable having a lunch meeting in a fancy restaurant in order to interview for a job is a little troubling.”

      I’m going to agree with this. It sucks that women have their guard up around male interviewers, but the fact is, we’ve been conditioned to be wary of all strange men. We’re stuck in this bind where being too careful might get you labeled a paranoid misandrist, but not being careful enough could get you assaulted or worse (and then it’s your fault for not being careful). It’s important for men to understand and respect those boundaries, rather than get angry when they’re inconvenient.

      1. Breebit*

        Yes, all of this. It’s often an easier decision to just avoid situations that have the potential to become creepy/boundary-crossing than to try to navigate your way through every part of the interaction while on the lookout for signs that it’s going in a direction that you don’t want.

    3. Turtle Candle*

      Yeah, I hadn’t thought of it in those terms before, but “insulted” is an awfully personal way to think of someone turning down a business/employment opportunity with someone you don’t even know yet. Pre-interview, it’s not insulting for people to drop out of the running for any reason, IMHO, in the same way that it’s not insulting to decline to interview someone for any reason (besides, obviously, bigotry, but “anti-steakhouse-ism” isn’t a thing). It’s a potential business contact, not an assessment of your worth as a human being. The fact that he uses as personal and loaded a word as “insulting” does send up, if not a red flag, then at least a big question mark to me.

      1. Roscoe*

        I think the insulted might be especially about the person with the fiance bringing that up as a reason to drop out. That is kind of insulting when women essentially assume every guy is trying to sleep with them. That is the only reason I can see bringing up the fiance, its because she thought thats what he was trying to do.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I put this further down as well, but want it up here too where hopefully people will see it before responding further: This is starting to detract from the topic of the letter, so I’m going to ask that we end this line of conversation here. Thank you.

          (I posted this at 4:37 p.m., so there are a bunch of replies from before, but I’m requesting that people not add to it.)

        2. BuildMeUp*

          You seem to be framing this as “wow, this self-centered woman thinks every guy is trying to get with her” as opposed to “this woman is worried that the place this man has chosen to meet is a sign he could later sexually harass her if she accepts job with him.” Women needing to view possibly innocuous things as potential warning signs is not “assuming every guy is trying to sleep with them.” It’s how women protect themselves.

          1. Roscoe*

            That is the problem with this type of argument. If I tell you why I as a guy can see how its offensive, then its met with me just being wrong. However if a woman tries to tell me why something is offensive to her, then I should listen. I’m just telling you that as guys, when we have that assumption, it is something that we find offensive. Especially in a professional setting. Its like this, I can understand why in a dating situation women take certain precautions. However I think that in a professional situation, there has to be a little more leeway.

            I’m not really saying that SHE thinks every guy wants to sleep with her, but she apparently has an idea that this guy might want to based on nothing except that he wants to meet her for an interview outside of the office. In fact, just the notion that his choice of venue means he may sexually harass her is a pretty big leap to make when she hasn’t even met him yet.

            1. Observer*

              Yes, you are wrong because you negate the reality that the person is reacting to. Any guy who thinks that a woman who is wary of men she doesn’t know is just a self centered b*** who thinks every guy is out to sleep with her is so far out of touch with reality, that he just doesn’t have standing to claim much sympathy.

              Your claim that an interview situation is different is utterly out of touch. Sexual harassment in the workplace is an ongoing problem. It’s better than it used to be, but it was not so long ago that a woman who was fired for refusing “favors” to he boss was considered ineligible for unemployment benefits. Nor was it so long ago that a guy hitting on his secretary quite forcefully was so normal that when news broke about a supposed women’s advocate had done this to his secretary some years prior, the New York Times opined that it was unfair to criticize him because he was simply conforming to the norms of the time.

              It’s better now – quid pro quo arrangements for employment are illegal, and anyone who defends a guy who grabbed his admin will face criticism. But, that’s not enough….

            2. BuildMeUp*

              Creepy guys who sexually harass women don’t magically stop being creepy when they cross from the dating world into the professional world, though. Unfortunately, women don’t magically get to stop taking precautions when they’re no longer on a date with someone.

              In this situation, a woman is deciding whether to assume the best about someone she has never met or to look for red flags and take precautions. Depending on which option she chooses, this doctor in the letter (and you) may feel offended. That’s the worst case scenario for you. The worst case scenarios for her are not getting a job or being sexually harassed in her workplace or possibly worse.

              And it’s not “based on nothing.” It’s based on the fact that I can’t make the 10 minute walk to the train station without some random guy saying “Daaamn” at me. It’s based on the high likelihood that at least one of these woman has been sexually harassed at work before. So instead of feeling insulted that a woman needs to protect herself, consider that the actual cause of this is not women at all.

              1. Roscoe*

                so basically you took a lot of words to say “guys have no right to be insulted by the assumptions that all we want is to get laid”? Gotcha.

                1. How about no*

                  You are allowed to be insulted by the assumptions that you may intend to hurt us. But realize that being insulted is literally the worst thing that will happen to you in that situation. For women, being grabbed, groped, or otherwise physically harmed is far more likely. I don’t WANT to insult you, but I am willing to do so to protect myself.

                2. Myrin*

                  You do know that “getting laid” and “sexually harrassing/assaulting/raping” or two different things and BuildMeUp is talking about the latter, right?

                  And really, if you took all that insult you’re feeling and put it on the doorstep of the men who made and make it so that many women actually have to be so careful and wary, that would be a much better use for it.

                  Also, as a general rule of thumb, when you belong to a group that has power over a historically and/or presently marginalised group, it’s not on you to feel insulted and offended when members of that marginalised group tell you of their experiences or react with caution towards you. Because history and/or their own experiences have taught them that this is the best way to proceed and the mature thing to do is to accept and understand that instead of getting all huffy and puffy.

                3. Emmy Rae*

                  It’s not that women think all men are out to get laid, it’s that we KNOW some men will sexually harass us. So we are looking for signs that a man is a threat. Behavior that is “off”, such as requiring an interview in an unusual setting, is one of those signs.

                4. Koko*

                  Roscoe, one of the big things you might be missing here is that men do not prey on women because they find them attractive or because they want to get laid. Sexual harassment and predatory behavior do not stem from attraction. They stem from power and control issues and unhealthy attitudes about women.

                  When a woman is concerned that a guy might be behaving in a predatory way, she does not think it’s because of anything about her that is making the guy like her and want to sleep with her. She thinks it’s because he might be a creep with power and control issues and unhealthy attitudes about women.

                  That’s why people are objecting to you reducing this to “woman thinks every guy wants to sleep with her.” The actual situation is “woman thinks any guy of unknown character has the possibility to abuse his power over her.” Power and abuse, not sex and attraction.

                5. Laneia*

                  Man, that’s missing every point anyone else made. Women have their entire histories of interacting with men, often starting with harassment before they even hit their teens, to use as information in judging whether or not a situation is safe. You’re complaining that men don’t get to act however they want without considering how threatening it might come across, and that nobody wants to hear them whine about how unfair basic human empathy is on them.

                6. ToxicNudibranch*

                  Roscoe, are you familiar with the concept of “Schrodinger’s Rapist”? Because I would encourage you to do some reading and reconsider your assumptions about the world we live in, and why your [general] Feelings about how terrible and frustrating it is that women act as though they have to be on guard in seemingly innocuous situations (Spoilers! It’s because those “innocuous situations” can and do turn shitty with unfortunate regularity) aren’t actually something that deserve consideration.

                7. One of the Sarahs*

                  Seconding Myrin – my best friend used to get upset and frustrated because as a big guy, he always went out of his way to be sensitive on, eg empty public transport late at night, or to cross the street if he ended up looking like he was following a woman home late at night.

                  It used to make him upset that people were scared of him – but he realised that not only was it more accurate to be angry at the society that made women so scared, but also he could actively do things to help change things, and it made him feel so much better about it.

                8. Granite*

                  It’s best explained with the concept of Schrödingers Harasser. The reality is, some proportion of men are a$$hats. And these a$$hats do not look or act a certain way that you can identify when you first met them. (See Ted Bundy.) Much like how Schrödinger’s cat in the box is both alive and dead until you open it, a strange man is both a harasser and a nice guy until he is revealed to be one or the other at some future point. So, to be safe, women have to be on guard for a$$hats at all times, and you want us to worry about whether we’ve offended the poor man’s ego in the process of protecting ourselves.

                9. SandrineSmiles (France)*

                  Nope, they’re saying history shows that certain things happen more to women than men, so men can be as offended as they want, this still doesn’t negate the fact that, as women, there are things we are more likely to suffer from and always have to think about.

                  One guy once wanted to interview me over sushi. Ok, great.
                  On a sunday… whut ?
                  At his place… I insisted on his office… he never contacted me again. Boom, danger avoided.

            3. KH*

              … she apparently has an idea that this guy might want to based on nothing except that he wants to meet her for an interview outside of the office. In fact, just the notion that his choice of venue means he may sexually harass her is a pretty big leap to make when she hasn’t even met him yet.

              Thus speaks someone who has NEVER in his life had to worry about being sexually harassed and has absolutely zero understanding of the types of overt and covert harassment that women deal with on a daily basis. It is something that women constantly have to make judgement calls about … and many of us choose to make those calls conservatively, even if it offends a man.

            4. oleander*

              The difference, Roscoe, is that you’re being offended because a woman is trying to protect herself from a small but all-too-real chance of physical danger. When the option is between “Hm, I want to protect myself from possible physical danger from this man who I’m getting weird vibes from” vs. “Hm, I don’t want to hurt the feelings of this man I barely know,” I’m going to choose the first one, and too bad about your feelings, but I don’t think they compare to me protecting my safety.

              Unfortunately, women run into skeevy situations in the workplace just as often as in dating life. And it usually has nothing to do with how hot they think they are. Lots of women all over your personal hotness scale have had to deal with harassment, threats, and weird creepiness.

            5. Jadelyn*

              And yet, if she ignores her unease, goes to lunch, gets the job, and it turns out he *did* have the intentions she was concerned about him having, people will ask her why she went ahead with the interview or why she took the job, implying that it’s her own fault for not getting out of the process sooner.

              That’s the thing. Women can’t win. If we step back from a guy who’s giving us creep vibes, or decide to err on the side of caution regardless of vibes because we’ve been burned by situations like this before, men like you get offended and accuse us of making unflattering assumptions about your intentions. But if we ignore our unease and accept the invitation in question so as not to be labeled uncooperative, then something *does* happen down the line, people will take it less seriously and blame it on us because we “got ourselves into” the situation.

              1. KH*

                Removed because too close to a personal attack on a fellow commenter. By all means, disagree but please do so civilly. Thank you.

              2. How about no*

                I feel you on the “women can’t win” front. I was assaulted by a group of men on a subway car, and when reporting it to the police I was asked why I didn’t switch train cars when the men got on. I asked how I was supposed to evaluate every person who got on that train car and make the determination that it was those men in particular who were going to assault me. The policeman’s response? “Don’t you get a weird vibe from people like that? Shouldn’t that tell you that you should leave?”

            6. Elizabeth West*

              Well, unfortunately, we don’t have any transcript of his conversation with her–he could be coming off very weird in the way that he makes these requests. That could explain why three candidates in a row have immediately rejected the interviews.

              If it was, “Hey, I’d like to meet at Bob’s Steakhouse for our interview over lunch; does that sound okay to you?” I wouldn’t think much of it (other than it’s a bit fancy for an admin interview). And I’d be reasonably sure I could find something to eat I could afford, like an appetizer, if for some reason I had to grab my own lunch (which would be slightly weird).

              If he said it like, “Hey, [little lady], I’m looking forward to our interview! Why don’t we meet at Bob’s Steakhouse for lunch? It’s got great atmosphere!” I’d be creeped out instantly. Because that’s not businesslike at all.

              1. Turtle Candle*

                That’s what I keep coming back to–the three-in-a-row (and if I’m reading this right, all three out of three) makes me think that something is off about the interaction itself, not necessarily the location of the meeting. Could be that the guy was too familiar, or condescending, or rude, or brusque, or almost anything–but I tend to suspect that it was more the nature of the communication and not the fact of the steakhouse that led to the problem.

        3. Observer*

          What BuildMeUp said. Also, this woman does not know him. He really does not have any basis to expect someone who knows nothing about him to implicitly trust him just because he’s a potential employer.

          But, this kind of reaction is a perfect example of why women don’t act on their sense of something being off.

        4. Turtle Candle*

          I assumed from the phrasing that “admitted” meant she’d been pushed for an answer rather than volunteered it, and “my boyfriend thinks it’s weird” has a long history of use in situations where someone feels uncomfortable saying “because you creep me out” or other potentially inflammatory reasons. If she wasn’t pushed, then yeah, it’s odd to offer that out of the blue–but I still think it’s a stretch to consider it actually insulting. At the end of the day, she doesn’t want to interview for an open position, and that’s business, not a social censure.

          1. Zillah*

            That’s actually the most comprehensible thing to me – we’ve definitely had commenters voice objection to issues surrounding travel and someone’s spouse getting uncomfortable or jealous. And, if “he feels insulted by someone saying she won’t meet with him because she thinks it’s inappropriate” was the only thing in this letter that was a bit off, it wouldn’t really register for me personally.

            However, combined with everything else, it does. Women absolutely do use the boyfriend/fiancé excuse (though the OP wrote fiancée, which indicates that the woman’s spouse-to-be is a woman – but regardless) to get out of uncomfortable situation, and I agree that it sounds like this woman was pressed for it in the first place.

              1. Zillah*

                Yeah, I didn’t either, until I reread the letter – I used fiance above, too. Ouch. Heteronormativity strikes again.

          2. Turtle Candle*

            Also, if one woman had said “this feels too much like a date” but other women accepted with no issue, then I might go, okay, yeah, she’s being odd/oversensitive. But three women turned this down, and one of them “admitted” something that implied that they thought it might be inappropriately sexual/romantic. That is the beginning of a pattern, and saying, “I’m just so offended that women are so arrogant and self-centered” is outright denying that pattern.

            That might not be why they’re turning it down; it might be that something else is putting them off. But the combination of three people in a row mysteriously losing interest at the mention of a restaurant interview and the one data point you have in terms of reason being that it felt too date-like to be comfortable when they had a fiance, that’s something to look into, not just to feel generally insulted because women all just think you want to sleep with them.

            1. BeautifulVoid*


              I think it was somewhere in the comments section of this site that I read the fantastic line “If one person tells you that you have a tail, ignore them. If three people tell you, turn around.” Three out of three women turning down the same kind of interview at the same stage suggests the issue doesn’t lie with them.

            2. random obs*

              “but three women turned this down”….

              I re-read the original letter above. All we know if that one of the three candidates was female. I don’t see anything about the other two.

          3. ToxicNudibranch*

            Exactly. There are so, so many times when a guy won’t take “no” unless they percieve that “This Vagina is Already Owned”. Like, my saying no is insufficient, but if they think they’re stepping on someone else’s turf…

        5. Nerdling*

          Margaret Atwood summed this up very nicely: Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.

          We’re not worried that all men want to get laid. We’re worried that we’re trusting the wrong man with our safety and, potentially, our lives. Sorry, not sorry, but our lives are more important than your pride.

  7. TotesMaGoats*

    I know I come from higher ed but I would think that a office worker position (not a manager) asking for an interview lunch at a steakhouse would be weird. For the office manager, not as much. Hiring a partner or someone at an executive level makes sense. Maybe the candidates are put off because they think the role doesn’t warrant expensive steak lunch and are getting weird vibes. I certainly would.

    1. Shannon*

      Thank you. You expressed something I was struggling with. I really wouldn’t think a non-executive/ managerial position would warrant something as fancy as an interview at a steak house and I would wonder if this guy was trolling for dates or something. Especially if it’s only the two of us. I’d feel better about it if there were more people or in a more casual environment.

      Also, the OP is painting a picture of someone who is coming across in the letter as someone who is very difficult to work for. If any of the applicants are picking up on this, I’d nope out of this job, too.

      1. I'd hate this*

        Yup. This is a really good point. I used to be an admin and if I was invited to a steakhouse for an interview I might internally be wondering if there had been some mistake.

        And I wonder if this particular steakhouse might have a certain vibe that is putting people off.

        1. KWB*

          Yup, late to the party, but as soon as I saw “steakhouse” I thought *which* steakhouse? In my city I can think of one that gives off the vibe of “this is where you take your mistress on your 50th anniversary”; several so “old boys’ club” that I think you might technically have to be dead to get in; one that is technically not affiliated with a strip club; one that technically is affiliated with a strip club, and a bunch that are just, like, restaurants. So it would depend on the place?

          And I’m a lifelong vegetarian, so it’s not like this stuff is clandestine.

      2. AndersonDarling*

        Exactly what I was thinking! When I was interviewing for admin positions, if someone wanted to buy me a steak and discuss the role, I would interpret it as someone trolling for a date. It may be said professionally, but what I would hear is “Hey baby, why don’t I buy you a steak dinner and then we can ‘discuss the position’ after we eat.”
        No, no, no. Coffee would be okay, and a lunch at the coffee shop next door would be fine, but a steak? That crosses my line.

        1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

          Oh, yeah. Good point.

          Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse? Whoa. Is this an interview or a date?

          Black Angus? Better, but still pricey.

          Crazy Jack’s Waterin’ Hole Sirloin Special? No, thank you.

      3. Artemesia*

        for an admin. I would think it would feel like he was hiring a ‘personal assistant’ rather than someone for the office if he made the initial interview a date like event. If you are hiring support staff for an office, you do it at the office. Maybe you meet at the office and walk to a coffee shop, but a fancy lunch at an expensive place feels like courtship or the start of a personal role rather than an office one. Maybe these three people are picking up that the job will be more at personal whim than a business relationship.

