If you are new to the job search or a recent college graduate, it is highly likely that you’ll be invited to interview over a meal – breakfast, lunch or dinner. If so, you may (with good reason) be nervous. Your potential employer is interested in getting to know you better, anxious to see how you behave in a public setting and lastly, hoping that you will meet their high expectations.
Before you get too anxious about which fork to use, this etiquette refresher will help. My colleagues and I have witnessed some of the poorest manners by some of the most well- qualified candidates. For example, there was the candidate who brought her own breakfast to the “breakfast interview” and confused the table when she declined to order from the menu. It all made sense when she brought the muffin out of her purse, and placed it on the plate to eat after we’d all ordered breakfast. There is the story about the almost-CEO that talked constantly with his mouth full of food, the woman who reapplied her lipstick twice, and the young man texting while others were talking at the table. Given these examples, I am going to remind my readers of good etiquette:
1. Be polite. It is important to treat everyone with kindness especially the wait staff, bus person, hostess and anyone else that you have contact with. Your potential employer, Board members and/or boss have their eyes on you. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, they are watching your behavior. This is also a good chance to observe how they treat others. If you have some concerns about personality matches – take note of how they treat (or don’t) others well.
2. Turn off your cell. You must turn your cell phone off and put it away. It is never appropriate to look at it, take a call or text during breakfast, lunch or dinner. Your hostess or host may have work to do, but don’t do yours on their time.
3. The napkin. Place it in your lap, first thing. If you get up during the meal, place your napkin on the chair, not the table.
4. Wait your turn. You may be the first or second person served at the table, but wait until everyone has their food served before you begin eating. It’s not considered polite to ask for the salt and pepper or ketchup to be passed until everyone has his or her food. (another tidbit… always pass the salt and pepper together even if someone has asked for only the salt “salt and pepper are like married people as they always go together.”
5. Start from the outside. The place setting can be confusing, especially if you aren’t accustomed to dining out. The best way to remember which fork is first is to start from the outside, and work your way in. If you have ordered a salad, the salad fork is the outer fork, and your dinner fork is next. It may feel like the meal will never end, but remember that the fork and spoon at the top of your plate are for dessert and coffee/tea.
6. The great carb debate. The bread dilemma… it doesn’t end, does it? If you’ve been served bread or rolls, use the plate to your left (and the water glass ABOVE your knife), but please don’t butter the whole slice or stuff the entire roll into your mouth. It is best to take a bit of butter, and place it on your plate (the one on the left). You should break the bread into bite size pieces (one at a time), butter the piece and then eat. Confusing, isn’t it?
7. Stick with coffee, iced tea, soda or water. It really is good advice to stay away from the alcoholic beverage during the interview process. I recommend never drinking over an interview, but others may have a different opinion. If everyone else is ordering wine or a cocktail, one glass of wine is appropriate. Also, if everyone else orders a second one, don’t do it. Personally, I think its suspect if a lot of drinking occurs over an interview, and it does happen. Trust your instincts, but just don’t be the person ordering a double or another.
8. Take small bites and don’t forget all the important things. It’s important to take small bites throughout the meal. It is expected that you will talk throughout dinner and most likely, the questions will come just as you are putting the food into your mouth! The other important thing that I’ve yet to mention, DO NOT talk with your mouth full, keep your elbows off the table and try not to rush.
9. It isn’t over yet. When you have finished your meal, move your utensils to the center or on the diagonal across your plate. It is important to place your napkin to the left of your plate, not in the center of your plate.
10. Send a thank you note. Once you have returned to your desk, it is important to send a thank you note. Let the person/s know how much you enjoyed their company, the meal and follow-up with any relevant information or questions you may have.
Don’t worry if you experience a small mishap during your interview like dropping your napkin or a fork. We all make mistakes, but it is more important not to call extra attention by over apologizing or making a big deal out of it. Move quickly to pick it up or ask the server for another utensil.
There are so many things to remember, that you probably will not eat your entire meal. Resist the urge to “bring it home” (unless you are interviewing with foodies!) and please, do not ask for a toothpick. This is rude (and gross). Even if you do not land the job, you will still have made a positive, lasting impression.