You made it through the first round of interviews, and now you have been invited to lunch with your potential employer. Now what?
It’s time to mind your manners! Below are 11 tips to help you shine at a lunch or dinner interview:
1. Treat the Waitstaff Well
You and your manners are on display. The interviewers will be evaluating how well you get along with others. If you are rude to the waitstaff – or any restaurant employees, for that matter – your future employer is likely to assume that you will treat people rudely at their organization as well.
2. Put Your Napkin on Your Lap
After being seated and ordering your beverage, place your napkin on your lap. If there are only paper napkins instead of cloth napkins, do not draw attention to yourself by continually taking them out of the dispenser. If you need to excuse yourself from the table, place your napkin on the seat or on the arm of your chair.
3. Sip Your Beverage – Don’t Chug, Gulp, or Slurp
Follow your host’s lead on what to order. There is no consensus on whether or not to order an alcoholic beverage. I, personally, do not see anything wrong with ordering a beer or a glass of wine if your host and others from the company also order one, but I do not recommend ordering more than one alcoholic beverage – even if others do.
If you do not drink alcohol, you do not need to launch into an explanation about why you do not drink. I do not recommend saying anything about being in recovery or taking certain medications that cannot be mixed with alcohol. You are being interviewed. You do not want to disclose too many personal details – or give the employer a reason to question your fitness for the role.
4. Elbows Off the Table
Do not put your elbows on the table. Keep your hands in your lap unless you are cutting your food. To prevent any automatic behaviors, try to remember to keep one hand on your lap when chewing your food or sipping your drink. You also want to be sure you are sitting up straight and chewing with your mouth closed.
5. Do Not Start Eating Until Everyone Has Their Food
Wait until the person who invited you begins eating. Often, the host of the interview will signal when to go ahead and begin eating. I, personally, would still wait until everyone has their food to begin eating.
6. If Your Order Is Wrong:
I have heard people say that interviewers will occasionally call ahead and ask the restaurant to mix up your order on purpose to see how you handle the situation. I do not know if there is any truth to these stories.
If your order is wrong, I think it is best to use your discretion. If the order is only slightly mistaken, you may choose to say nothing. If it is clearly something you did not order, then politely let the server know you have received the wrong order. Use your manners. Do not get loud, and never scold the server. Monitor your body language as well. Do not let your facial expressions reveal what you are really thinking. For example, do not roll your eyes.
7. Spoon Your Soup Away From You, Not Toward You
This will keep the soup in your bowl and not on you. Never pick up the soup bowl to drink directly from it, nor should you scrape the bowl like it is your last meal.
Honestly, I recommend you totally avoid soup or anything similarly messy. No spaghetti! You may be nervous, and you do not need to worry about making a mess or noise when you eat. Eliminate potential sources of stress wherever you can.
8. Cut Your Food Into Small Bites
Cutting your food into small bites means you won’t have to chew very much – which will help you avoid those awkward situations where everyone is staring at you, waiting for your answer to a question, while you chew and chew away. (And, of course, you should never speak with a full mouth.)
This is another reason why you want to be mindful of what you order. Let the restaurant and culture dictate whether you cut your food and eat it with a fork or whether you pick it up and eat it. Fried chicken and french fries, for example, are often eaten differently depending on the restaurant’s environment.
9. When It Comes to Silverware, Start on the Outside and Work Your Way in Toward the Plate
If this is the kind of restaurant where you receive multiple sets of silverware, know this: the salad fork, dinner fork, and dessert fork will be on the left side of the plate, with the dessert fork closest to the plate. If all else fails, watch which utensil everyone else uses – but also be mindful that they may not know either. Check if there is a butter knife on a small plate. This is used to butter dinner rolls and will probably not be next to your regular knife.
10. Tidy Up After Yourself
Put your napkin on the left side of the plate and your silverware at the four o’clock position when finished with your meal. This will signal to the waiter that you are done and ready for your plate to be removed.
11. Say ‘Thank You’
At the end of the meal, be sure to thank your host for inviting you to lunch. Always follow up with a handwritten thank-you note as well.
It is also good manners to thank your server and the host on your way out of the restaurant. The person who invited you will pay for your meal and leave the tip, but you should still thank the waitstaff personally.
The above tips should also be followed when dining with your boss and coworkers. People are watching. You want to win them over, not disgust them with bad table manners.
Jaynine Howard is a military veteran whose work as a career strategist and reinvention specialist has been recognized by professional organizations throughout the nation.