        Whatever it is. When THREE candidates all react the same, it is clear that something is going on here that is not about the candidates. This guy has a reputation (could be personal or as a boss); this guy is sending out boundary challenged vibes; (the now banned topic.) No way three different candidates all refuse and it is them not him or the situation or local norms.

    2. The IT Manager*

      Ditto. A lunch interview is a bit out of the norm for most professional jobs honestly and especially for what sounds like a low or mid-level admin so it’s likely these prospects haven’t come across this before. Maybe they’re concerned they have to pay or maybe they’re getting the wrong vibe from the guy and have a legitimate concern (or the right vibe since 3 people have all declined. That’s rare with job hunters.)

    3. OriginalYup*

      I’d be weirded out just because I want to see the work environment and would wonder why we’re going off site.

  8. Shy Town*

    Not sure if this is the norm where you are, but steakhouse lunches where I live tend to be at a fairly leisurely pace. Do these women currently have jobs that would prevent them from taking a really long lunch? Particularly if the client is trying to set something up within the next couple of days that would be difficult to work around? I know personally I could make it work if he wanted to meet next week for a long lunch, but meeting tomorrow would be tough because I’m currently employed and can’t always take a day with so little notice.

    I also wondered if it was made he clear he would be paying, as AMT noted above.

    Are you also including a timeframe for a more “normal” interview? “He’d like to take you to lunch at X Steakhouse, then a final interview would take place in the office,” etc.? So they would know they would eventually get to see the place?

    1. Rabbit*

      This was my first thought–when you have a job and are also looking elsewhere, taking an hour during the middle of the day can be prohibitive, especially so when traveling to/from the restaurant, the lunch/interview might go long, etc. However I would probably tell the recruiter, “A different/shorter timeframe would be better for me” in hopes of a more suitable interview rather than bowing out altogether.

      1. Shy Town*

        Yeah, I feel like this one is sticking with me because all the points raised in the comments have been valid but none would result in just bowing out altogether. There must be a significant piece of the story we’re missing.

    2. Solidus Pilcrow*

      This is a very good point. If you want your meat anything but very rare, the cook time stretches out the length of the meal. Factor into that drive time to and from the restaurant, and this interview may take up more time than the candidates can spare.

      Speaking of drive time, is the steakhouse located far away, in an area that’s impossible to find parking, or in an area not served by public transportation/taxis? That can be a contributing factor if it takes 30 minutes just to get there/park the car.

      And anecdotally speaking, I’ve never had a lunch interview as my first contact with a potential employer. I’ve had lunch as part of an all-day interview or as part of a 2nd + interview, but never as the entirety of the first interview.

  9. Bee Eye LL*

    Restaurant interviews can reveal a lot about a person that you won’t get in a normal interview. For example, how they treat the wait staff, what they order, how they eat, etc. Eating with someone else lets your guard down a bit and sometimes the real person will shine through the persona they are trying to display for the interview. That being said, a steak restaurant lunch is a little on the heavy/pricey side.

    1. Shannon*

      Going on a lunch interview, I’d probably order the cheapest thing on the menu that didn’t seem likely to stick in my teeth (probably a salad) and I’d be hyper aware of my manners towards the wait staff. That’s not the real me (don’t get me wrong, I’m normally very nice to the wait staff, but, I’m not going to order a salad on my own). Personally, you’d be more likely to get the “real” me out in a regular interview.

      1. I'd hate this*

        Am I the only one who finds salads to be a huge pain to eat? The leaves are huge and hard to get in your mouth, there is dressing all over, food falls off the fork, and little green bits get caught in the corners of your teeth. Maybe I’m just salad challenged.

        1. Kristine*

          I, too, am salad challenged. You’re not alone. :)

          Seriously, why are the leaves that large and inconveniently shaped?! I usually cut them with a knife.

          1. Bee Eye LL*

            I hate those soft, floppy leaves that you can barely even pick up with your fork! And yes sometimes they are as big as your hand. I shouldn’t need a knife for my salad unless it’s a wedge salad!

        2. I'd hate this*

          Oh, thank goodness. I was beginning to think I was weird. People have told me many times to order salad on dates or job functions, various outings where I feel I need to present myself well. I always think “Are you nuts?”

          1. Kelly L.*


            I’m more likely to choose a short-noodle pasta (never a long one!) or something like a chicken filet.

            1. BeautifulVoid*

              Same here! Oh, if only I had a nickel for every time I’ve said “Can I get that over penne instead?”….

              (And then I could go out and buy a steak dinner. :D )

        3. One of the Sarahs*

          I’m now wondering what WOULD I eat in an interview? Nothing with drippy sauce, no soups, nothing like a sandwich which is eaten with hands, something small and light, so I could talk around it, nothing too garlicky…. TRAUMA!

        4. AnonyMeow*

          I use chopsticks for salad-eating whenever possible. It makes life so much easier! Forks and salad leaves are just… ugh. Not that I can do that at a steakhouse though.

        5. Dr. Johnny Fever*

          And with my luck, it’s always a big floppy leaf with a ton of dressing that falls right on my boobs, or a crouton that falls down my shirt into my bra. And that’s just eating while sitting at my desk!

        6. Doriana Gray*

          I’m salad challenged too. Inevitably I get dressing and lettuce all over the place. It’s quite the sight to behold, lol.

        7. Elizabeth West*

          Not the only one–I would NEVER order a salad on an interview (or a date!). I’d get an appetizer if they had some. My stomach is messed up and I can’t eat a huge plate of food at once anyway. I have no qualms about explaining that to people. If they don’t like it, that’s their problem.

          Besides, I’m very picky about salad. Leaves, dressing, etc.

        8. Artemesia*

          Yeah I don’t know whether to go with your fear of greens in the teeth and dressing on the blouse or hunks of gristle in that one spot in my teeth that traps food mentioned earlier. Interviews over meals are treacherous.

        9. lowercase holly*

          no, giant pain. so hard to stick the lettuce with the fork. drippy dressing. argh!

        10. Koko*

          I have never eaten a salad that I didn’t cut first. I think that it’s expected you’ll cut it. That’s Chopt’s business model – they cut it for you.

    2. Rocket Scientist*

      What they order? How they eat?

      Those are odd criteria to want to gather in an interview and won’t help you screen candidates for an admin job any better.

      1. Bee Eye LL*

        I’m talking about looking way beyond the surface here. Some people already commented on what not to order so as to avoid making a mess – and that’s what I mean. If the person special orders everything and request a bunch of changes, it could mean they are picky eaters and this can mean other personality traits. I worked with a guy who hated fat people and would make all kinds of inappropriate comments when he’d see an obese person in a restaurant. He’d also comment about his lunch mates “You gonna eat all that? Really?” and stuff like that.

        Say you go to Chili’s and the person orders a full rack of ribs and by the end of the meal has sauce all over their face and hands and clothes. This shows someone who is either completely uninhibited or socially oblivious, which can be good/bad things depending on the job. Is this the kind of person you want interacting with customers?

        Another example – I currently work with a guy whose department has seen quite a bit of turnover in the past few years. 5 different people in like 3 years. When he goes to lunch with us, which is rare, he can be incredibly rude to wait staff if there is the slightest problem. I’m talking borderline yelling. This is how he treats people that he sees as beneath him. It’s no wonder that nobody wants to work for him.

        Also – there are people who won’t eat in front of others. Too shy, etc. This can be a problem in an office environment especially where personal interaction is required. All this really depends on the job and duties but I’m telling you that eating with someone can reveal a lot about them. Is it a fair screening method? Sometimes probably no, but it can be helpful as part of the interview process when taken into account with experience, education, and so on.

        1. neverjaunty*

          “If the person special orders everything and request a bunch of changes, it could mean they are picky eaters and this can mean other personality traits.”

          Or, it could mean they have dietary restrictions for medical or religious reasons.

          I mean, you’re reading tea leaves here based on watching people order food and eat, rather than actually interviewing them and asking meaningful questions designed to elicit useful information.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Same for people who are too shy to eat in front of others. As a fat person with a history of eating disorders, I have a HORRIBLE time eating in front of people – and this is a fact that has absolutely no bearing on my ability to work with people and interact professionally in an office setting. And in fact, if you choose to take something like that into account, since it may be based in a legitimate medical condition (eating disorders or anxiety disorders) that you have no way of knowing about, that skates perilously close to ADA-noncompliant hiring practices.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Except that employers aren’t required to accommodate conditions that they wouldn’t reasonably know about. You’d need to say something like, “I have a medical condition that will make eating in restaurants difficult. Would it be possible to conduct the interview somewhere else, or to give Joe a heads-up that I’ll probably just order a beverage?”

              1. rr*

                Alison, thanks for this wording. I’m gonna put it in my Stuff For Job Interviews document. Due to a combination of factors, eating in 99% of restaurants is a no-go, and eating catered lunches is a SERIOUS no-go. That plus anxiety and stress means that I freeze up and have no idea how to handle that kind of thing. (there was this one time at an internship ten years ago when I didn’t know that “let’s go out for lunch to celebrate” WASN’T something planned in advance and so they would be cool with me suggesting a different restaurant, the only one in the city that I could eat at. We ended up going to that restaurant. It’s sadly no longer in business.)

          2. So Very Anonymous*

            Yes, exactly. There are lots of things that I am competent at that are relevant to my job. I am, however, a clumsy person (which has pretty much zero bearing on my ability to do my job) and I would rather not have my first interview be with someone who’s going to judge me on my clumsiness, or my dietary restrictions (which at the moment are new to me, not super clear to me yet, and also relate to a condition that [if I’m getting this right, it’s new to me] counts as a disability if I disclose it), or my general lack of interest in comparing restaurants etc. There are other ways to get at information about my qualifications for the actual job.

          3. fishy*

            Yup. I’m not a big fan of going out to eat because I have dietary restrictions that make 99% of the menu of most restaurants off-limits to me, and I often end up having to ask the server picky questions about how the food is prepared and exactly what ingredients they use in it. I’m sure that some people would judge me as being overly picky and demanding, but really I just have to be careful or else I’ll end up with food that literally makes me sick. I’d be pretty apprehensive about a lunch interview for that reason.

        2. aebhel*

          I’m a picky eater because I have sensory issues that have nothing whatsoever to do with my personality, job skills, ability to interact with other humans, et cetera. I also don’t like to eat in front of other people, which magically doesn’t prevent me from interacting with them in any other context.

          Food is a fraught topic in our culture, and using how people deal with it as a yardstick for any kind of job that isn’t going to require them to actually eat around others on a regular basis is pretty ridiculous. Yes, there are jobs that require you to have good table manners and be able to schmooze over cocktails, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that they aren’t the majority.

          tl;dr, you can tell a lot about about someone by eating with them, but it’s not necessarily going to be anything relevant to their job.

          1. So Very Anonymous*

            Yes to this. Food has become such a major topic for small talk etc. that it’s easy to forget that it is fraught in all kinds of ways. And it’s just not relevant to my ability to do my particular job. Being judged on how/what I eat would be a red flag for me.

        3. Anonsie*

          If the person special orders everything and request a bunch of changes, it could mean they are picky eaters and this can mean other personality traits.

          Sigh. No, it doesn’t, especially if they weren’t allowed any input in the restaurant choice.

    3. Solidus Pilcrow*

      I’ve heard this on and off for years. Does anyone really do this/seen it happen first-hand?

      What does one hope to learn from interviewing in this manner? If I was taught which is the salad fork? Maybe I can see the value if the position is heavy on the schmoozing and taking clients out to lunch. Not really sure what eating at a steakhouse has to do with a medical office administrator.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes, first hand.

        I’m not a fan of the practice personally, but people who are will tell you that sometimes it’s easier to fit into their schedule and/or they like having a more relaxed atmosphere.

        1. Solidus Pilcrow*

          OK, I can get that it’s easier to schedule (goodness knows I have enough lunchtime meetings because “it was the only time free on everyone’s calendar”) and maybe I can buy the more relaxed atmosphere bit – maybe for the employer, not so much for the interviewee.

          But what about the secret tests, like how you treat the waitstaff or whether you taste your food first before adding salt and pepper? It just seems to have that apocryphal/urban legend feel to it.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I don’t think how you treat the waitstaff is a secret test, any more than how you treat the receptionist is a secret test.

            But yeah, judging on something like salting your food is obviously ridiculous — but that’s far from a universal reason for doing lunch interviews.

            1. Observer*

              I would hope that it’s not a common reason. But, this response is to someone who said that “what you order and how you eat” are important pieces of information. Quite frankly, if the boss in question were implying something of the sort, that would be a huge red flag for me.

              1. PM Jesper Berg*

                “Quite frankly, if the boss in question were implying something of the sort, that would be a huge red flag for me.”

                Fair enough, but those goes back to one of my favorite themes: a workplace doesn’t need to be all things to all people. Decline the lunch interview and move on. The company will find someone else, assuming you’re not a Stephen Hawking-level figure.

            2. Bee Eye LL*

              Now that would be a really interesting interview twist – go somewhere that you know a server and ask them to deliberately screw up the interviewee’s order just to see how they react. I.E. bring then diet soda instead of regular, the wrong dressing with their salad, and so on.

              1. Granite*

                I’ve heard of managers that do that. Apparently not complaining at all is as bad as complaining rudely.

                1. Bee Eye LL*

                  I work in IT and part of a job interview, in which I got the job, involved troubleshooting a PC that had been sabotaged by IT staff. Cables were pulled loose, settings done deliberately wrong, etc. The goal was to first look at it, then fix the problem.

                  I got the job because I was able to fix things calmly without any problems. The other top candidate broke into a sweat and nervously fidgeted with things before getting it fixed. Took him only a couple minutes longer than me, but he was a wreck by the time it was done. Keep in mind troubleshooting issues like that are exactly what the job entails.

                  I’m not saying that playing mind games with potential employees is a good thing, but sometimes you need to go beyond the standard “sit-down and discuss the resume” kind of interview. That other candidate and I were equally qualified on paper and in initial interviews, but when it came time to demonstrate work skills, he totally freaked out, so I got the job.

                2. Anonsie*

                  Good lord, whoever sits around coming up with these tests needs some serious study in that different people do different things and they are not better or worse than each other aaaarrrghhh.

                  They don’t need to study “aaaarrrghhh” but that’s how I feel whenever I see these things. I am a person who is very willing to stand up for herself (sometimes too much, in fact) but if I got sesame instead of vinaigrette on my salad I’d just eat the stupid thing. Some people would politely ask for a redo, which I would if it was something that I knew was going to cause me some digestion issues. If you just met me you wouldn’t know and couldn’t know why I did it or what it means about me, since there are a crapload of possible reasons, so trying to make it a test is nuts.

              2. Nico M*

                And it would be a dick move.

                Are you even supposed to be assertive when someone else is paying?

                1. Shannon*

                  Not only that, but, honestly, there are some “mistakes” that I honestly don’t care about, but, someone else might.

                  Okay, so I order the salad without eggs. They bring a salad with eggs. Provided that I can easily remove the eggs (the eggs are sliced or only on one side of the salad), I’m okay with doing that. Sending a salad back simply because eggs touched some part of it is wasteful to me. However, someone with an egg allergy may not feel the same way. Or if the eggs are diced and too much of a pain to remove from the salad, it gets sent back.

                  That one scenario is so highly situational for even one person, how are they going to judge anyone by it? I mean, there’s the obvious, “don’t throw a fit if the order didn’t come out right,” but, other than that….? And depending on my mood, even if the dish is barely edible, I may keep it and just pick at it, just to avoid sending it back and delaying everyone else from eating. Because I’m not really at the restaurant to eat, I’m there to interview. Chances are good that I pregamed and had some food at home so I wouldn’t come to the interview ravenous and cranky.

              3. Doriana Gray*

                If someone purposely screwed up my order, they’d have a lawsuit on their hands (celiac here). Potentially putting someone in the hospital (or even killing them) as a test is not a great recruitement strategy.

              4. Violet Fox*

                I have a bad reaction to sine artificial sweeteners, switching my soda to diet would have me dashing to the bathroom, and probably the end of the interview. Switching people’s food considering allergies etc is asking for the wrong sort of trouble.

              5. neverjaunty*

                I wonder how “interesting” you think the waitstaff and establishment would find that, in an era where a restaurant’s bad reputation with customers can be all over the internet and where a waiter can get fired for screwing up a customer’s food? Or how “interesting” it would be to a job applicant who finds out that their food came with an ingredient they can’t eat?

                Giving an interviewer a deliberately-created problem related to their job – like your repair test – is simply a practical interview. Playing pranks on people under the pretense of “it tells you about them” is ridiculous. And as AAM often (and correctly) points out, just as you’re interviewing them, they’re interviewing you. Who wants to work for a company where their manager thinks it’s funny to screw with their meals.

              6. aebhel*

                I typed out three angry responses and deleted them, but–

                No. Don’t do this. Don’t deliberately mess with people’s food. Some people have allergies and food sensitivities, and you’re not necessarily going to be able to tell them from personal taste, *and* a person is not necessarily going to be able to tell that their food isn’t as they ordered on the first few bites, especially if they already have interview nerves. Don’t risk poisoning someone just so you can see how they react to getting their order screwed with.

                Also, screwing with people in an interview to ‘see how they handle it’ is obnoxious anyway.

              7. Phyllis B*

                I read a book on business leaders that stated Bill Gates does this exact thing. Will instruct them to over-salt the food, over-cook the steak, ect. I find this ridiculous. I can understand wanting to see how someone handles themselves in social situations, (are they rude to the waiter and so forth) but not only is this a terrible waste of food, but the interviewee is going to be a nervous wreck anyway, and to be interviewing with Bill Gates!!

                1. Kelly L.*

                  And it wouldn’t even surprise me if this was a total urban legend. It sounds like one of those stories that used to be about Conrad Hilton and then was about Carl Icahn and and and…

    4. Observer*

      What they order and how they eat are significant criteria for an admin person who is not even a manager? Really? Why on earth?!

      In fact, if it comes through that this is what he wants to see, I can see why they would decline.

