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Lunch Interviews, Dinners, and Retreats

What To Order?

During interviews, the person paying should order first. This sets the tone for the spending behavior and your menu. Take your cues from the interviewers. Firms usually limit the budget for lunch interviews, so it is good to be mindful and not order too much. This may be difficult to do, especially if the interviewers invite you to order first. What you can do, however, is pick a moderately priced entrée and hold off on ordering appetizers. If your interviewers decide to order appetizers, you can then say something such as, “Actually, may I have a soup before my entrée as well? It sounds delicious.” Or you can forego the formalities and order a soup or an appetizer anyway. Even if you are the only person who orders an appetizer before your entrée, this move alone will not cost you an offer. Just do not order an appetizer for everyone to share—your interviewers will not take it well, especially because they are paying for your meal.

Most interviewers do not care what you order, as long as you do not blow the budget completely and do not order alcohol without their invitation. Some interviewers, however, try to infer something about you as a person from your luncheon selections.

Joseph once attended a lunch interview at a trendy midtown spot in Manhattan, frequented mostly by people with expense accounts. The interviewer, a junior associate at a large New York firm, seemed determined to ignore Joseph while she was preoccupied was her BlackBerry. After a few minutes, she finally looked up and suggested they order appetizers. She ordered a seafood appetizer that was sprinkled with caviar. He picked a $12 lobster roll, which was studded with a few pieces of real lobster. The associate quickly reprimanded Joseph for ordering lobster at an interview: “Although you won't lose any points with me, other people could think it's inappropriate.” The interview was getting awkward, so Joseph made an attempt at humor: “I'm sorry. Can I make it up to you by ordering a bottle of the best champagne in the house?” He made her laugh, thus easing the tension.

Everything is relative, and food choices and attempts at humor are no exception. If in doubt, let the interviewer be your guide. In case you are curious, Joseph did not order champagne, and he did receive an offer from the firm. Generally though, you can order almost anything on the menu without risking losing a potential offer. Just stay away from lobster, caviar, pricy wines, and similar delicacies unless your interviewers expressly invite you to indulge.

Finally, only order desserts if your interviewers insist you do so. Most of the time, interviewers will politely ask you about dessert or coffee while secretly hoping you will decline. This is because desserts make long interviews even longer, and interviewers are usually eager to return to work by this time. Therefore, unless someone at the table actually orders dessert or coffee, refrain from ordering them. The interviewers’ schedules may be more relaxed during dinner, but again, watch for cues.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw Job InterviewsLunch Interviews, Dinners, and Retreats - Act Professional, Never Let Your Guard Down, What To Order?, Table Manners, Basic Etiquette