Now you know the nature of the “meal meeting,” and yes, you know all about appropriate manners, but this isn’t your ordinary meal.  There’s a lot riding on this one, so a refresher is definitely in order.

Follow the tips below for “meal meeting” success:

  • Order a non-alcoholic beverage to keep a clear mind.  If you do follow your host’s lead and have a drink, never have more than one.
  • Keep cups and glasses at the top of your place setting and well away from you.  Most glasses are knocked over a cluttered table when one reaches for the condiments or gestures to make a point.
  • Order the same thing (or close to it) as the interviewer.  When the menus arrive, ask the interviewer, “What do you think you will have today?”  That way, you’ll be prepared if you’re asked to order first.
  • If you order a salad, request the dressing on the side.  Then cut up the lettuce before pouring it on to minimize the mess.
  • Don’t order expensive food.  Everybody wants to eat well (especially on someone else’s dime), but you’re there to talk and be at your best, not to eat.
  • Eat what you know.  Stay away from awkward, messy, or exotic foods.
  • Don’t order anything with bones.  Stick with filets.  There are few simple, gracious ways to deal with any type of bone.
  • Do not change your order once it’s made and never send the food back.
  • When you’re faced with an array of knives, forks, and spoons, start at the outside and work your way in.  Keep your elbows at your sides and don’t slouch in the chair.  When pausing between mouthfuls, rest your knife and fork on the plate, crossed over each other at the bottom.
  • When do you start eating?  When the interviewer does.  When do you stop?  When they do.  At the end of the course or meal, rest your knife and fork together on the plate at five o’clock.
  • Never speak with your mouth full.
  • Be polite to your waiters and waitresses, even if they spill soup in your lap.

There is a story in our industry about an interviewer whose favorite test of composure is to have the waiter, by arrangement, put the bill on the interviewee’s side of the table.  She then chats, waiting for something interesting to happen. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, never pick up the check, however long it’s left by your plate.  When ready, your host will pick it up, because that’s protocol of the occasion.  By the same token, you should never offer to share payment at your meal meeting.

When parting company, thank the host for their hospitality and wonderful meal.  Follow these steps as closely as you can, and your chances of getting an offer will rise dramatically.

(For more information about successfully preparing for YOUR next interview, download a copy of Dan Simmons’s e-Book, Put Your Best You Forward: Simple Steps to a Successful Interview.)