    5. PM Jesper Berg*

      “Restaurant interviews can reveal a lot about a person that you won’t get in a normal interview. ”

      Exactly. And no, an interview at a Starbucks doesn’t yield the same results (and is also much more public than a proper restaurant; I don’t want random latte drinkers listening in on my company’s interviews). If the candidate has a problem with it, they’re free to decline the interview.

  10. Kristine*

    I have an anecdote on this topic– I was invited on a lunch interview when I was fresh out of college. As a broke graduate, I was thrilled because hey, free food! The interview was at a fancy seafood restaurant, and while I don’t eat seafood, I saw some salads on the menu and thought it would be no big deal.

    Apparently I was wrong. The hiring manager (a man in his 50’s) was VERY upset that I was not ordering seafood at this restaurant. He said that if I was just going to order a salad then he could have taken me to Applebee’s. I offered to cancel my food order and he said I was “being absurd”. He barely asked me any questions and we mostly ate in silence. I’m sure no one is surprised to hear that I was not offered the job.

    I doubt OP’s 3 candidates all have horror stories like mine, but you never know why someone might be put off by something that is considered normal to others.

    1. Pwyll*

      Um, did we interview with the same person?

      I used my very real excuse that I am allergic to shellfish but wanted to be accommodating to the employer’s choice of restaurant, but that apparently wasn’t a good enough reason to not partake in the lobstery goodness.

      1. Bend & Snap*

        Ugh shellfish allergy can be embarrassing in a business setting. I once had a 20+ person business dinner at an oyster house. That was rough to navigate and the whole table ended up finding out.

        1. Thinking out loud*

          And this is pretty much how all of my coworkers found out that I’m Jewish. Also not something I exactly wanted to share.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Yes, this. I don’t mind if my co-workers know, but it’s not the kind of thing that I want to be an issue at a first interview.

        2. martinij*

          I’m genuinely curious: How can a shellfish allergy be “embarrassing in a business setting”? I’m highly (deathly) allergic to shellfish, as I go into anaphylactic shock within 10 minutes and I have not once been embarrassed to state my allergies/needs to avoid seafood-heavy restaurants, even though I always carry an EpiPen.

          1. blackcat*

            Not shellfish, but I’ve definitely encountered people who make fun of my food allergies or just assume I’m “picky.” 99% of people are reasonable, but I don’t want to reveal myself to that 1%.

            1. Anon Accountant*

              Yes and this grinds my gears so bad. I hate when people make fun of food allergies or act like you just don’t like that food. I want to say “what part of that could literally kill someone with that allergy do you not understand”.

          2. KH*

            I think it can be embarrassing because too many people see “I have an allergy” as an opening to begin commenting on someone’s eating habits, judging their health, offering BS “cures”, and so forth.

            There are also plenty of people who use “I’m allergic” as a substitute for “I don’t like” or “I don’t want to eat”. Unfortunately quite a few diet/weight loss sites recommend that as a tactic for explaining why someone isn’t eating something. There’s a lot of pushback in the restaurant industry about it right now as well – especially with gluten-free issues. So for someone who really is allergic, they risk being grilled fairly relentlessly over what, exactly they’re allergic to, how badly it affects them, what options/varieties, etc.

            I can see wanting to avoid the whole thing, especially if in a business setting.

      2. HumbleOnion*

        I don’t feel comfortable eating lobster or other shelled seafood in front of people unless I know them pretty well. Lobster is delicious, but it’s not a graceful thing to eat.

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          I adore shell-on prawns and seafood, and fish with fiddly bones, but yikes, not at an interview!

      3. S0phieChotek*

        Yes that is difficult. I am also allergic and when half the people I go to business lunches with like shell-fish it can be an issue. Kristine, what an awful experience.

      4. BRR*

        I’ve read articles (not sure how common this behavior really is) that some would consider being accommodating as being “weak” and they’re testing you. I think this is the minority but there is a group of people who play mind games while interviewing. To me being accommodating with a restaurant choice has no correlation to if I speak up about something in the work place.

    2. Turtle Candle*

      Honestly this is part of what would make me dubious about a steakhouse meal–people can get really weird about expensive meals. I have seen genuine judgment over cut (so ordering something moderately priced may backfire with an interviewer goes “who orders strip steak when they can have prime rib?”) and doneness, and God help you if you don’t eat red meat or meat at all. It’s ridiculous, but it still happens, and as an interviewee it would be far more awkward to navigate even than many other types of lunch interviews.

    3. Bee Eye LL*

      Let’s not forget that interviews are a two way street.

      They are screening you, but at the same time you’re supposed to be asking questions to help you decide if you even want to work there. Sounds like this boss is not the kind of demanding jerk you’d want to have to answer to every day, especially if he acts that way over your personal choice for lunch.

  11. Dovahkiin*

    In every lunch-based interview I’ve had, the hiring manager asked the candidate where they preferred to go for lunch within the general area of the office. But I’ve only worked in cities with a wide range of lunch options readily available (kosher/ vegan/veg etc).

    I think this “insulted that one of them admitted she and her fiancée thought it inappropriate to meet for a first-time interview anywhere other than the employer’s office” is really weird. Clearly the candidate withdrew because of the restaurant invite, and it’s double weird that it sounds like the candidate was on the defensive and felt like she had to bring up her relationship status and essential say “I cannot interview with you over lunch because I have a fiancée.”

    This makes me wonder if your client might be sending out some casual sexism/creepiness with his hiring emails, like calling candidates “sweetheart” or “dear.” Or maybe he’s sending out creepy vibes by mentioning that he’s single? I don’t think I’ve ever told a recruiter my relationship status!

    1. Artemesia*

      I am unclear on how it unfolds. How does the invitation get offered? Is it through the OP or directly by the doctor and has he met these people in person before issuing it? It seems odd that he could manage to be so boundary challenged and threatening over an email invitation. Must be some Email. Or does he call them or? Not sensing the picture here.

  12. Persephone Mulberry*

    Actually, I think an interview at a steakhouse for a non-managerial position in the healthcare industry IS pretty far outside of professional norms. First interview with a recruiter at a cafe, second interview also not at the office where I’d be working…I might think something weird was going on, too.

    I do hope the OP weighs in!

    1. Development Professional*

      Yeah, I also would find it weird. You start to wonder, how many interviews do I have to do before I get to see where I would be working?

    2. Erin*

      Yeah, and this is for an administrative position? As someone who has interviewed for several if those I would be really weirded out by this.

      A steak lunch just sounds intimidating, and expensive if it turned out I’d have to pay for myself. I’d feel really on display, like our waiter and maybe other diners could see I was at an interview. It would make it really difficult to concentrate on my answers to questions, and I’d be second guessing ever move I made and how I ate my food. Much different feeling than a coffee shop.

      It would also make me wonder what this employer is expecting of me, an admin. Where would he bring candidates for higher up positions? Is he trying to show off? Would the work environment be super formal and maybe stuffy?

      What if the restaurant is super busy and we end up staying there longer than planned, and have to sit there in awkward silence? What if one of both of us realizes pretty quickly we’re not a good match, and then we have to sit through this lunch together like an awkward bad date?

      Yeah I’d probably back out too.

      Maybe a sandwich shop or deli instead, if he’s insisting on lunch? The word “steak” is primarily what raised these flags for me, not the lunch part.

    3. TootsNYC*

      Ooh, I’d missed that the first interview was at a café, not the recruiter’s office.

      That would so totally have me alert for scams or multi-level marketing schemes.

      Because why else is it that neither of these people has an office I can meet them at.

    4. HR Recruiter*

      Good point! I think its important to see your work environment if you are investing that much time into interviewing. I’ve been on both sides of the coin as the hiring manager and as the interviewee where the first interview was at a secondary location because the manager did not want the temp to see who their competition was for the position. But if you got far along in the process you always had at least one interview at the actual work location usually after the temp left or their day off.

  13. Mallory Janis Ian*

    Hmm . . . I’m in an administrative assistant role, and I wouldn’t have any objection to meeting a new potential boss for a lunch interview. That’s how I got my last role; the boss and his wife took me to lunch to discuss the position and their expectations for it. That job ended up not being a fit for me because the wife had no professional boundaries about anything, but I still don’t see the lunch meeting as a red flag that would have signaled that. So I think that either there’s something off-putting in the way your client is asking, or your candidate pool is a little naive about what a business lunch entails (financially or, if in a conservative area, appearance-wise).

      1. Lindsay J*

        Especially if the wife is at the interview and is not (I can’t tell from the post) officially involved with the business in some way.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Oh, I forgot to mention: the wife was a principal in the firm along with the husband. They were both the founders of the firm and she managed the operations, while he was the design lead. So it made sense for her to be there. My role in the business was to take some of the daily data-entry drudgery off her plate (payroll, invoicing, etc.) that she’d been doing by herself before deciding it was time to hire some admin support.

  14. F.*

    The fact that he does NOT want you to meet with him and the candidate makes my spidey senses tingle. I’m getting a bad vibe from this, and heck, I’m a middle-aged, married woman!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      See, I don’t think that part is weird. Doing interviews with additional people changing the dynamic, and the OP is an outside recruiter. I wouldn’t want to bring an outside recruiter to my interviews either.

    2. Searching*

      Its the part where he’s trying to turn it all on the recruiter as their fault that troubles me.

  15. SirTechSpec*

    If these are people new to the workforce, I can see how they would expect interviews to be at an office. Before I started, I thought only ‘suits’ did business over lunch/golf.

    Second, count me in the group of folks who would NOT want to try to impress an interviewer while eating (though I’d probably still go, since you don’t lose much by trying).

    But if I had to guess, I think it’s most likely what AMT said, that they’re worried about paying for a meal they can’t afford.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I’m old to the workforce, and I would expect job interviews to be in an office.

      Unless it was something like, I had so little time for my own lunch break, and the recruiter says, “to make this easier on you, I’ll come to a cafe near your office.”

      But a fancy, somewhat pricey restaurant (bcs steakhouses are fancy & somewhat pricey, in my experience), on a first interview?

      1. Doriana Gray*

        I was taken to a fancy somewhat pricey restaurant of my choosing for my first interview with my current division (a Mexican-fusian place), and that turned out well. The VP and I had tacos, and the AVP had some super spicy egg and meat thing that I can’t remember the name of that had him sweating all over the place. We got messy at that lunch, but also had a really good time. And that lunch sold them on me being a culture fit with their group (who can oftentimes be messy and silly during group outings/events).

        1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*


          What I was trying to say. A lunch interview is a business interview. And it’s important to get a good fit.

          If the culture of the office and company are that you’re expected to socialize from time to time, get together for lunch with colleagues, etc. then the lunch interview reveals a lot – to both sides.

    2. Violet Fox*

      I’d want to interview at the office/work place because I would like to see what the work place is like to help me get a better idea if it was somewhere I wanted to work or not. I see interviewing at the office as just part of interviews being a two way street informations-wise.

  16. LD*

    I can’t even read two full comments before the “Whataburger” video interrupts and pulls me back to it. And before I could complete this comment it interrupted, as well.
    Thank you.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Quick question for you — do you happen to know if it was playing in the ad box that’s right above the comments, or whether it was one of the sidebar ads?

  17. I'd hate this*

    I can think of many reasons someone might be scared away by this.

    I used to be a vegetarian and could rarely find anything at all to eat. Some places didn’t even have salads.

    I have been to very few steakhouses where there was anything light to eat and I wouldn’t want to eat that heavy food during a job interview.

    Food portions also tend to be huge, unless it’s a very high end steakhouse, in which case it’s likely to be quite expensive, adding another level of distress during an interview.

    I find steakhouse food to be particularly messy, drippy (sauce & blood), and smelly (garlic, onions, spice rubs, etc.).

    Maybe not a valid argument but I also don’t want to watch someone else eat a steak while I’m trying to concentrate on answering interview questions.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There are lots of reasons to dislike the idea, but none of these are reasons that candidates would normally withdraw if they were otherwise interested in the job. (As a vegetarian, though, it would certainly be reasonable to say, “As a vegetarian, I wonder if there’s another location that would work equally as well for you?”)

  18. Meg Murry*

    I think the fact that it’s a second interview that is being held somewhere other than the office the people would be working at might send up red(ish) flags to me. I might wonder what you are trying to hide about the office – is it in a terrible neighborhood, does the building smell funny, does the roof leak over my desk, is everyone required to wear hideous neon scrubs, is the rest of the staff rude, would I be using a 15 year old computer and photocopier, etc? I would hope that the second interview would be a chance for me to see where I’d be working.

    The other things could be issues:
    -The reputation of the steakhouse. Does it have some kind of “this is the restaurant you take your mistress to” local connotation, and that is why the candidates are saying no? Is it in or next door to a hotel with an iffy reputation?
    -To do a morning or afternoon interview in a coffeehouse, I would only need to take a half vacation day, or possibly even meet you before or after my shift. To take a lunch interview would require me to take an entire day off of work since I would need time to get to the restaurant, and would assume it would take a while. And to take an entire day off of work for an interview, I would probably need to call off – and I don’t want to risk calling off and then being seen out at a restaurant. And especially so if it’s the kind of restaurant popular with local doctors – what if the person was seen there by their current employer, or a colleague of their current employer?

    If the doctor’s issue is really that he doesn’t want the temp to see him interviewing, couldn’t he hold the interviews at the office an hour or so after they are officially closed? That would probably be more convenient for currently employed candidates, and wouldn’t look as odd as the lunch interview.

    1. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

      Yes, this. I’ve never understood lunch interviews that “only take an hour” because I only get 45 minutes and with drive time, it’s going to be more like an hour and a half at least, which means I still need to take time off of work, in which case, we might as well schedule something at the start or end of the day or just do it in the middle and let me figure out scheduling on my own.

    2. Erin*

      Yes to the more time off work, I almost commented on that. There’s no telling how lo g that could take, and I’d be giving up my lunch break on top of taking time off work. Much preferable to go into work late or leave early.

    3. Thermal Teapot Researcher*

      This is exactly what I was thinking. The main reason that I would be put off by a non-office first interview would be that I wouldn’t be able to interview the working environment that I’m applying to. Frankly, I wouldn’t want to have to make it through to a second interview just to get this basic information.

    4. Roscoe*

      Honestly though, if the woman with the fiance found it inappropriate to meet in public with just him, I would find meeting after hours where the others staff are gone even more so.

    5. TootsNYC*

      “I think the fact that it’s a second interview that is being held somewhere other than the office the people would be working at might send up red(ish) flags to me. I might wonder what you are trying to hide about the office ”

      I would probably be wondering if it even exists.

    6. KH*

      I also agree with all of this. All very good points. Another thing that I’d like to reinforce:

      As someone whose partner was in the job market for over a year (last year and prior), a lot of people who haven’t had to go through the process don’t realize the number of scams and “come work for us in a new entrepreneurial business” (i.e. open a sales office/sell insurance) that are out there. You apply to what looks like a perfectly normal job listing and the next thing you know you’re being pressured to become a part of an MLM and “invest” $$$.

      If I were looking for an ADMIN job, I’d very much be expected to see where it is I’m going to be working. Every admin job I’ve ever interviewed for has always had an element of office-tour and “this is where you would be sitting” as a part of the interview process. (And as an aside, how many bad job situations have been written about on this website where the OP has been asked “Didn’t you see this when you went to the office to interview?”)

      If both of my interviews were out of the office and I wasn’t shown around the building, my “this is a scam” rader would be pinging hard at this point. And the fact that it’s not just “my schedule is full – can we interview over lunch somewhere” but a full fledged “steakhouse” meal would make me even more suspicious.

        1. Snork Maiden*

          I really like this MLM comment. The scammers, er, marketers like to target the demographic looking for admin/entry level jobs, and I would have thought the same thing if you haven’t seen the office by the second interview.

    7. Ultraviolet*

      I appreciate the point about the reputation of the steakhouse. At first I wasn’t really understanding the perspective of those who said a steakhouse would be too intimate. But I see now it really depends on the place. If the restaurant has a really romantic or date-night vibe, it could definitely seem weird to be invited to an interview there.

    8. Hillary*

      Good point about reputation. There are a couple local restaurants that are well-liked in parts of the business community that also have very specific reputations. Looking for a new Russian mistress? How about someone to have an affair with?

      The thing is, I know that because I’m tied into very local gossip (thanks, BFF’s scout troop members’ moms). I’m pretty sure that most of the men going there for business lunches either don’t know about the reputations or wouldn’t be willing to admit they know. Heck, I’d go to one for a lunch with one of my vendors. But I wouldn’t go with someone I don’t know, especially when the power dynamics are as imbalanced as during an interview.

  19. IT Kat*

    Even at the level I’m currently at in my career (higher than a admin/office administrator, not a manager, but a technical expert that’s fairly often recruited), I’d decline a steakhouse lunch interview unless:

    a.) It’s clear that I would be seeing the actual workplace at some point in the interview process; and
    b.) It’s made clear I wouldn’t be expected to spring for the meal myself; and
    c.) It’s at least a week out.

    That said, I dislike lunch interviews for plenty of reasons – hard to hear, harder to project a professional demeanor while eating, etc. But if I was asked to an expensive location for lunch (especially on short notice, i.e. the same week), without clarification of a, b, and c above, I’d just decline. Asking “Will the lunch be covered?” is rather crude… at most, I’d push back with “I’d prefer to meet in the office I’ll be working in,” but if your client is doing the asking and coming off a bit strong, I’d likely just decline.

    The fact that there’s three qualified applicants who declined makes me think you should be digging a bit more into how this interview invitation is being presented.

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      Been through many interviews – even for an IS/IT position. Let me ask – will the position require interaction with customers (face-to-face)? They may want to gauge a candidate’s reaction. If you’re going to be in business/social situations that take you into restaurants like this, they want to make sure you have an adequate set of manners and a polished business style.

      I was even asked to do this on “techie” interviews because I would be customer-facing.

