How to Handle a Job Interview in a Restaurant

Business people shaking hands in cafe
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There are time when employers will invite job applicants to interview over a meal — even breakfast. This interview is just as important, perhaps even more than one in a formal business setting. That's because it's more conversational and less formal. If you're not careful, you could let your guard down, make silly mistakes and share too much personal information. So it's important to keep it professional and remember that you're being considered for a job, even though it's not a formal in-office job interview.

When you're invited to interview over a meal or a cup of coffee, take the time to prepare just as carefully as you would for an interview in an office setting.

Here are some tips you can use for an interview at a restaurant.

Get Ready for the Interview

Prepare for the interview just as you would for any other one. If you are very nervous, check out the restaurant ahead of time. This way you will know exactly what’s on the menu, where the restaurant is located, and how classy or casual the restaurant is. Many restaurants also have the menu available online to review.

Going to the restaurant ahead of time will also give you a chance to plot our your route — whether you plan to drive or take transit. You can also figure out where to park if you plan to drive. Doing this will help keep you on time on interview day.

Confirm the Details

Be sure to confirm the arrangements so you're sure you end up at the right place at the right time. Confirm who you are meeting and get a cell phone number and give yours to the person scheduling, so you can get in touch just in case there's a glitch. Don't forget to find out whether there will be a reservation or if it's just a drop-in visit.

What to Wear

What to wear to a job interview in a restaurant depends on the restaurant and how your interviewer(s) will be dressed. If you're interviewing for a job at a formal company and the restaurant is fancy, you'll want to dress in business attire. If the company and the dining are more casual, like a bar, business casual may be in order. Your best bet is to ask the person who invites you for advice on what to wear.

Bring Your Supporting Materials

Just like you would for a formal office interview, be sure to bring any supplemental materials you may need to show or give to your interviewer. Just because you may be in a casual setting, doesn't mean the same etiquette doesn't apply. This may include bringing a copy of your resume, writing samples, portfolio or any other materials to support your application.

When to Arrive

Arrive a few minutes early, so you don't keep the interviewer waiting. Don't ask to be seated or order a drink at the bar. Greet the interviewer in the lobby or foyer with a smile and a handshake.

Order Carefully

When you order your meal, order conservatively. Don't order the most expensive entree on the menu. Also be careful about what you order. Food you can cut easily works best. Pasta, burgers and other food you have to pick up can be messy. I learned that lesson when I had a full schedule of interviews one day. I went to lunch with one candidate and made the mistake of ordering spaghetti. I spilled it and had a blob of sauce that I couldn't get out of my blouse for the rest of the day.

Mind Your Manners

Your mom was right when she told you table manners matter. Interviewers are going to be watching to make sure you are aware of proper dining etiquette, especially if you are being considered for a job where you will be dining with clients.

While you're being interviewed, don't talk with food in your mouth and chew slowly. Although doggy-bags are a good way to eliminate waste, this might not be the right environment to ask for one.

Some other things to consider: Don't send your food back, and be polite to the wait staff and other people working at the restaurant. This is a good way to show what kind of personality you have.

Drinking Alcohol

Always be careful about drinking alcohol when you're interviewing for a job. If the interviewer orders a drink, you may want to follow suit, but don't feel obligated. If you choose to drink alcohol, don't have more than a glass of wine, and be very careful to stay focused on the conversation. When in doubt, just pass on the alcohol.

Keep it Professional

Especially if you have had a drink, or two, there can be a tendency to ramble on during a conversation and to share too much personal information. Of course, you'll want to be friendly and personable, but keep in mind you are interviewing for a job, not dining out with friends.

Who Pays the Bill?

Be sure that if a potential employer takes you out to a meal for an interview, you let him or her pick up the tab. The person who invited you will expect to pay both the tab and the tip. If the bill is placed near or next to you instead, just ignore it and continue talking. Wait for the interviewer to ask for the bill. Of course, be sure to say “thank you."

Follow Up

Just like you would with any other interview, follow up with a thank you note for the interview and the meal, reiterating your interest in the job.

The Bottom Line

Just because you may be interviewing for a job over a meal instead of in an office doesn't mean you shouldn't follow protocol. True, there may be some additional things to consider, like what to order, what to wear and who pays the bill, but these tips should help guide your meeting in this unconventional setting.