Here are the things that I try to keep in mind when eating with interviewers or customers:
Most important thing to remember:
The meal is not about the food, it's about the conversation. Don't expect to eat anything that tastes good or enjoy yourself at all. You can go out for a real meal afterwards if you're still hungry.
How to dress:
I am clumsy and am known to drop food on myself. Therefore, I would wear clothes that are not likely to drag in food or show obvious stains in case of a mistake. I would not wear long sleeves if it could possibly be avoided.
If you're interviewing for a suit and tie kind of job, I would recommend practicing eating in a suit and tie before you go to your interview.
As an engineer, I have worn a suit with a short sleeve blouse and then hung my suit jacket before eating so as not to get it messy. For other meetings, business casual is often appropriate.
What to bring:
I would bring everything but not get it out. I find it's generally better to have things you don't need than to need things you don't have. Put everything in a briefcase or nice purse and tuck it next to your chair. Don't get things out unless someone, for some reason, asks you for your resume or work portfolio. If you don't have something on hand, schedule a time to bring it to them in person, if you can.
How to decide what to order:
Arrange it so that you order last. Pretend like you're still deciding if the server asks you first. Listen to what your host is ordering and order something similar that you could eat. Not the exact same thing unless you really do like the exact same thing.
The important thing is that if they order salad, you shouldn't order pasta and vice versa. Everyone is more comfortable if you're all eating the same thing and since this isn't about the food for you, it's about the impression you leave, just follow their lead on what to eat.
General tips on eating and talking:
Of course, like mom always says, don't talk with your mouth full. Probably you won't get to eat much of what you order, keep in mind you can get food afterwards.
Try to avoid smelly foods like garlic and onion. The last thing you want is to make them want you to stop talking so they don't smell your breath.
Also, avoid foods that are likely to get stuck in you're teeth. This happens to me all the time, so I often end up trying to talk and smile without showing my teeth. Some people can use a toothpick in a really classy and neat way. I can't. I go to the restroom to check when done eating.
Lastly, take small bites so that you don't have to make your interviewer wait for a long time before you answer a question.
Be nice to waitstaff. Don't complain about the food or the atmosphere or the waiting time or the temperature or anything. Being negative puts people around you in a negative mood and you want everyone to be feeling positive, so be positive. Compliment things. Say thank you.
There is this old fable that seasoning your food before you taste it is a sign of an unscientific mind. The first time I heard this, it was Thomas Edison who would watch for this sign. Other sources say it was Henry Ford, or IBM.
Amazingly, I've run into actual interviewers who claim to watch for this behavior.
In a world of chain restaurants where exact same food is served in multiple locations, it seems like it should be a safe assumption to season ones' food if you've had the same before from the same chain. However, based on this folklore I'd avoid it during interviews, at least.
A note on special dietary needs:
As a vegetarian in the US, I often end up with nothing much to eat. I find it's best to be apologetic rather than entitled when your host realizes you're ordering sides at the steakhouse because you're a vegetarian. I would follow the same if you have any other special dietary needs, be understanding.
Remember, you can get food you like after the meeting and you won't be eating much of it anyway if it goes well because you'll be talking.
I once did an 8-hour interview where the only food was deli sandwiches with meat and chips. I had the chips and kept on talking. I got the job too. Which was, you know, much better than having a good lunch at an interview.
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