      Lesson #1 – never order a double scotch at an interview lunch!

      Seriously – sometimes, an interviewer will go to a nice restaurant – because the company’s picking up the tab.
      It may also be in the company culture that they do things like this – for their employees, often, or from time to time.

      To take the devil’s advocate view – if you are hesitant to go on a business lunch, that could set up a red flag for your candidacy. If going to a steakhouse freaks one out, maybe he/she shouldn’t be considering employment with a company where such things are customary.

      1. IT Kat*

        Hmm… I don’t think I said that I was hesitant to go on a business lunch – I said I disliked interview lunches, and listed reasons, and said I was hesitant to go on short-notice interview lunches where I hadn’t even seen the office I’d possibly be working in and where it was unclear if I was supposed to spring for my own lunch. :-)

        If those things are red flags to a company, it’s not a company I want to work for, so it’s best we learn this early!

        I’ve done plenty of regular business lunches in my time, and interview lunches not u service the above three personal red flags.

        Also, if you have jobs where I’m performing technical customer service while doing nothing but eating in good restaurants – sign me up!! Otherwise I’m failing to see how the two skills relate. ;-)

        1. IT Kat*

          *”and interview lunches that don’t fall under the above three personal red flags” – not sure what my phone Autocorrect was doing there.

        2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          IT Kat,

          First of all, I was referring to business lunch = interview lunch. You ARE going to a business lunch if it’s an interview lunch. And if things go to a second interview – you’ll see the office.

          Second – if you’re invited to an interview lunch – it is EXPECTED that the company picks up the tab. You can certainly say “oh, honestly, I can’t afford that””… and they’re going to PROBABLY come back with “hey it’s on our nickel, OK!” Although at a Starbucks, you might be asked to pay for your own latte.

          Third – I am in a job where I perform technical service – but at times – I am *customer facing*. Occasionally a tech rep will have to go along to a business lunch because the client/customer requests his/her presence. You may be thrust into a customer-facing situation. Your employer expects that you’ll be able to handle it, and that’s how it’s done. If the customer says to the account manager, “hey, this guy T.A.F.K.A.A has done a great job for us. Can I meet him?” A lunch invite in such a situation would likely come forward — AND — they want to ensure that you can do that.

          I used to interview interns – and take them to lunch (with my colleagues) someplace nice. It was part of the screening. In the for-profit, Fortune 500 world, things DO work that way.

          1. aebhel*

            It really just depends. Never in my professional life have I attended a business lunch, because it’s just not in the nature of what I do. A lunch interview would be pretty strange for my current professional job (public librarian) in the area where I live, let alone for a mid-level administrative position. In some fields or types of business, it’s a commonplace thing, but it is definitely not the norm everywhere – obviously, as we can see from the comments on this post.

            1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

              Yes, you are right – it depends. And some people may be relative newbies (millenials) to the working world, and may not realize that every environment is different.

              Even in the tech world – if you are interviewing for a back-room position and there’s not any interaction with customers, then – yes – you might not see this part of the business culture.

              But if you’re a tech that works with customers, you can expect that it’s part of the job.

              Likewise – an admin — an admin assistant may be required to be in open business situations. What if there’s a trade show, and the boss asks you to accompany her (or him) to attend and assist?

              In reviewing the comments, a lot of people are squeamish or apprehensive about such a thing. I’m sure, in many places – that’s part of the screening. If you can’t handle a dinner in a good restaurant, you probably won’t fit in with what they’re going to have you do.

      2. PM Jesper Berg*

        “If going to a steakhouse freaks one out, maybe he/she shouldn’t be considering employment with a company where such things are customary.”


  20. Macedon*

    Huh. Did not realise this was so common of a practice. I’d expect it as the (literal) wining and dining of the single candidate you are prioritising for a very high-ranking job, but I definitely wouldn’t expect to be taken out to lunch as one of a half-dozen candidates for a middle-range position.

    That said, steakhouses are particularly unsuitable for interviews: they’re loud(er than coffee shops, that operate under the frequent conceit of meet-ups), expensive and more difficult to navigate for vegetarians and people with meat-related dietary restrictions. You more often than not see families at steakhouses during lunch time, and that might not be the vibe you want during a professional interview.

    But Alison’s right: however interesting the lunch venue or the practice itself, it’s hardly so tone-deaf that it alone should be giving your candidates a sufficient reason to pull out. Dig a little deeper – might be something more going on there. OP, are you the one who handles all communication with the candidates, or does the employer reach out as well? I wonder whether he doesn’t come off too effusive or overly friendly in a way that raises concerns with these women in the context of a restaurant meeting.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Especially not for a *first* interview. (bcs an external recruiter doesn’t count as that “first” interview; it’s a screening)

      1. Macedon*

        Yeah, a one-on-one lunch with a man you’ve never met, who might be coming off overly eager (will allow benefit of doubt on that, this is purely my assumption)… I can see how some women might be uncomfortable with that.

        But it ultimately all comes down to how he presents himself and his invitation, even then. Lacking that information or further feedback from the candidates, it’s very difficult to tell: it could be the other two who withdrew were just flukes.

  21. Liz L*

    A friend was up for an admin job once, and she and I both thought it was weird that three lawyers had to sneak out of their office to meet with her at a nearby restaurant because they didn’t want the current admin to get the heads up that she was on the chopping block. The whole thing gave off a strange air, as if they didn’t know how to properly navigate staff and awkward situations. We had both worked in legal admin for long time and never heard of this happening in our city. She didn’t take the job and sympathized with the admin who was being let go.

    The other thing is that interviewees want to see the professional setting and determine whether they want to work in such atmospheres. Going to a restaurant removes that option for them, and they just have to rely on the interviewers’ words. Also, having to dine while interviewing is hella awkward if you’ve never done it or you’re a nervous eater/interviewer. It introduces a lot more to criticize/analyze that might have nothing to do with work-related issues.

    1. Scotty_Smalls*

      I thought that was weird too. Especially since the current Admin is a temp. Unless the Admin is very entitled, she shouldn’t be too surprised if the boss wants to hire someone else

    2. myswtghst*

      The whole thing gave off a strange air, as if they didn’t know how to properly navigate staff and awkward situations.

      I had similar thoughts – while I know there are plenty of reasons the doctor might not want to be 100% transparent with the admin during this stage of the hiring process (for example, if he has reason to believe the admin will quit on the spot if they find out) – it would make me uneasy to know my future boss might sneak around behind my back instead of approaching me directly if they are thinking about replacing me.

  22. LD*

    Perhaps the client is interested in using the opportunity for a tax-deductible lunch at a nice place? It would most likely qualify as a business expense since he’d be interviewing. Small business owners seem very interested in finding legitimate deductions and this would seem to fit the bill. (No pun intended!)

  23. Katie the Fed*

    Whatever the issue is, I really want a follow up on this. Because it sounds like something is weirding them out.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Me too. I cannot imagine any other reason three people in a row would say “No way,” unless there’s something freakeh going on. And my ears pricked up at the fiance/e thing.

      1. BeautifulVoid*

        Same here. I think a lot of people here brought up valid, innocuous reasons for turning down a steakhouse lunch – concerns about who’s responsible for paying, having to take more time off from a current job, wanting to see the actual location where they’d be working, etc.

        But the fact that one of the applicants invoked a variation of “Sorry, no thanks, I have a boyfriend” is…interesting.

          1. BeautifulVoid*

            I know, which is why I said a variation of the usual line women use in an effort to get persistent men to go away. (Unfortunately, “I have a girlfriend” tends to open the door to more creepiness from said men.)

            Interestingly, though, if the conversation had taken place in person/over the phone instead of in writing, no one would have been able to distinguish between fiance/fiancee. Maybe that makes it a better word to use than boyfriend/girlfriend!

            Anyway, it’s irrelevant now, since OP cleared up some details and it turns out that one of the three candidates turned down the steakhouse lunch due to scheduling conflicts and not because of any icky vibes she was getting from the client. Oh well, I still enjoyed the discussion.

  24. Catabouda*

    I would think it was odd, particularly as a first round interview. I think of steak house lunches as being for executive level interviews, not for the type of job being described. I guess it would depend on how desperate I was for a job / that job on whether I would go or decline.

    As others have mentioned – I want to see the workplace, and the idea of having to plan bites of food / chewing / responding is not appealing at all.

  25. Bespoke Teapot Maker*

    A lunch interview with a panel, I could see. A lunch interview with one person at a coffee shop, I could see. But meeting one man at a fancy restaurant–that’s a date. And that’s weird.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wait, no. That’s actually really harmful to both men and women. Men and women have one-on-one business lunches in nice restaurants all the time. Those are not dates.

      1. IT Kat*

        Agreed! Jumping right to “it’s a date” is weird and very harmful. Men and women can interact without hormones going! o.0

      2. TechChick*

        I agree with you Alison but as 20-something woman this would weird me out. A business lunch with a male colleague is not a big deal. A one-on-one lunch interview with my potential boss in a 1 person company whom I may or may not have met yet? Yeah I wouldn’t accept either. It rubs me the wrong way.

          1. Sparkly Librarian*

            1) unknown quantities (first meeting, no established business relationship or knowledge of boss’s character)
            2) power dynamic

            A lunch meeting may be more out of the ordinary for admin assistants than freelancers/consultants — if they’re used to operating within strict office hierarchy, then a steakhouse interview is unexpected and might be causing the applicants to file the request under “social” rather than “professional” norms.

            Personally, I’d accept a lunch interview (or at least wouldn’t turn it down for that reason) but I would be even more uncomfortable than at an in-office interview. This would have been magnified enormously ten years ago.

          2. M from NY*

            My problem is, insisting on lunch at a steakhouse assumes a level of intimacy that doesn’t exist. As Potential employer/ employee we are both trying to figure out if a work relationship will be mutually beneficial. Sharing a meal is not the setting to do that. Even when higher positions meet at lunch/dinner that’s usually a seal the deal step not a beginner screening out step.

            [Also, multiple interviews not at the place of business have been red flags for me in the past and not a merry go round I’d have any interest in revisiting.]

            The fact that multiple candidates have pushed back lends me to believe the common denominator is the Employer/client. I’d advise OP to follow up with the matches and try to figure out what exactly was said.

          3. TechChick*

            The other commenters hit on a number of the issues I would have too.

            I should say that I’ve only been working for about 2 years out of school and I work in tech where this kind of thing is weird (dinners with clients or teams? Fine. Lunch or coffee with my manager? Fine. Coffee with a recruiter? Fine). A steakhouse feels incredibly formal and as someone else said, it feels oddly intimate given the power dynamic and very little interaction thus far. I’d also be curious to know the age of the employer and the applicants; a 50 year old man taking a 25 year old out to lunch also feels weird without some sort of established relationship–it would make me feel very uncomfortable and I wouldn’t him or any one else to get the wrong idea or set up a pattern of weird boundary issues. Business lunches don’t feel odd to me but a formal lunch interview does. Honestly the thought of not seeing the office space was not an intimidate red flag for me (though it probably should be) but rather just that weird gut-feeling that it feels off. I wish I could be more specific.

          4. Just Another Techie*

            It would weird me out too, and it’s because he picked a steakhouse specifically. In my field/region lunch interviews are really normal, but it’s usually at the cheaper end of sushi restaurants, or a pan-asian fusion place, or maybe a deli or something. Steak connotes money and old boys network and icky secretary fantasies and all kinds of things I don’t want to get on me when I’m just getting to know someone, either personally or professionally. It’s too much too soon. It would be a big red flag for me that this dude doesn’t get professional boundaries, or, best case, is totally clueless about the realities of being a young woman in a male-dominated field.

            1. AnotherAlison*

              I think it’s a regional thing. Where I live, steak is just meat. There’s no secret connotation. People go to cheaper places like Texas Roadhouse all the time.

          5. Searching*

            I am also fairly certain it has to do with the way he’s asking. And that OP is not getting the full story from him about the interaction. One young woman “admitted” about a fiance. That is just not something I would *ever* bring up in an interview unless I was badgered unprofessionally by the other person. Its a “just go away right now” defensive answer. Something is just off here. The steakhouse is part of it, but I don’t think its the whole story.

            1. myswtghst*

              That really stuck out to me too – I’ve been known to casually mention my SO in the context of the conversation if I’m getting a weird vibe, but I can’t imagine going full on “my fiance and I agreed this is not cool” unless I was seriously sketched out.

          6. Cari*

            Same as TechChick this scenario would definitely set me off. Young woman having dinner at a restaurant with a man that is a complete stranger, that is in a position to give or deny me a job opportunity and would be my potential boss? What could possibly go wrong :D

            And to flip the genders, I think just as women may have valid concerns about meeting strange men on their own, so would men have valid (but usually different) concerns about being alone in a non-date but still intimate setting like a restaurant – as a candidate or an interviewer.

            It’s nothing to do with outside appearances and whether it’s socially acceptable to be alone with strangers of the opposite sex or not because hormones, or what have you.
            The one-on-one interaction with *stranger* of the opposite sex scenario is one that many will have had, or will reasonably fear having, a bad experience with.

            A stranger interviewing you for a job, alone, in a non-professional setting like a restaurant, is less of a known quantity than one interviewing you at the office where there will be more often than not, other employees around. You know what to expect from them in the office interview setting.

  26. Episkey*

    Hmmm…I think I would think it was odd. I would also be wondering if something was going on at the office – especially since it sounds like the first interview was at a coffee shop (so not the office) and now the 2nd interview would be at a restaurant (also not the office).

    I’m not sure I would pull out…but I would also be concerned as I’m a vegetarian and 1) wouldn’t want to feel pressured to either find something I could eat (like a side salad & baked potato which I’ve been relegated to at steakhouses in the past); and/or 2) pay for it myself.

  27. Roscoe*

    So I’m wondering for all the people opposed to this, is it the fact that its a lunch interview or a steakhouse? Like if it was Chili’s would that be more acceptable? I mean my first thought is that his reasoning of not wanting the person getting fired to know makes sense. Lunch isn’t the worst place. Maybe he should have given options about where to go for things like if you are a vegetarian, but I just don’t see the act itself being as being that bad. I mean, my guess is he likes steak, he can write off this lunch, and he didn’t want to do it in an office. I’d actually prefer that to starbucks or something, because steakhouses are usually a bit more spread out, so there isn’t some random person right next to me while I’m giving my answers

    1. Mando Diao*

      If you’re forking over the money for a steak, you might as well pay the $25 for a table at a coworking space. The insistence on multiple meetings over food is weird.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s actually pretty common in many fields, or at least not unusual/eyebrow-raising.

        It’s totally legitimate to say “this wouldn’t be my favorite thing,” but that’s different than it actually being an unusual practice.

        This isn’t directed just toward Mando Diao; I’m seeing a lot of this throughout this thread. It’s certainly useful for the OP to know that apparently this impression is out there, but for the record, it’s really, really not that weird in many fields.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Which I’m finding really interesting and fascinating because I’m a professional and have been working for almost two decades, obviously not in whatever fields this is not-weird in, and the number of restaurant interviews I have been a party to or witnessed or been aware of in any way, with any of my jobs or positions I was considering, is zero. And that’s including cheap restaurants. A meal for an interview, rather than a coffee or just meeting in an office, seems Weird; doing it in a steakhouse seems Weird and intimate; I don’t find it at all unreasonable to consider that might be why the candidates are backing out. I’d have to _really_ want the job to go forward with it, and my reason for not wanting to (besides its seeming weird to me!) is because of a medical condition, which means I really wouldn’t want to say something about it. I’d just edge back and run away.

          1. Mando Diao*

            I agree. I’m not trying to insult anyone (and I don’t have a horse in this race, so whatever), but I honestly don’t think it’s common. I mean, ask people under 30 and just trying to get their foot in the admin door if this is something they’ve been primed for or even heard of. My guess is that the majority of job seekers will find this odd.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I just googled “how common are lunch interviews” and couldn’t find an answer (but did find an insane number of articles about them, so they’re pretty well established as A Thing That Happens). But going just on personal experience, I can think of lunch interviews that I saw happen in probably every job I’ve ever been in.

              1. Liz L*

                There are industries and levels at which lunch interviews are normal but definitely others where they aren’t. I’ve never once interviewed at a location other than the interviewer/company’s offices. All food venues would be weird interview spots for the areas I’ve worked in.

              2. KH*

                Well for what it’s worth, I work in telecom and I’ve never, in 30+ years in the industry seen a lunch interview (much less an expensive one) at an admin level. I’ve seen them at higher level executives, but usually as part of flying someone in for an interview. There’s usually a lunch and a dinner at that level. But for an admin candidate? I’ve never seen or heard of it in my industry.

                1. AFT123*

                  I’m recently 30 and work in IT sales and I’ve had 3 interviews over lunch. Was no biggie aside from being uncomfortable for me for all the of the various reasons people have mentioned here. I’m also a female and all interviews were with one man (marital status unknown). It would have been odd if it was outside of business hours though.

                2. AFT123*

                  Clarification – each interview was 1:1 with a male. I can see how that read as the same person each time.

                3. Persephone Mulberry*

                  AFT123 – did you work in IT sales on the sales side, or the admin/support side? Sales feels like one of those elusive lunch-interviews-are-normal fields.

                4. KH*

                  But I see sales as being VASTLY different from an Admin role.

                  Other people have said (and Alison has linked to a previous letter) that it’s the norm for sales, lawyers, etc. And I totally see that. But for an Admin in a medical office? I don’t think it’s the norm at that level.

              3. CAA*

                I suspect this is one of those things that’s more common in DC and NYC, where I have the impression that working lunches in restaurants are more common than in most other parts of the country. (That could be wrong … most of what I know about this is from TV, and I always think “oh that’s such an east coast thing”.)

                People bring food in for working meetings here, and we go out to eat and socialize and celebrate all the time, but to go out and have an actual work meeting is not usual and I think that carries over to interviewing someone over a meal.

