An Interview During A Meal?! Now What Do I Do?

I interviewed a candidate for a CFO position during a dinner meeting at a restaurant well known for its steak and prime rib.  The candidate barely sipped his wine and ordered chicken sticks, french fries and corn.  As we got to know each other and connected well, I asked him about his meal order.  He laughed and said, “After years of business meals I’ve learned not to order anything messy.  I order food that I can eat with only a fork, not having to use a knife at all”.  Smart man.  By the way, he got the job because of his prior job results.

Here are some do’s and don’t and the reasons why:

  • Like the story above, order food that you can handle easily.  Don’t make a mess or slop tomato sauce on your blouse or tie.
  • Order a meal consistent with your host.  It’s awkward if the host is eating salad, soup or dessert and your not.  Whoever is not eating feels compelled to do all of the talking.
  • Order without multiple conditions like, “hold the sauce, no glutton, put it on the side, Earl Grey tea only…” as you’ll seem to be a person that is too demanding.
  • Eat at the same pace as the host.  Too fast or too slow will become uncomfortable.
  • The bread plate is to the left and water glass is to the right.  Don’t take someone else’s bread or water.  Sounds simple, but lacking the social graces can be embarrassing.
  • Unless the main course is grossly prepared or uneatable, don’t send it back.  Your host will have to wait until your new order arrives.
  • If the host is unfamiliar with restaurants in your area and asks you to decide where to eat, chose one that serves what your host likes (by asking) and provide alternatives.
  • If the host gets the wrong order, wait until the right order is served before you begin to eat, or send your order back to be warmed and served at the same time.
  • If you are the guest, don’t order the most expensive item on the menu.  Follow the lead of the host, who usually will order first.
  • If the host orders alcohol, go along, however you don’t have to match one-for-one. Only sip your drink over the course of the meal.  Keep a clear head.
  • Be prepared for light conversation.  Follow the lead of the host.  Social conversation is part of the interview.  Talk about subjects or a hobby that the host is interested in.
  • Don’t interrogate the host.  Ask key questions that the host can expand upon: The company, history, competitors, the job to be filled or other overview questions.

Most of these guidelines are common sense, but need some degree of clarity.  Do you know the difference between a salad fork and those for the appetizer, main course and dessert?  Better brush up as a faux pas may determine your suitability, especially if you’re expected to entertain potential customers.


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