Sharing a meal for the first time with someone can be intimidating, especially when that someone happens to be interviewing you for a job. Meal based interviews tend to happen more at an executive level, but I have seen more and more companies moving to this for managers and other critical positions.

The good news about meal based interviews is that the questions tend to be very similar. The interviewer is still going to want to know about your past work history, why you want to work there and why they should hire you. They are still going to want stories that prove past performance and they are going to want that sales pitch that convinces them your the one. The purpose of the interview doesn’t change, only the setting.

The key to most interviews is preparation and that is no different with an interview at a restaurant, the preparation just takes on a few new levels. I always suggest that the candidate get the name of the restaurant ahead of time and browse the menu. It’s likely that the restaurant will be familiar to the interviewer and they will decide on their food choice quickly. You don’t want to waste precious time deciding what to eat. I also suggest being particular about food choices and not choosing anything that could create a potential mess – such as a pasta dish. I don’t care how qualified you are, everyone loses a little dignity while trying to clean sauce off their tie or with spinach stuck in their teeth.

I also suggest being mindful of price and alcohol consumption. I always let the other person order first so the standard is set. If it is a dinner meal and they order alcohol I would politely decline until after the interview portion is over. If after the interview, the meeting went well and the interviewer asks if you want to stick around for a drink, then you have a judgement call to make, but at least you don’t have to worry about being judged for drinking during the actual interview.

Be a bit more relaxed, but not too much. Many times, a meal based interview is suggested so the interviewer can get an idea of how you are outside the office. The setting allows for a bit more relaxation and the interviewer may ask even more personal (but still legal I hope) questions because the setting is more conducive for that. You don’t want to seem stiff in that restaurant chair, but be careful not to let your guard down too much. I see this often with sales positions. A leader wants to take a potential sales hire to a restaurant to see how well this person will relate to customers. It’s a fine line the candidate has to walk to be able to share personality but not be so relaxed that they turn the interviewer off. It’s something to think about and determine a plan of attack before hand.

Be prepared to pay your way. I heard from a job seeker recently that when the check arrived the interviewer said that they would split the bill and asked her for cash to pay her portion. She was shocked. It is customary for the potential employer to pick up the bill, but apparently that doesn’t always happen. Bring some cash along just in case – and then run for the hills because that is probably not a place you want to work for.

For the most part, you prepare the same. Manners still apply they are just different in a restaurant than in an office. The questions will be the same. The discussion may be a bit more relaxed but the end goal is the same, to determine if you are the right fit or not.

Keep that in mind and you’ll do fine.

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