                1. TootsNYC*

                  If the interview were going to be over sandwiches in the office (“since you’ll need to be here over your lunch period, I’ll feed you so you don’t have to fit that in as well” would be the vibe I’d get), I don’t think there would be quite the same pushback from THREE candidates. And not just three, but ALL three.

                  I think it’s really remarkable that every one of them is refusing.

            2. NoCalHR*

              I’ve been in the workforce for 20+ years and have had several lunch-at-a-restaurant interviews, including one for a secretarial position in the early 1990’s. That one was at a local steakhouse, with my prospective HM and her VP. Yes, it was awkward trying to time answers to bites; it was do-able and I got the offer. That said, most of these interviews were for higher level jobs. So no, the steakhouse venue by itself wouldn’t put me off.

          2. Persephone Mulberry*

            I’m a professional and have been working for almost two decades, obviously not in whatever fields this is not-weird in, and the number of restaurant interviews I have been a party to or witnessed or been aware of in any way, with any of my jobs or positions I was considering, is zero.

            Ditto. I would love to know which fields take their admin candidates to fancy (or any) lunch interviews, so that I can go on more of them. :)

          3. Karowen*

            See I’m in the same boat as you in that it’s not something I’ve ever done or seen or been a party to – But for some reason it seems totally normal to me. Maybe it’s because it’s represented pretty frequently in pop culture (even though pop culture is not a great barometer of office norms)? It’s just so weird to me that people are having such different reactions to the situation!

          4. Cari*

            Interviews not in a professional setting, for any job below a level where networking and or schmoozing would be par for the course, seems really weird to me. Doesn’t matter what field (unless it’s for a small tech start-up and the interview is in Starbucks or some hip independent coffee place. Then it’s just cliché ;) ).

            That said, after minimum wage jobs, I’ve only either interviewed for jobs with small private business, public sector, and a university – none of which had the spare funds for interviewing candidates in restaurants.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          But doesn’t the letter kind of imply that it’s not the standard in the field/position that she’s recruiting for? Otherwise, wouldn’t she be mystified that these applicants are freaking out a completely normal business practice?

    2. Michelenyc*

      IME Starbucks is a lot louder than any steakhouse I have been to. I hate when people want to meet at Satrbucks there is too much going on.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      No, the steak thing wouldn’t bother me–I would probably assume the interviewer likes steak, and if the company is paying for it, he might choose a restaurant where he’d like to eat.

      For an admin job, I’d think a lunch interview was kind of weird, but if it’s not unheard of in the industry I was interviewing in, then I wouldn’t think too much of it. Hopefully, I would have done my research and I would already know this.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        That’s what I think…we would take engineers and salespeople to lunch on an interview so it wouldn’t occur to me that an admin candidate would be weirded out by it.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yeah, it’s mostly that in a lot of industries, the admin is thought of as a low-level position, and you don’t need to wine and dine an applicant at that level. Even existing admins don’t get those perks unless they’re company-wide.

          As I said in another comment, my team does include me in the dinners when my boss is here–at Exjob, I would have been left out completely.

  28. Mando Diao*

    Are these candidates currently employed? You’re talking about meetings that are undoubtedly going to take longer than their lunch breaks allow.

    I admit that I’d find this whole process sketchy. An interview with a recruiter at a coffee shop, then a fancy meal with the employer (who you pointedly note is “single”). He can’t do the interview at his office because he has a temp working there? That’s the fakest-sounding excuse I’ve ever heard. Everywhere I’ve ever interviewed, there have been other people already working there. Part of the interview is allowing the candidate to see the office and get a feel for how the business runs. You’d really hire someone who’d never been to the office before?

    Listen, I’m not accusing you or your client of anything slimy, but you need to realize that there’s a lot about this interview process that isn’t on the level. I agree with other commenters that I don’t think these types of interviews are super common outside of super-elite and high-ranking business circles. I wonder if it’s one of those practices that’s going out of fashion. OP mentions that one of the candidates has a fiancee. While people of all ages can obviously be engaged, that little tidbit makes me wonder if the candidates (all women, presumably) are young enough to 1) feel uncomfortable having a steak meal with an older man they don’t know, and 2) are genuinely unfamiliar with this as a business practice.

    1. One of the Sarahs*

      The more I think about it, the more I agree with everyone re not being able to see the office is a huge deal. I’m anti-lunch-interviews anyway, but it seems *weird* – and having temped, the idea that an interview should be hidden from the temp is so beyond strange, I’d immediately think it was an excuse.

          1. Mreasy*

            Got lobster on a first date & ended up with drawn butter pretty much everywhere. Somehow charmed him into marrying me after that though! But it’s certainly not a food I would eat at a business affair.

  29. Master Bean Counter*

    Steak houses with strangers becomes a very judgmental zone. Order your steak rare, you are an unrefined cave person. Order it well done, you’ve just ruined a good piece of meat. Never mind the switching/not switching of the fork to another hand. What if you order salad or chicken or…Way too many areas for a judgy person to find fault.

    1. Solidus Pilcrow*

      You’ve just hit on the reason I tend not to go to steakhouses with people I don’t know well. I like my meat well-done — there, I said it, I like my cows cooked — and the blowback can be strangely judgemental. Plus, it adds to the cook time.

  30. Student*

    Did you tell the interview candidates that the meal is covered as a business expense? (It is covered as a business expense, right?) Did you outline the expected amount of time they can expect to spend at the steakhouse interview?

    This sounds like some class-based nearsightedness. These interview candidates probably can’t afford a steakhouse (or, don’t want to spend their own money on a steakhouse meal with a potential boss). They probably have no idea that these kinds of expenses are usually covered by the hiring business – it’s not exactly typical to do low-level position interviews in that kind of setting, and at a coffee shop it’s quite plausible they’d pay for their own coffee. Depending on the exact expectations/situation, they might not be able to allot the amount of time required for a steakhouse interview (which will potentially take more than an hour), they might not be able to reach the location, or they might have assumed this was for a dinner appointment instead of lunch and have trouble covering childcare.

  31. Observer*

    I have to agree that something is up here, and if you are screening properly, it’s probably the client not the candidates.

    There is an old saying “If three people say you are drink, lay down.” You have had three out of three candidates who have turned down the lunch in a steakhouse. You might want to ask all of them what the deal is. Try to find out why the one with the Fiance brought him into the picture, if you can. Certainly ask why she considers it inappropriate. It’s a reasonable question, as long as it’s not asked in a challenging or adversarial manner.

    A couple of other things jumped out at me, as well. I don’t get why the interview has to be outside of the office, just because there is a temp there. Does the temp not know that she’s temporary? In which case, it could be that your candidates are picking up on some untrustworthiness. If there is a good reason why it shouldn’t be in the office, why on earth is he refusing to meet at a less formal setting? Also, refusing to have in on the interview is also fairly red flaggy, to me. Now, you know him, so I’ll accept that you are correct to no question his character, but if this typical of how he operates, I can imagine that there are a number of red flags for your candidates. As for getting insulted, that’s another red flag of a different sort. I could imagine him rolling his eyes over the issue and maybe not believing that this is really an issue for most people. But getting offended says his expectations are probably out of kilter.

    1. Zillah*

      Try to find out why the one with the Fiance brought him into the picture, if you can.

      I agree with you overall, but I did want to point out that the OP wrote “fiancée,” which indicates that the applicant is engaged to another woman, not a man. :)

      1. Observer*

        It doesn’t really make a difference. The question is not why she brought some “guy” into the picture, but why she brought her SO into the picture.

      2. Zillah*

        I don’t disagree with either of you! I just wanted to point out that the applicant’s partner is being misgendered, based on the information we have.

    2. Cari*

      ” Certainly ask why she considers it inappropriate. ”

      That’s going to come across as rude and accusatory regardless how the LW words the question, because if the candidate didn’t expand on why and left it at “it’s inappropriate” then the “why” is obvious. Prying further either forces the candidate to express her impression of the client that she’d diplomatically been avoiding giving away, or implies the candidate is stuffy and “conservative” for thinking going to dinners with strange men is not the done thing.

      1. Observer*

        I disagree. Asking for someone’s thinking doesn’t have to imply that they are “stuffy”.

      2. Searching*

        No, I wouldn’t ask the one with the SO. I think that person was already badgered to even give that response in the first place and very well may not react well to OP asking as well.

        1. Observer*

          I hear that. But, if I were the recruiter, I think it would be an important piece of information for me to have. So it’s a question that would have to be posed very carefully, and with ears wide open to any hint of “I don’t want to discuss this anymore!”

  32. hodie-hi*

    Interviews for software dev or QA positions at my employer–especially for key roles–typically take several hours, and sometimes most of the day. The applicant most often hangs out in an empty office or conference room. Over time, different people come to interview them (singly or by twos or threes) in that space. If lunchtime interrupts the schedule of interviews, and particularly if it’s going well, the applicant is taken out to lunch. I have no clue how often it’s a steakhouse; it’s actually a bit more likely to be sushi.

    But never here, or in my own experience as an applicant, has there been a “let’s interview over steak” situation. I might think twice about it, but it might not be an immediate deal breaker. (I like steak, I can afford to buy it, and steakhouses around here tend to not be noisy. Also, I’m old enough that I don’t take crap from anyone, and can happily walk away from something red-flaggy.)

    Other things might be happening for the OP’s situation (or not happening), that could make this a deal breaker. All that said, the OP’s last paragraph makes it sound like the client here might be a wee bit of a jerk.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      That’s my experience. Going for lunch at a reasonably priced restaurant as part of a job interview – no problem. Grabbing a meal or coffee one-on-one with a male colleague – no problem. I’ve actually ended up doing this on dinner on Valentine’s day, with no ulterior motives on either part.

      Meeting at a restaurant for a one-on-one job interview where I don’t actually see the workplace – this would never happen unless I were meeting someone in a different city for some reason, and would have me wondering what was going on that they were trying to keep me away from it. And steakhouses just don’t happen – they’re too expensive for work-related dining in my field.

      If this were the second interview for an office job, neither of which involved the actual office, I’d seriously wonder about some sort of scam. If the interviewer gave off any sort of worrying vibes, I would definitely turn down the interview.

  33. LakeFisher*

    Am I the only one who is actually taking the “I can’t meet you in my office because we are replacing someone who doesn’t know yet and want to hide the hiring process.” To be the real red flag here?

    I would not want to work with this employer as I would assume they are incapable of giving me feedback to improve and would instead try to fire me out of the blue like they are the current person!

    1. Roscoe*

      It really depends on the role of the person. I mean, if there is 1 person in this role and you’d be hiring them, and thats also the first person that the interviewee would be encountering, I can see how that would be weird. Its a lot different if you are replacing a single person in IT or something where you could sneak the interviewee in. But no, I don’t find it any more weird that an employer would want to hide the fact that they are hiring your replacement than the fact that I as an employee want to hide the fact that I’m job searching

      1. LakeFisher*

        AAM is pretty clear that best hiring practices don’t including secrete candidate searches and that best firing practices include clearly laying out performance problems, and their consequences, before firing someone. Being fired for performance should never be a surprise.

        AAM Link to follow.

        Also – it’s really comparable to say that, since I as an employee may not tell my employer the second I start looking at other jobs, that it is fine for them to secretly recruit my replacement without giving me a chance to improve. In the former the employer could force someone out before they are ready to leave, causing harm to the employee. In the latter, they are firing someone who may not even know they need improvement, harming the employee but also wasting their own time by not coaching up potentially good employees.

        1. BRR*

          I knew I was going to be fired 30 days before it happened following overall what I would consider an AAM approved plan and I would consider it polite for them not to be actively interviewing my replacement in the office with me there (although I would also consider it understandable).

    2. Natalie*

      Generally speaking I wouldn’t take this as a sign that they don’t give feedback – perhaps they’ve given tons and the employee hasn’t responded, or the employee is on a PIP they are clearly not meeting.

      In this particular case, the OP says it’s a temporary employee which does seem a little odd to me – temps are temps, and it’s completely common to interview permanent employees while you have a temp in place. The only thing that comes to mind is if the temp applied for the permanent position and didn’t get it.

    3. Cari*

      Not alone. That’s the second thing that really stood out. The first was “client wants to interview candidates most likely to be female, over the most manly of meals”.
      I know steak should just be steak and food in general not gendered, but stereotypically, that’s gotta have some candidates wondering if gender is gonna be an issue if the workplace there.

      1. Cari*

        That he doesn’t want to interview at the office because of the temp employee said to me he doesn’t want the temp employee getting any ideas of being permanent, but also doesn’t want to deal with any awkwardness such a discussion would cause for him if it came up. It’s not that anything shady has to be going on, more that as a manager, the client possibly isn’t a strong one…

  34. ZuKeeper*

    I think you should ask the candidates to be frank with you and tell you why they said no. Could it be because the steak restaurant comes off as more intimate than a coffee shop?

    I’d personally be uncomfortable because the idea of eating during a job interview is kind of awkward. I can handle drinking coffee. But eating? Nothing like trying to answer a question right after you took a bite. And I would be the one who would dribble something down my front, or end up with spinach stuck in my teeth.

  35. Wolfman's Brother*

    I wonder if this guy wants to do the interview over lunch so he can expense it.

    It does seem odd that all 3 candidates decided that the lunch interview was the reason to back out of the offer. If there were other possible red flags to me prior to hearing about the lunch interview, then it probably would be the last straw. If, however, everything else seemed on the up and up, then sure, let’s go to lunch. I’ve had plenty of day long interviews. If I am stuck interviewing, I might as well get a meal out of it.

  36. the_scientist*

    You know the Ian Fleming quote “Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action”? If three qualified candidates have withdrawn over the lunchtime interview at a steakhouse, there has to be some common denominator here, and it’s worth doing some investigating to find out what that is. My perception of a steakhouse dinner interview is that it’s for someone you’re really trying to wine and dine- a C-level employee, a partner, something like that. It strikes me as a bit odd to do the same type of interview for a medical office admin, but I don’t think I would decline the interview entirely just because of that!

    Also, the fact that one employee straight-up said it’s because she has a fiancee and therefore it’s not appropriate suggests that there may be some cultural expectations or nuances here that the employer is not aware of or is choosing to ignore. One person declining an interview because she felt it was inappropriate would lead me to assume that person is lacking an understanding of workplace norms, or is potentially a bit out of touch, but this incident plus two additional qualified employees withdrawing= something larger is going on here.

    1. NK*

      Yes, this. There is a world of difference between “I wouldn’t be thrilled about this interview situation, but I’d go along with it” and “This is weirding me out enough to decline a job interview.” To have THREE people decline a potential job opportunity is a huge red flag. There is something going on here, and it’s not just the steakhouse lunch.

      I hope the OP comes back to give some more color on this. I would be very curious to know how much the candidates know about the job or the hiring manager, there has to be something there that is contributing to the declines.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes, this. There is a world of difference between “I wouldn’t be thrilled about this interview situation, but I’d go along with it” and “This is weirding me out enough to decline a job interview.” To have THREE people decline a potential job opportunity is a huge red flag. There is something going on here, and it’s not just the steakhouse lunch.

        Yes — I think a lot of the discussion about why people wouldn’t be thrilled about a steakhouse is distracting from this point.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah, absolutely. Steakhouse lunch interviews are very much outside the norm for my industry, and I’d go “oh weird” if I was asked on one, but I wouldn’t turn it down because of that. It makes me wonder if something about how the client is presenting it is sending up red flags.

        For instance, a friend of mine in college was really excited by a coffee interview with someone at a particular worksite, which was initially set up by HR, until she got direct contact from the hiring manager who said something like, “I can’t wait to get coffee with a pretty girl.” She was, shall we say, rather less excited after that. It’s an extreme example, but that’s the kind of thing I’m wondering about–and the answer wouldn’t be to think about why she didn’t want a coffee meeting; that’s entirely beside the point.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          (And actually, now that I think about it, in that case she just declined the interview rather than explaining why–she was young and inexperienced and didn’t know how to say “I don’t want to get coffee with this guy because he called me a ‘pretty girl’ and that’s at beast condescending,” so she just declined entirely. So it’s possible someone somewhere was wondering why all these new grads didn’t want to do a coffee interview….)

      3. myswtghst*

        Your first paragraph is exactly why I’m also hoping the OP does some digging and comes back with an update, because while I can look at a combination of factors here (2 off-site interviews / not seeing the office + potential lack of transparency with employees + discomfort around steakhouse lunch) and see why I might decline the interview if I had other options, I can’t see one thing which sticks out enough to explain why 3 different candidates all had the same reaction of “Nope, I’m out”.

        Plus, as I mentioned somewhere upthread, while I might mention my SO in casual conversation, I can’t see directly saying “my SO and I think this is inappropriate” to anyone unless I was really skeeved out, which makes me wonder how exactly the OP’s client is approaching these lunch invitations.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      I’m wondering too if there’s something about the way he’s wording it that’s throwing them off. Not like “let’s meet at Ray’s The Steaks for an interview” but instead something like “well, I’d love to buy you a big juicy steak and talk about what a good fit you’d be for the job, heh heh.”

      1. the_scientist*

        Quite possibly, and also ewwww.

        The other thing that popped into my head is the number of job prospects available. I work on a three-block stretch known as “hospital alley”; there are 4 world class hospitals, 3-5 government health agencies, several research institutions, and innumerable private medical clinics on this three-block stretch. Someone with training in medical office administration could find a new job here in probably a week (in fact, I know someone who had a new offer 4 days after she was laid off). If this is a strong market for medical office admins, it might not be worth their while to deal with a weird interview, where they would be more forgiving in a tighter market. I still think there is something going on though, given that three people in a row declined.

  37. katamia*

    It might not be the same reason for each person, too. We have one whose fiance is apparently not okay with her meeting with another man. Another could be a vegetarian, and the third could be worried about the cost or the time the interview would take.

