Tales of professional etiquette. Lunch with the boss.

Nathan Parcells
Tales of professional etiquette. Lunch with the boss.

The interview or business lunch.

Lucky you. You haven’t even gotten the job or internship yet and already you are being taken to lunch by an individual or group of management types at the firm where you hope to be spending the next several months, if not years of your life.

Which fork? Which glass? What to do? Who is the host and who is the guest? Everyone takes off their jackets, sits down and starts ordering beers. There is a lot of talking and joking and you feel you really have to say something….

Very few people are comfortable in this situation. The need to impress is on acute high with your adrenalin pumped and fear running through your blood. Here are a few etiquette rules and tips to help you get that awesome new job.

In a professional setting junior people usually hold the door for those senior to them. In this case, however, you are the guest. Don’t stand there in front of the door waiting, but expect that they will most likely hold the door for you, even if you are a guy and the interviewer is female.

Remain standing near the table until everyone is seated or someone invites you to sit down. Let the others position themselves and no doubt you will be seated where they want you to. Don’t take off your jacket even if all the others do. When they glance in your direction you always want to look professional and neat. Do unbutton your jacket when you sit down. Always button the top button back up when you stand.

Order a non-alcohol drink during an interview lunch, even if everyone else is relaxing with a cold one. You are not trying to be one of the gang at this point. You are trying to be sober, articulate and appropriate. Laugh at their jokes but don’t try any on your own. Price wise, keep your menu selections on the modest side of the middle, and keep it simple unless everyone else is ordering a four course meal. (You should be so lucky).

Only butter the piece of bread that is going in your mouth. Gone are the days when you slather a large piece and then proceed to take bites. NEVER use your fingers to rip or tear your food. Only cut the piece that is going in your mouth. If you can’t finish your lunch, forget the dogie bag unless you want them to think of you as a financially bereft.If the meal involves many courses, just remember that you start using the forks and spoons from the outside of the place setting and work your way in. Despite the cool, sophisticated James Bond stereotype, glasses with stems on them should only be held by the stems not the bowl.

Follow the lead of the person who is interviewing you. If the conversation first involves banter or sports talk feel free to contribute, but don’t overwhelm the conversation. This is where they decide they like you enough to consider employing you, and you don’t want any banter competition to be taking place between you and anyone else, ruining the good will.

Be relaxed and friendly but no putting your arm over the back of the chair, or forgetting the napkin goes on your lap. By the way, the napkin gets put on your chair if you need to excuse yourself. It doesn’t get put back on the table until you are done with your meal and leave it for the last time. You signal to the waiter that you are finished by putting all your dirty utensils together across the top of your plate.

If you are not going back to the office together make sure that you look each individual in the eye as you give them a firm handshake. If they don’t say anything about a follow up, feel free to ask when you might be expected to hear from them. If you exit without them, leave immediately. Don’t hang around the door looking lost or hesitant. Give a clean exit, and you are done.

Any professional etiquette learning experiences out there? We would like to hear them.