    1. KH*

      Keep in mind that the fiance might be just a convenient excuse. I have, in the past, used my significant other as an excuse for getting out of something rather than go into a longer and potentially more uncomfortable explanation. Or when I’ve had “a feeling” and couldn’t give a solid reason. In those cases falling back on “I’m seeing someone and he wouldn’t like it” may be a cop-out, but it has been useful.

      1. A Non E. Mouse*

        I was going to say this – my husband couldn’t give a rat’s behind who I have lunch with, there are no trust issues either direction….but OH MY would I use it as an excuse but quick if I was getting a weird vibe from someone.

        As others have mentioned too, there definitely could be some class-blindness going on here. There were points in my career that I would have had to decline a lunch interview for fear it would run long (and by long, I mean not fit in an hour from me clocking out to me clocking back in, not an hour *at* the interview). These admins, if currently employed, might very smartly be protecting the job they have at the expense of the one they are still interviewing for.

      2. katamia*

        It definitely could be just an excuse. It’s one I’ve used too, even when I was single. But it seems weird to me to pull that out in a professional situation if it isn’t true, especially since she was giving the information to the OP (who presumably doesn’t make her uncomfortable) rather than directly to the guy who’s doing the hiring. That goes double if she’s not in a conservative area where this sort of thing is common.

        It could also cause her to miss out on jobs in the future. Maybe there would be a coffee interview with a non-creepy man in the future for a job she would really enjoy, but with OP thinking that she doesn’t meet with men for interviews except in the office, OP may not even put her up for that job. It just seems like something that would hurt her more than it would help her as a lie/excuse, so I’m inclined to believe it.

        1. KH*

          Maybe. But I just went back and read the post and OP says “she AND her fiance don’t think it’s appropriate”. So that’s not “my fiance won’t let me/isn’t ok with it” but “we both are uncomfortable with it”.

    2. Zillah*

      Worth noting that the OP wrote fiancée, which indicates that the applicant’s partner is a woman.

      1. MissLibby*

        Or the OP misspelled it or just didn’t know there are two different spellings depending on gender…I didn’t until I read your comment. Anyways, the partner’s gender is irrelevant.

      2. Zillah*

        I know we’re not meant to parse language here, but there’s something about “maybe the OP just doesn’t know the difference” that rubs me the wrong way. It seems to me that it’s best to take the OP literally and assume that “fiancée” meant “fiancée” rather than assume that “fiancée” actually meant “fiancé” because – why? We don’t typically do that with other words that we discover previously-unknown meaning for on AAM – why do it here?

        No, of course the gender of the partner isn’t relevant to the broader context, and this is getting off-track so I’ll leave it here. I just wanted to point out that based on the letter, the applicant’s partner is being misgendered.

        1. AJS*

          I’ve seen too many masseurs referred to as “masseuses” to assume that people know anything about linguistic gender variations.

  38. Catalin*

    I may just be trigger sensitive (or over-reading) but people tell us a lot with the words they choose. Example “a SINGLE man”, “Don’t think he believes me,” “Insulted that a candidate’s fiancée…” “I have no doubts about his character.” Well, someone somewhere had doubts about his character; that’s not a first-reference descriptor for most stories.
    The message feels like he’s demanding these candidates meet him for steak luncheon: that’s a very different message than, “I’m excited about your potential fit into my team, would you allow me to treat you to lunch at Steaks-R-Us so we can continue the interview process over a meal?”
    Like many of the posters, I’d be concerned about the expectation for a job-hunter to pay for their meal (or the whole bill) at an out-of-range restaurant.

    Something in the way the client is using words is making these candidates shy away: whatever it is, it is worth listening to.

    1. Adam V*

      I just thought of it in reference to the related story (“she and her fiancee didn’t think it was appropriate”) and assumed it was just additional info as a way of asking “do you think it’s because he’s single?”

    2. Rusty Shackelford*


      I know not everyone is a fan of Gavin DeBecker, but this really jumps out at me in context of what he calls “satellites” – those things people throw into a conversation that don’t seem to really belong there. They often reveal what people are *really* thinking about. For example, the remark about his character. The LW felt it was necessary to include that. Why? Because she really does have doubts and is trying to convince herself otherwise? Because the applicants made it clear that they had doubts? There’s a pretty good chance that someone, somewhere, has brought up this man’s character.

      1. BeautifulVoid*

        I finally got around to reading The Gift of Fear, and I thought the same exact thing in regards to word choice and the “satellites” when reading this letter (and the comments). I know when writing in for advice, it can be tough to find the balance between “giving enough details for context” and “uh-oh, my question is three pages long”. But did we really need to know the client is single? And how did that come up in professional conversation with the OP, anyway?

        Anyway, that’s enough reading between the lines for now.

    3. Ultraviolet*

      Could be, but it’s also likely that OP was just anticipating some questions Alison or the comment section might have.

    4. Meg Murry*

      Yes, I noticed this as well. OP also mentioned 18 years experience, so that probably makes her in her late 30s at a minimum (and never specifies that OP is in fact a she, as we often default to here). I’ve met some sleazeballs/jerks in my life that were perfectly fine when dealing with someone they considered an equal, but turned slimy/jerk-ish in other situations, like when there was a power differential – and unfortunately it was especially common when the other party was a much younger woman. I’ve experienced this both as the younger woman, and now that I have some age, experience, gravitas and gray hair, as the person that thought the other party was an upstanding person, until watching them interact with a young woman and either hit on her, flirt with her, act in a “joking” manner that is sexist and not funny, talk down to her or condescend to her.

      And it’s not just an older man vs younger women interaction either – I’ve seen this happen other times, where it turns out the person seems ok to me, but then turns into a total gossipy mean girl, or racist jerk, etc.

      Unfortunately, just because this client treats OP well does not automatically mean he’s treating the potential interviewees well. It doesn’t automatically mean he isn’t either, but its not a guarantee.

  39. Colette*

    There are a few things going on here.

    As others have mentioned, there are issues with lunch meetings in general (having to take a lot of time off of work, worries about what to order or who is going to pay) and meeting at a steakhouse (since not everyone eats or enjoys steak). The insistence on the steakhouse, in particular, could be coming across as “I am going to do this nice thing for you whether you consider it nice or not and you will need to be appropriately grateful”. I’m not implying that he’s expecting sexual favors, but that he might be looking for recognition for how generous he (thinks he) is being – and that’s not a fun thing in an employer.

    But regardless of why, it’s not working for him. He may need to decide whether he wants to take candidates to lunch or whether he wants to hire someone. He may not be able to do both.

    1. fposte*

      It would make sense for him to change the venue just as an experiment–if candidates still back out, it ain’t the location.

      1. Colette*

        The easiest way to rule out location (and reduce the red flags) would be to ask the candidates whether they could meet for lunch and give them the choice of two different places.

  40. Kelly F*

    fwiw, it’s pretty standard in BigLaw attorney hiring to tack on an “optional” lunch if you interview in a 10 am slot for your “callback.” Interviewees generally hate it because who wants to eat in front of people who can ding you and because callbacks are pretty emotionally draining and by lunchtime, you just want to go home/back to your hotel and crash. Usually you go with very junior associates who don’t have a lot of sway in hiring, but can block you if you make a fool or yourself. And many of the ones I went on were at steakhouse type places, or at the very least expensive, so the junior associates are excited to get a good meal on the firm’s dime. (but they again our norms are weird since screeners happen in hotel rooms)

    But I’ve never heard of a “screener” interview happening in restaurant.

    1. Cat*

      Ugh, I’m not in Biglaw, but sometimes do on campus interviewing and those hotel room interviews are the weirdest. Yale removes the beds which is ok, and NYU set it up with suites which is also fine, but just a teensy table and a big bed? Strange for an interview setting.

  41. AW*

    The request for a lunch interview isn’t weird. I personally wouldn’t be thrilled with it (it’s bad enough eating in front of strangers when you aren’t trying to get a job) but it’s not a red flag to me.

    If he’s insisting that it happen at this steak restaurant when the candidates say that doesn’t work for them (time, lack of food options, etc.), that could be a red flag. It could be that he’s getting rude or asking invasive questions about why doing the interview there doesn’t work for them.

    He said that I was not screening them thoroughly (not so).

    You might need to add whether they’re willing to do a lunch interview at that steak place to the screening process here. That actually might help you figure out whether the problem is with the lunch part, the steak part, that particular restaurant, or with the client. They may be more willing to discuss it if you bring it up first and if they’re OK when you suggest it but then balk when he contacts them to set it up, you know the issue is really with something that’s happening with him.

    1. Sadsack*

      This is a good idea. After the initial screening, tell them the next step in the process. “The doctor would like to meet, but would prefer to do so out of the office because the temp is there, so can you accommodate Steakhouse at lunchtime in the next week or so?” If you do this, you probably should explain the reason for avoiding the temp. Then be prepared for questions about that. If I learned that the person being replaced doesn’t know yet, I’d be asking about the circumstances. People above wrote about being skeptical about how the current employee is being treated with regard to performance feedback, and I’d wonder about that, too.

      1. Colette*

        That would make me more convinced something skeevy was going on, not less. If it’s normal and appropriate, you shouldn’t need to warn people in advance.

        1. Sadsack*

          Hmm, I didn’t think of it as a warning. I just thought of it as explaining next steps, which I think is normal for a recruiter to do.

        2. Sadsack*

          Besides, if the recruiter is telling you about the lunch interview, do you then assume that she is in on whatever lechery the doctor is up to?

          1. Colette*

            I think it depends on how it’s done – a matter of fact “if we decide to proceed, the next step will be a lunch interview at Steakhouse”, it might not be too much of a problem, although it would still raise questions in my mind about why they’re being so specific (and inflexible) about the location – but if it were a question – I.e. “The next step is an interview at Steakhouse. Would you be comfortable with that?”, it would sound … off.

            1. Sadsack*

              Yeah, I agree. I was proposing the first suggestion. And I also agree that the steakhouse doesn’t sound like a great lunch option. They should have some flexibility there.

    2. Cari*

      Wouldn’t adding “will/won’t do steak interview” to the screening process potentially discriminate against candidates that are in certain protected classes? There’s a whole host of people for whom “must be happy to interview over a steak lunch” will be seen as “X need not apply”…

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        If a candidate couldn’t eat there because they kept kosher or had another reason that tied into a protected class (possibly related to a health condition?), it’s reasonable to expect them to speak up and say so. If the employer wouldn’t budge at that point, then sure.

        1. ljs_lj*

          As someone who had to spend the last four years with coworkers who refused to believe that even a little bit of the foods I’m allergic to would make me sick and just had to add yet another allergy to my long list of health problems, I would not want to spend the time, energy, and patience explaining it to yet another person on a first interview. Job interviews take up enough spoons as it is.

          I shudder to think what they would have thought of someone who had religiously based dietary restrictions, knowing what I know about those coworkers on top of their a$$holery re: medical restrictions.

          For the right job, I might call ahead and talk to the staff at the steakhouse about my dietary issues, but not for an admin-type job. It’s not worth potential shenanigans.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            And that’s a valid concern, but at some point you have to be expected to advocate for your own needs, because you can’t expect someone to be able to guess all the potential problems someone might have. It sounds like you have some legitimate baggage from your current job, but you can’t expect a future employer to accommodate for problems he doesn’t know you have.

            1. ljs_lj*

              Sure, if I needed an accommodation for the actual work, I would ask for it at a reasonable point in the hiring process and advocate when necessary once on the job. But the first time I meet a potential employer when it is not going to affect my ability to answer interview questions for 30-60 minutes? No. And when he’s making a ridiculous request like a lunch interview for an admin position? Heck no. Interviewing processes should be reasonable. An admin position should be interviewed at the office where the person would do the admin work with very few exceptions. Food/eating habits should have no bearing on it.

              1. Cari*

                I’m with you on this. I understand employees need to let their employers know of any requirements to do their job, but this is once they’re safely employed and have passed the point where being denied the job because of other factors, not their lack of relevant skills or xp, isn’t a concern.

                Interview and application processes should be as accessible as possible. If an employer is going to throw up barriers to entry, like in this instance setting up interviews in a specific type of restaurant, they may as well be saying “people with dietary requirements for whatever reason, aren’t wanted here”.

        2. Cari*

          Ahh okay. I was under the impression interview and application processes were meant to eliminate potential for discrimination by only passing on the relevant info to the interviewer, while HR (in bigger places) takes the rest of the info (health requirements, accessibility requirements etc.) and it’s a need to know sort of thing once someone’s been employed… In this situation it sounds like the employer is closer to the application process, and potential for candidates to be eliminated based on such things seems higher… If that makes sense ^^;

  42. Guinness*

    The only time I’ve had a lunch interview, another portion of the interview took place at the actual office, and I think the red flag might be that no one is seeing the actual office at any time throughout the process.

    Also, I can’t really explain why I feel this way, but a cafe or coffee shop feels more to me like a “we can’t go to the office so we go here place”, where as a steakhouse has more of the wining and dining place.

    1. KT*

      I have that same reaction. My knee-jerk reaction to coffee house interviews is to think it’s a little start-up who has an embarrassingly crazy office or no office at all, but s steakhouse feels like schmoozing to win over a priority candidate. Rationaly I know both of these assumptions may be wrong, but that’s where my brain went to first.

  43. Big10Professor*

    Are you in a small town? Where I currently live, there is literally one place in town for business-type lunches, and almost zero chance of going there without running into a colleague or acquaintance.

    If that’s the case, I could see why these women would not want to be seen one-on-one with a man at steakhouse. Worst-case, someone they know assumes they are cheating on their SO, best-case, someone they know assumes its an interview and their job search is no longer discreet.

    1. Collarbone High*

      I wondered this too. I spent a summer in a small town where the one steakhouse was the only non-fast food option in town. Being seen there on a job interview would absolutely get back to the candidate’s current emploer.

    2. TootsNYC*

      And going on a similar lunch with someone who is *already* a colleague/boss wouldn’t have the same effect on a person’s reputation.

  44. AFT123*

    Anecdotally I’ll add that I’m 30 and have had 3 lunch interviews in the last 5 years, 1:1 with men (I’m a woman). None were for admin positions but not executive or management positions either. It doesn’t strike me as odd at all.

    I also think there is an off chance that the three rebuttals could be coincidental – other positions came up, considerations about the job/salary/whatever that the candidates though further about and maybe didn’t feel comfortable stating or weren’t asked, etc. It does seem like it would be worth following up with the candidates to ask about though.

    1. Cordelia Naismith*

      Interesting. What industry are you in? I’m just curious. I’m in my 40s, and I’ve never had a lunch interview — all my interviews have been at the place of business (when I applied for teaching jobs, the interview was at the school, for office jobs it was at the office, etc). I currently work for a university, and the interview was in a conference room on campus.

      1. AFT123*

        IT sales. Generally there are 3 – 5 interviews/phone screens and one of them, usually the final, formality interview is over lunch in my experience.

  45. Allison*

    I’m not really sure it matters why they don’t like the idea of a steakhouse interview; clearly they don’t like the idea, and it’s probably best to either switch to a more conventional lunch interview spot (like a cafe), consider a coffee interview, or find an office where he can conduct the interviews. Either one seems easier than trying to tweak the approach to a steakhouse interview.

    1. Sadsack*

      Yeah, this really may be the best answer. Like Alison said, find out why the doctor is so bent on going to that particular place. Change the venue and see if that makes a difference.

    2. Persephone Mulberry*

      Data point: the OP has suggested this, and the client shot it down. So now what?

  46. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

    This is making me want to schedule our initial interviews at a steakhouse, just to see what happens next.

    1. Sadsack*

      If I am too nervous about being interviewed or fill up quickly and cannot finish my meal, is it bad form to make it a doggie bag?

      1. Doriana Gray*

        I took a doggie bag from my lunch interview – the food wasn’t cheap, so I thought letting the waitstaff throw it out would be an even bigger faux pas than just getting the rest to go. I got the unofficial job offer the next day (and the actual offer letter two weeks later after Thanksgiving break), so clearly the doggie bag wasn’t a deal breaker.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I have not had to ask for a doggie bag in years–most places, including FancyPants Place we went to recently, will offer a takeaway container because they know they gave you too much food. The exception (I imagine, since I will probably never know) would be somewhere Ultra Fancy, where the portion is three bites of artistically presented and exquisitely plated designer food.

    2. Hattie McDoogal*

      Heh. Now I’m wondering what the worst restaurant for an interview would be. Anything all you can eat (so the candidate feels obligated to eat as much as they can lest the interviewer not “get their moneys worth”)? Chuck. E. Cheese’s?

  47. Ultraviolet*

    This is an interesting one! I would guess it comes down to the candidates having some hesitations and/or better options and deciding the proposed lunch interview is a pain for some reason and a good time to bow out of the running. That reason is probably something mentioned above: vegetarian, worried they’ll have to pay, think it’ll take too much time from their day, suspect that they’re deliberately being kept away from the office to hide a scam. I know OP said they were happy about the opportunity at the first interview, but I don’t think that necessarily means they don’t have zero doubt or better alternatives.

    Another possibility is that they assume this next interview (the lunch one) won’t be the final interview because it’s not at the office, so they think the interview process here is excessively drawn out and they choose to put their time into other opportunities.

    I’m not sure how to account for the person who said “she and her fiancée thought it inappropriate to meet for a first-time interview anywhere other than the employer’s office.” Hadn’t she already met the recruiter at a coffee shop? It is of course possible that she thought a steakhouse was over the line when the coffeeshop wasn’t, and she just phrased it imprecisely. But I also can easily see how someone who suspected the job was a scam could end up stammering something about the lunch interview being inappropriate when she was put on the spot.

    1. Ultraviolet*

      Oh and also, how much time passes between your interview with the candidates in the coffee shop and them hearing that the client would like to meet with them in a steakhouse? Is there any chance they’re researching him or his practice based on information from the coffeeshop interview and hearing something worrisome?

      Or similarly, if the client’s identity is confidential right up until the interview with him is scheduled, is there any chance that candidates are put off when they hear who he is?

  48. greenbeans*

    For me, this is one of those “feels weird” things that is tough to explain or justify. There are the practical elements: noise, privacy, the potential expense, trying to chew and talk at the same time, and being vegetarian that are easy to explain.

    Then there are more subjective feelings:

    *Thinking of the dark, intimate, wine-and-dine ambiance of the few steakhouses I’ve been to and wondering why he would choose that setting over a neutral environment like an office. What does that mean? Does he really just like steak? Is he trying to impress people–anyone, men or women–into working for him? Does he want to expense a nice lunch? Or, is it a subtle signal that gender-based boundary issues are going to be a concern in this job? I hate that the last one is a fear, but, it is a fear, and I’m not sure that pretending it isn’t is helpful. I’ve had so, so many problems with gender-based boundaries in professional settings, and the ever-present hyper vigilance scan running in my background was set off by this steakhouse thing. I’m not saying that’s definitely his intent, but, it could be one reason why interviewees are cancelling.

    *Wondering what it says about a potential manager who chooses a restaurant that would be dietary problem for many people.

  49. DrPepper Addict*

    I’ve had interviews over lunch before but they were always with the hiring manager and at least one other person. Being a mega-introvert, I would be SUPER uncomfortable in a one on one meeting at a restaurant, regardless of the other person’s gender but if it were a female (I’m male) it would be even more uncomfortable for me simply because, warranted or not, I would be afraid people would think we are together when I’m committed to my wife. That might make me old fashioned, and it’s fine with me for others to do it, but dining with one other person of the opposite gender would be super uncomfortable for me.

    1. KH*

      You realize that people could think you are “together” no matter what gender you present as or what gender the person you’re eating with presents as, right? There is nothing to stop two men or two women from being “together”. Are you going to assume that every time you have a meal with someone, everyone else is assuming that you’re in a sexual relationship with them? Or do you assume that about every 2 people you see eating together?

      And aside from all of that, it’s usually pretty obvious when two people are eating as friends/associates vs. when they’re eating as a “couple”. Even without blatant displays of PDA, the interaction and vibe between co-workers is vastly different of that between an involved couple.

      1. Zillah*


        It’s also worth noting that while I do understand where this sentiment comes from, it has the unfortunate consequence (among others) of excluding women from certain professions and/or making it very difficult for them to get promotions – you might try rethinking your position on it for that reason alone.

      2. Cari*

        That’s a rather uncharitable reading of DrPepper Addict’s comment. The fact he adds “when I’m committed to my wife” after expressing concern that people would think he and a female interviewer were together, suggests it’s not what randoms think that is the problem for him. Randoms don’t know he has a wife. They’re not going to see him having dinner with another woman in the same way people who know him and/or know his wife, are going to see it (if they didn’t know it was an interview). Randoms thinking he and the interviewer are involved aren’t going to have the same impact on his relationship with his wife, as people he knows thinking it would.

        1. KH*

          He himself says “because people would think”. So yes, it absolutely is “what randoms think” that bothers him. He assumes that anyone who sees him with a woman is going to pair them as a couple and that bothers him because he sees what other people (might) think or assume as a lack of commitment to his wife on his part. Nevermind that he could also be paired as a couple with a man, but that doesn’t seem to draw his commitment to his wife into question in his mind.

          So not only is it an irrational mindset, it’s a sexist one – precisely *because* being paired with a man by “randoms” wouldn’t be a problem but being paired with a woman would.

          1. CuhPow*

            I think it’s more of people around town know he is married and is therefore presumably straight. If they see him with another woman at a nice place across town without his spouse they may make the conclusion : Jerry is straight, Jerry is out with a woman, Jerry is cheating. Rather than if with a man: Jerry is married and therefore straight, so this man Jerry is dining with is just a good friend. Misinterpretations =gossip=getting back to his wife= starting drama of she’s a jealous type and doesn’t approve of this type of interview. In this case random people’s opinions do matter to Jerry, and it need not make him seem intolerant of gay culture. This was never an argument of Jerrys view of other pairs of diners and the incapability of two men being on a date. Just that it’s more likely that an encounter with people knowing his orientation is likely to cAuse more problems if the interviewer is female.

  50. AndersonDarling*

    I started about 5 comments and deleted them because I can’t quite hit the nail on the head. But I think it is a combination of a few things that is turning candidates away.
    1. The steakhouse. When I was an admin, a steak meal was equivalent to 2 days pay. That would create a strange:
    2. Power Dynamic. This isn’t the office manager or head admin conducting the interview, its the business owner or someone else in a powerful position.
    3. The story about not wanting to go to the office because of the temp sounds like hooey. Really, you need to sneak around your temp? What is really going on?
    All of these together would put up big warning flags.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I think the best advice to the OP would be to advise the client to call the temp agency and let them know that the temp’s services will not be needed after x day. Then conduct the interviews at the office, and order-in the steak lunch.

  51. Cari*

    Ahh steak, the manliest man-man of foods. And your recruits are usually 99% women you say?

    Seriously though, him wanting to interview over a meal, in a restaurant (regardless of it being day time) for a position that’s not managerial or above is weird. It’s like asking candidates to wear black-tie to an interview for a shelf stacking job (although, I’m from the UK – the first steak restaurant that comes to mind here is one that also talks about lobster *shrug*).

    Then there’s the fact it’s a steak restaurant lunch – that’s going to eliminate any candidate that has specific dietary requirements for personal, medical, or religious reasons, and will certainly cause any that may be suffering or recovering from eating disorders a bit of concern.

    Then there’s possible awkwardness and anxiety of worrying how you look when you eat infront of your potential boss, whether he’ll think less of you if you don’t order steak/whatever he’s having, or if you do order steak and you like it well done while he asks for it walked past the grill – on top of all the usual interview worries.

    And of course, candidates that are not single may feel concerned of how a restaurant interview will look to their SO (or their SO may raise objections), will it cause them trouble in their relationship? Your one candidate and their spouse not thinking it was appropriate are not weird for thinking so, and their thinking that isn’t necessarily a reflection on your client either.

    Is the steak restaurant he wants to interview at accessible for people with physical disabilities? What about people with social anxiety or similar, who can handle work and regular interviews, at a push can do a coffee-shop interview (less formal, more cosy and friendly, offsets the interviewing in public aspect), but an interview in a public and busy place like a restaurant at lunchtime is like their worst nightmare?

    Oh, and is he paying? ’cause it’s one thing to interview over a cheap coffee, but it’s a bit much to invite candidates to a restaurant interview (a steak one, no less) where they pay for themselves, or may think they’ll be expected to. Even assuming they’re all currently employed and have an income, there’s no guarantee their budget can stretch to that.

    Most of that assumes there’s actually a meal involved and you’re talking an interview over lunch, at a table in a busy restaurant. He’s not expecting to conduct interviews in a dodgy backroom at some random restaurant, the alley behind it, or his car in the car park is he?

    There’s lots of legit reasons why all three of your candidates declined the steak restaurant interview, without there having to be anything weird going on with them or your client. And if your client is expecting you to filter out candidates based on whether they’re happy to do a steak restaurant interview, that could land *you* and him in potential discrimination territory, so I hope he’s not expecting you to do that when he criticised your screening abilities.

    It’s not you or the candidates that are the problem, it’s the client that doesn’t want to deal with their current temp employee that’s the problem. I know you can’t tell him this, but he needs to put on the big manager trousers and handle the situation that’s stopping him interviewing at the workplace, not avoid it by conducting interviews on the sly in a restaurant at lunchtime and then getting shirty with everyone else (you, the candidates) when avoidance won’t get him new hires.

  52. Jerry Vandesic*

    Maybe he just wants the company to pay for his expensive lunch, and he gets this by doing the interview over lunch.

  53. Kelly L.*

    One more consideration: Is the restaurant political, or “cheesecake”? A restaurant being political may sound silly, but there are some establishments who (for example) have chosen a side in the gun debate and visibly themed the whole place accordingly. And there are restaurants where women wear little hot-pants.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        I actually knew of a company that tried to convince another company’s clients to switch providers by luring them in with free dinner (and a sales pitch). This was a business-to-business sales situation where converting even a few decision makers could have made a significant impact.

        But they had the free sales dinner be at Hooters. Which would be dicey to begin with, but in addition, they didn’t seem to realize that the demographics of the clients were such that they were mostly middle-aged women; not exactly the Hooters target demographic….

        (I always wonder who thought that was a good idea in the first place, and whether they hadn’t done the research to know what the client base was like or just didn’t care.)

  54. HR Recruiter*

    Yes, business lunches can be very normal. But not for this type of position. I can totally understand why this would make some people uncomfortable. I know people who were very nervous the first time they went on a business lunch and stressed about using the wrong fork. Then throw into the mix the stress of being on an interview, super awkward! Then to top it off most of the candidates are woman and the lunch is with a man they’ve never met because they had been in contact with the recruiter the whole time until now. I think he needs to rethink how to make the candidate the most comfortable and not himself.

  55. Bee Eye LL*

    On a side note, I would add that I’ve been on two different lunch interviews for companies that had not setup offices yet and so we HAD to meet somewhere like a restaurant. One was for a company within a casino (that was still being built) and another that was opening a branch office several hundred miles from their main one. I’d rather go local for lunch than have to drive for several hours to meet in an office with people I wouldn’t even be working directly with.

    1. OlympiasEpiriot*

      This seems like the only logical reason to have an interview in a restaurant.

      I’ve been taken to lunch in the course of an interview, but, it was a several hours process of meeting various people at a company. I’m in a traditionally masculine field, so a steakhouse wouldn’t surprise me (and I’ve been at lots of biz meals in them).

      But, personally, I think any interview exclusively in a restaurant when you aren’t interviewing *for* the restaurant is weird. There is, though, the exception of a networking ‘interview’ that’s more of a conversation about the industry or a corner of it; this is not that.

      Even when I’ve been meeting startup types, they have a little office in a group work space.

      I’m with the others here who think this kind of interview for an admin is really off. I also would like to hear more from the OP.

      1. TootsNYC*

        another logical reason is that working space in the office is small–like, one room–and so having a conversation would be disruptive to the other people working there. But in that case, as the interviewer, I’d be having us meet there and then going out to some inexpensive sit-down place nearby.
        Or, I’d be saying, “there isn’t a coffee shop near the office, so let’s meet over by you, and then if things go well, you can stop by the office to see it later.”

  56. insert pun here*

    I wonder if this is one of those things where none of the issues are huge on their own, but taken together, are a red flag? We seem to have:
    -unusual setting/expense for a relatively junior position
    -ambiguity over who pays for the meal
    -never getting a chance to see the office
    -weird issues around a temp who doesn’t know they’re on the way out
    -difficulty scheduling, as many have noted — having to take a full day off
    -(possibly) risk of running into someone the applicant knows
    -(possibly) applicants are getting a weird vibe overall from the guy

    I can see how a female applicant might say “well, I’ve never been to the actual office, which may or may not exist, and now this guy is asking me to go to a fancy restaurant, and I’m getting some weird vibes from him… I don’t want to work for this guy anyways, I’m out.”

    It’d be interesting to see if male applicants drop out at the same time in the process at the same rate. If not… well, there’s part of your answer.

    1. greenbeans*

      >>I wonder if this is one of those things where none of the issues are huge on their own, but taken together, are a red flag?

      I think you’re spot on.

    2. Manders*

      Totally agreed. I’ll also add that in my experience, health care admin is a field that leans heavily towards women in demographics, and it seems like OP has had the same experience as a recruiter–so it’s possible that OP has no data on how a male applicant would respond in this situation.

  57. Rocky*

    I’m in the camp of “If 3 candidates withdrew because it was weird, then it was weird, and you need to try something else.”

    But FWIW, I’m a middle manager in a health care setting and I find this a really bizarre suggestion for a first interview. Coffee place or deli, OK. But in my city, steakhouses are for the following: Sexy dates, wining-and-dining VIPs, and bachelor parties before they hit the strip clubs. If it were me, I’d probably go ahead and do it, but I’d be primed to look for a bunch of other red flags.

  58. Searching*

    So it sounds like OP is doing the screening interview, at which point she hands them off to the client. It sounds like she is hearing about their refusals only through him. So yeah. As a young woman, I would say to take what you’re hearing from him with a huge grain of salt and possibly contact them on your own to find out what’s up. There’s obviously a huge divergence in how they’re reacting to you and to him, and frankly with three in a row its probably him, not necessarily the steakhouse. At the very least, she can prepare future screened candidates for his interview request?
    As for the one person’s excuse, I would think the ONLY reason to bring up a fiance in an interviewing situation is if the employer was being creepy and unprofessional and he won’t stop asking why they were backing out angrily and she just wants him to go away. Otherwise, bringing up things that are personal or highlight your youth (marriage, pregnancy, babies…) is just not something I think you really do. And how offended/blaming he’s acting with you… well that just makes me think that even more.

    1. Mando Diao*

      It’s a version of, “Stop hitting on me….I have a (fake) boyfriend!” It sucks and it’s stupid, but sometimes the least messy way to get a creep off your back is to tell him that you’re not sexually available.

  59. Chriama*

    So as other people have mentioned I suspect some of them are balking at the cost (not realizing he’d cover it) or time component of a steakhouse lunch interview. However, I also realized that OP is reporting all of this secondhand. OP, have you seen the email communication? Are you sure he’s accurately representing their conversations? Is it possible that he said “hey, lunch” and they said “when will I see the office/other employees” and he said “only if I hire you” or they said “I don’t have a long lunch break” and he said “tough cookies” and now he’s saying they weren’t interested in the restaurant when it’s actually another part of the conversation that turned them off?

    Also, I’m not impressed that he thinks you’re not screening well and doesn’t seem open to feedback. What kind of screening would weed out candidates who don’t want lunch meetings at a steakhouse? The fact that he’s quick to blame or take things personally (“insulted” by one applicant’s comment) makes me think that there could be other personality indicators that turn off good candidates and the lunch thing is a red herring that he’s fixating on or that the candidates are choosing to hide behind.

  60. So Very Anonymous*

    If this kind of interviewing is a thing in the medical profession (it absolutely is NOT a thing in my field), then I think the steakhouse/meal issue is maybe not the whole story. Something else might be triggering the candidates’ noping out of their candidacies, and the most logical time for them to nope out would be when they were contacted for the next stage of the interview process. If a first screening interview didn’t feel right to me or there was weird communication that felt uncomfortable before the next request for an interview, I might well be hoping that there would be no request for a next interview: awkward problem solved, no need to actively withdraw my candidacy. And then when they do contact for the next interview, that would be the point to politely nope out. It might not be an OMG STEAKHOUSE! problem; the steakhouse request may just be the first/best opportunity to decline.

    1. Doriana Gray*

      I didn’t even think of that, but that’s a good point – the candidates could have been noping out because of info gleaned from the HR screen and what they told the OP was an excuse to get out of an awkward situation.

  61. Lauren*

    I am rather a lay expert on nonverbal communication, not just human body language but in all its forms used by businesses, retail stores, etc., and I use this knowledge constantly to judge situations and people. (By judge, I don’t mean judgmental but more of an assessment tool that keeps me in tune with what is going on around me.) This is perhaps my best tool in the past for determining whether a job might work for me so I want to see the office, I want to know the physical layout of both the exterior and interior of the office, see the people even if I don’t talk to them, look at the set up, see my potential boss’s office, how to relates to others and interruptions, what he looks like as he asks and answers questions, his tone of voice, etc. You learn so much from an awareness of those signals that those can often tell you far more than you will ever get in an interview.

    Several months ago, I considered a lateral transfer at the college I work for, into a department I thought I really wanted to work in. When I went in for the initial interview, I realized it was so crazy, so absolutely insane from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm that I would never have, not even for one moment other than lunch, time to myself to think or pull myself together. It would be rush-hour insanity 40 hours a week. The people were lovely–I would consider myself fortunate to work with them–but I could not see myself handling that well. So I turned down the second interview when it was offered. Sadly, I knew it would be a very bad fit. The friend who got it confirmed my suspicions about the craziness and the loveliness. She goes to work, she comes home, she sleeps. So I think she will likely be out of there and onto another job when the opportunity opens up.

    Without the opportunity to see the workplace all this valuable information is lost. But in this case, I agree with almost everyone else here: there are other reasons, and I suspect most of them are in the nonverbal arena, specifically his body language even if his words are properly professional at this point.

    1. So Very Anonymous*

      So much this! I’ve learned the hard way never to take a job if I haven’t seen the workplace, and seen people in the context of that workplace.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Yes, I second this. (Or third it, rather!) I once filled out an application at a workplace where the following happened:

      1. The place was quiet as a tomb–a tomb full of zombies in the original meaning of the word–that is, mindless dead-eyed drones who only exist to work.
      2. There were only a few zombies present and lots of small but empty workstations (why so many desks with nobody at them??).
      3. They put me at one of these workstations to fill out the app. The desk was so covered in papers and mess I had to fill out my app on top of someone’s (maybe confidential?) work papers.
      4. The person who received me and gave me the app was a woman with a very sour I-don’t-GAF demeanor.

      I thanked them and left. They didn’t offer me an interview, but I’d already made up my mind that I would back out if they did. :P

  62. LCL*

    Maybe the doctor is of a different ethnic background than the candidates, and his mannerisms are way different from theirs. So everyone feels awkward and uncomfortable in each other’s presence and communication is poor.

    1. Weekday Warrior*

      Well, I think that’s reading a lot into the question that we don’t know. And it would very sad for candidates to be declining the lunch interview because the doctor is a different ethnicity.

      I really hope the OP gives us an update!

  63. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I just got an email from the OP, which she’s allowing me to share here. Here it is:

    Wow—some really great comments here! Thanks to everyone for such great
    suggestions! I was not able to participate in the replies until now because
    I went to the interview with ‘the’ client and one of the original candidates
    today! Previously she had followed up with an email to me and asked if I had
    any other positions for her. I told her that the position is still open and
    if she wanted to interview that I would be present and introduce her to the
    employer. She said that her childcare issues (her original excuse for
    declining) were resolved and she would love to interview!

    After meeting with the client face-to-face—by the way he is a super nice
    guy—I think I understand why he was being somewhat inappropriate. He is
    just inexperienced with interviewing. His last employee was with him for 8
    years and he admitted to not being very good with the whole process. He
    misunderstood that meeting ‘at’ lunch (as in during the lunch hour) is not
    necessarily the same thing as meeting ‘for’ lunch. He was trying to be
    really nice and since it is not standard operating procedure—the young women
    got nervous or just decided to be cautious. I am still not sure that he
    fully understands or accepts the premise that they were turning down the
    interview due to the arrangements—but he did follow my advice and now he is
    about to make her an offer!!

    BTW—we conducted the second interview at
    Starbucks. After about 10 minutes into the interview I said I had to answer
    some messages and moved to another chair so that they could talk without
    me—but I was still able to honor my commitment to her to be present during
    the interview.

    To answer some of the questions:

    *I interviewed all three at La Madeleine French Cafe and it was not at meal
    time and we had a soda/water/tea only.

    *I typically interview at a café close to my candidate –for their
    convenience and also because I office from home and need a neutral setting
    for the interview.

    *The steak restaurant he suggested was Saltgrass.

    * I agree that he needs to let her visit the office before she accepts the
    position. However, I do have one of my temps there last Friday and today
    (last minute) and she is a higher level professional person currently
    retired and she has not mentioned anything negative about his office or his
    business set-up.

    * Candidate and client have no communication prior to the face-to-face

    1. Zillah*

      Wow, I’m glad that the issues turned out to be fairly innocuous and that things seem to be working out well! :) Thanks for the update, OP!

    2. Jerry Vandesic*

      … “she said that her childcare issues (her original excuse for declining)”

      It looks like at least one of the reasons for the declining the interview had nothing to do with lunch or steak. He might be a poor interviewer, but there seems to be no shortage of speculation.

      1. CM*

        Or… she was making up the childcare issues, but now that she still needs a job (or felt more comfortable knowing that the recruiter would be there too and she wouldn’t be alone with her new boss), the issues are magically resolved. I could see using “childcare issues” as a way to politely decline an interview but keep the door open in case I get desperate in the future.

    3. KH*

      And having lived in Houston, I’m familiar with the restaurant mentioned. It might be worth noting that on the lunch menu there is NOTHING available for a vegetarian/vegan unless they want to order a plain salad and a couple of sides: http://www.saltgrass.com/pdf/menu/menu-l.pdf

      Other than that, it does seem that the interviewer/hiring person was clueless rather than skeevy, which is good.

      I do wish that the OP had included in her original post that one of the candidates had declined the interview for childcare reasons (and even included why, if known, the 3rd person declined). As it was presented, it sounded like all of them declined for reasons of personal discomfort, which I think is probably what led to the majority of “this guy is a creep” and “this is an icky situation” comments.

    4. OlympiasEpiriot*

      Ok, I’ve gathered this coffee-shop-interview thing is normal (for some given value thereof); but, I still think it is weird unless more of an informational interview or a networking so-and-so-gave-me-your-name-may-I-take-you-out-to-lunch thing. Even if someone works out of their home, I’d expect an interview in an appropriate business atmosphere — which can be accomplished in a home office.

    5. One of the Sarahs*

      Thanks for the reply! Though I have to admit, I’m even MORE confused now, because didn’t he originally say he couldn’t interview at the office because of a temp?

      1. TootsNYC*

        It may have been a space / privacy / disruption issue. If it’s a small office, physically, they may share the same working space.

    6. AFT123*

      Thanks for the update!! I’m fascinated by this whole thread – isn’t it just so interesting how people can have such varied experiences and opinions on something like steak lunch interviews?! I love this site. Also, last night after reading nearly all these comments, I went out and bought a steak to grill because this post made me hungry. :)

    7. beefy*

      Vegetarian side note: I enjoy going to steakhouses *because* I can order vegetable sides. They tend to have better selection than typical chain restaurants. Sometimes I even order steak fries with steak sauce, which I think should totally count as steak. ;)

      1. Janice in Accounting*

        I’ve found that Brazilian steakhouses–those all-the-meat-you-can-eat places–tend to have the BEST salad bars!

      2. A Cita*

        Different vegetarian take: Can’t stand the smell of all the meat–it makes me nauseated. Also, I don’t trust that they “keep it separated” when cooking sides along side the meat or that the sides are actually, indeed, vegetarian (fat used to deep fry things–is it animal or vegetable? Do they through chicken or other meat parts in the same oil as the vegetables? Different knives, cutting boards, grill surfaces, utensils, etc for each?).

        Smell + not really vegetarian + I’m not a rabbit and can’t subsist on salad = barf. :)

    8. Kaz*

      Super nice guy…I just hope this isn’t one of those “but he seemed like such a nice guy at first” jobs.

    9. Searching*

      Good updates. A few things though: not having childcare is not necessarily an “excuse” for declining. Its a real challenge that many people have. Its his fault for not being flexible, and its a valid concern in that situation that if he won’t be flexible for the interview, he won’t be flexible ever.
      And second, I realize OP is reacting to the commenters’ speculations about the client, which may not be founded in this case. But. I also want to say that I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss interviewees’ concerns in the future. I realize we don’t know the gender or age of the OP, but it has been my experience as a younger woman that a. men and b. older women sometimes discount the discomfort/ challenges of young women in the workplace. Doubly so when class/race etc etc are involved too. I guess what I’m saying is that you should be open to the idea that there may be some things that you, the recruiter, will never see. “He’s such a nice guy,” even if we read it wrong and its 100% true in this case, is not an effective counterargument. People say that all the time even when it is NOT true and dismiss experiences because of it. At least its a possibility. You’re the client’s peer or his consultant, an outside figure. The people interviewing would not be in the same power position as you and its very possible that they’d have a different experience- people are sometimes outwardly nice but terrible in private.

      1. Roscoe*

        I started a whole thing yesterday, so I don’t really want to again today. However, I will say childcare is an excuse. It may be a very valid excuse, but still an excuse. It’s not the interviewers responsibility to pick a time when you can find a babysitter. Just like its not your employers job to make sure you have childcare. Its nice when they are more flexible, but their business need is their business need. If you can’t do it because of childcare, thats not him being a “bad” manager.

        1. Lamb*

          The distinction (I believe) Searching was making was between an “excuse” and a reason; “can’t do it because childcare” can be a legitimate obstacle, not just the “I have to wash my hair” of declining a job interview. In particular it’s school spring break season, so kids who are normally in school all day are home for a week and need supervision. Since she was still looking and was willing to reconsider this job, I would guess she is unemployed, meaning she wouldn’t have needed childcare other than for this interview so may not have someone available/have room in her budget for a last-minute sitter.
          If it was a short notice/spring break situation causing her issue with scheduling the lunch interview and his response was “no we can’t push it to Monday/meet outside of the lunch hour”, it is reasonable that the potential employee would be concerned that she would get a similar inflexible response to attempts to take time for medical appointments or to address a child-related emergency during work hours (since kids don’t only end up in the ER when it’s convenient). Searching didn’t say that made him “bad”, just that seeming inflexible was his own fault.

  64. Dangerously Cheezy*

    I could think of a few potential turnoffs here…

    1) Most steakhouses are not an in-and-out sort of thing, so if the candidate needs to interview during a lunch or slip out for an ‘errand/appointment’ then a steakhouse may cause worries that the interview will run a lot longer than standard. There will be distractions that delay the interview plus the delay of waiting for food/service. Or it could be a different perspective where it is possible that a coworker/boss could see them there.

    2) An unemployed candidate (or even financially struggling candidate) may not know if you are going to foot the bill and is too embarrassed to ask. While I would assume the interviewer would foot the bill, it is always possible that they can make the candidate pay…. and that is a cost that just ins’t allowable for some job seekers.

    3) Many people I know would never want to eat at a steakhouse in front of a potential employer, steakhouses can be messy and even a basic salad or soup can leave you with a saucy shirt or face. Then there is the group of people within this that just have anxiety over eating in front of people.

    I for one would probably only be willing to go to a restaurant if it were at least a second or third interview. The idea of steakhouse is uncomfortable to me, the only steakhouse in my town is a loud venue with casual atmosphere, certainly not a place I would see as appropriate for an interview in a professional field.

  65. Weekday Warrior*

    “not sure that he fully understands or accepts the premise that they were turning down the interview due to the arrangements”
    Hmmm, let’s hope the new admin won’t be writing in about how her boss, “a super nice guy” , just doesn’t get certain boundaries…
    But good luck to them all. :)

    1. Violet Fox*

      ‘Super nice guy’ with boundary issues sets off all sorts of alarms for me, but I’m a woman working in tech/IT, and ‘nice guys with boundary issues’ are a serious problem in my field when it comes to well.. Anything with women.

    2. Kaz*

      What I have noticed is that in general everyone is labelled a “nice guy” in the corporate world. Even if they do not-so nice things. The end result is that companies spend time managing the “nice guys” because they almost never do something terrible enough to be fired.

  66. auntie_cipation*

    Has anyone mentioned the idea that a steakhouse just doesn’t sound “healthy” (in spite of there no doubt being *some* healthy items on the menu) and pairing that with this being a job in the medical field? Maybe subconscious, but just a touch of cognitive dissonance there.

    Or the idea that the logistics of going to a steakhouse/more formal restaurant with someone one doesn’t already have a comfortable relationship with, gets into uncomfortable gender/power dualities — starting with niceties such as holding the door open, pulling out the chair for the other person, etc. If the male/power-holder person is the one who is most familiar with the restaurant and its particulars, that only adds to the imbalance. I know power imbalance has been discussed but I didn’t see these specific ideas mentioned.

    Personally I would find the steakhouse offputting for many of the same reasons already listed (dark, noisy, too ‘intimate’ feeling, concern over not seeing the actual workplace, steakhouse having a more right-wing political vibe to it (in some locales)).

    Very curious if there were any male candidates for the job and whether they reacted differently. Hope we see an update on this!

    1. Ruffingit*

      Agreed with all your points. This seems odd to me. I live in a huge metropolitan area and if someone suggested I interview at a steakhouse, I would think it weird too. It just doesn’t seem appropriate for a first interview, it seems like more of a first date kind of thing. I’d wonder why they didn’t want to interview at their office or at least at a coffee shop or something.

      1. auntie_cipation*

        Why not the office was addressed in the OP’s letter, but the interviewer did seem oddly attached to the steakhouse as opposed to other eateries. In Alison’s update above, with more info from the OP, it was stated that one of the candidates had their second interview at a Starbucks, with the OP present as well. Sounds like it ended well, though I’m still so curious about the behind-the-scenes!

    2. Willow S.*

      Completely agree. Many people are on diets these days and going to a place where the only “healthy” option may be a Caesar salad, it’s not a great idea.

  67. R2D2*

    My guess would be this is a class-based misunderstanding. Working class people are not used to business lunches at fancy restaurants — those are reserved for celebrations and romantic occasions.

    1. Son of a honey truck driver*

      Yea, we just can’t be expected to “dress up” for work. Now, if you wanted to interview me while we grabbed a couple of dirty dogs from the street vendor I’d be all in!

  68. NDQ*

    The OP initially described her client as a single man. This stuck with me as I continued reading and I wonder if OP told the candidates that the client was a single man. That information coupled (!) with the lunch interview sounds like a date, not a job interview.


  69. Monica*

    I would be very uncomfortable with this scenario. I’ve never been on a “lunch” interview, and I am incredibly uncomfortable eating in front of people. Coffee is one thing, but eating while trying to talk? Nope. My boss of 5+ years recently offered to take me out to lunch (to celebrate Admins Day) and I had to feign a conflict in schedule because the thought of it made me very uneasy.

    1. Kaz*

      This is so true. It is not just about intent…even if the intent of the boss is innocent…people just are not comfortable having lunch 1-on-1 with someone in a position of power over them. Appearances matter, things must not only be right but they must also appear to be right.

      If he wants to celebrate Admins Day, then he should take many people (both men and women) to lunch so that any appearance of impropriety is avoided. This way everyone can celebrate Admins Day and even people like me who are not admins can get a free lunch :)

      1. PM Jesper Berg*

        “people just are not comfortable having lunch 1-on-1 with someone in a position of power over them.”

        Hate to break it to you, but just because a candidate is *uncomfortable* doesn’t mean the technique is *inappropriate.*

        There are many times tasks in the workplace take us out of our comfort zone. That, in fact, may be one of the purposes of having a lunch interview: to see how candidates react when they’re in a bit of a less sterile environment than a conference room. If the candidate can’t interact politely with a server, can you trust him/her with angry clients demanding to be put through to the boss? And virtually every interview involves interacting with someone in a position of power; for that matter, many business lunches do, too.

        If you absolutely can’t stomach the idea of a lunch interview, by all means decline it and move on. The company will find another candidate. But deciding whether a lunch interview is an appropriate technique is absolutely the company’s call.

  70. An Old Medical Admin*

    So I did actually work as an admin for a small (single-physician) medical practice in a previous life. Apart from anything else, there is at least one good reason to do an off-site interview for a lower-level staffer.

    I know that the OP has written in with more info (I can’t see a lunch interview at even a nice-ish restaurant being done for that level), but I could definitely see a coffee shop interview as appropriate, especially if the doctor had gotten burned with HIPAA violations and was concerned about bringing someone he’d never met into an office records area. Patient privacy is a Super Big Deal, and really not something that anyone messes around with. It can be hard to communicate that to a new interviewee, so an off-site would make sense to me in that context.

  71. Kaz*

    This interview lunch idea is terrible regardless of intent. The man should know he is making the candidates uncomfortable. Can the recruiter drop a few polite hints so that future interviews are just old school interviews?

    I’m a big proponent of work being work. Do your job, be professional about it and that is it. This idea of being buddies or friends or family with people you work with (or work for) complicates work unnecessarily. My colleagues are not my family or my friends, they are my colleagues. If they stop being my colleagues then maybe we can be friends (it has happened in the past).

  72. newlyhr*

    long time recruiter here especially for small business. this is a red flag for me. This is already a small office–guy +1 temp–and now he is asking people out to lunch for a job interview. Anyone who has worked for a small business entrepreneur or knows much about them is probably looking for cues that helps them determine the professionalism level of the workplace environment and this is not a good start. Use a coffee shop. Sometimes your Chamber of Commerce or local library will have a room you can reserve for a couple of hours to conduct interviews if you don’t have another professional space available.

    1. random obs*

      No. Do not use a coffee shop. A job interview is a time to ask sensitive questions (both for the interviewer and interviewee). A coffee shop isn’t conducive to this; a restaurant is more so, although yes, a conference room is preferable. I would be much more concerned about “professionalism of the workplace environment” in a Starbucks where other patrons are in earshot.

  73. Navy Vet*

    This seems off to me as well, I’m glad to see from the OP that it was a interview skill issue, but this is why I find this a bit off putting

    1. Allergies. A lot of people have them. And cross contamination is a very real threat in restaurants. There are countless stories of restaurant employees bragging that they put the dreaded ingredient into a patrons meal and that person lived. (NVM the fact that many people with sensitivities and allergies do not drop dead immediately.) For example I can NOT eat Gluten. I can’t even kiss someone who has eaten or drank something with Gluten in it. I do not die, or swell up…but believe me I AM feeling some extremely and health harming unpleasant reactions. I am also a vegetarian. I do not think initial interview stage is a place to get into my food allergies or the medical conditions that somehow go with them.

    2. It’s been said several times, but an older man who is your potential boss inviting you to a Steakhouse is very madmen to me. As someone who has been sexually harassed in the work environment I am very careful about the situations I place myself in. If I get even a tingle of the heebie jeebies, I am out!
    This is the crux of it. I as an older woman have zero problem telling someone when they have crossed a line. Regardless, a sad fact is if you are hit on/felt up during the interview you will be told you should have known better than to put yourself in that position if you dare speak up.

  74. Willow Sunstar*

    As a size 16 woman who lives in the upper Midwest, I would absolutely not do a lunch interview for fear of being judged if I did not get a naked salad. Bigotry is very rampant still and heaven forbid we have hypothyroid and are middle-aged and counting calories/points/etc. but nothing works. I am very very careful of what I bring to the office for lunch even.

  75. Milla*

    A business lunch/dinner, especially a formal one at an expensive restaurant, is meant to wine and dine potential talent and customers.
    A lower-level administration position is not “talent” on the same level of trying to attract a new executive, so the tactic feels weird and out of place. Long lunch interviews where the potential employee is attempting to impress the boss into hiring them, rather than the boss trying to convince them to join their company, would definitely feel like a sham of a blind date with the potential employee being pressured into possibly flirting or being overly friendly to ensure the boss will like and hire them.
    Women in administration positions tend to be very careful to separate the professional from anything which might be personal with their bosses to circumvent the stereotypes surrounding secretary-esque jobs, and to prevent bosses from taking advantage with personal requests (from dry cleaning and errands on up to sexual harassment). A lunch like this feels very personal and would raise alarms bells that, if a boss is comfortable with this, they may cross the boundary into the personal again in the future.

    Additionally, a full meal opens up a bunch of potential pitfalls. Who pays for this lunch? What to wear? What to order? Is the boss staring while I eat? What to talk about after the few minutes of actual interview are over? There is a limited amount for a boss to discuss with a lower-level admin during an interview, which would take about 15-30 minutes, perfect for a coffee shop interview. The lunch would essentially trap a person into the interview for at least an hour, opening up the potential to spoil what had been a good interview by over exposure.

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