When you go to a callback interview at the firm, mostly likely they will take you out to lunch at a pretty nice restaurant nearby. Usually, your interviews are split up so that you would have a few in the morning, lunch in the middle, and the remaining interviews in early afternoon.
Typically, there would be between 1-4 attorneys taking you out to lunch. At some firms, these attorneys are pre-selected by the firm. At other firms, the recruiting person only picks one attorney, who in turn would invite whom s/he would like to join the party.
Note that some firms would take you out to dinner in the evening instead, and some others will hold a cocktail event for their candidates in lieu of a meal (cheap, cheap). Much of the discussion below would apply in those situations as well.
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You are being evaluated at all times
Forget about eating much. Seriously. Why do we have to say this? You are there to interview and don’t lose sight of that. Although lunch would be in a very informal setting with mostly junior and mid-level associates who probably present a more relaxed and open environment, these folks are nevertheless there to evaluate you. There is a good reason why firms are paying for their lunch. Don’t let your guard down — watch what you say and do at all times. In fact, you should be aware that before lunch, they get a copy of your resume and, after lunch, they would be asked to complete the exact same evaluation form that the interviewers receive. They are not your buddies (yet).
Spread your attention around the table
Assuming that there are multiple attorneys at the table, remind yourself to not focus your attention on just one or two attorneys who might be controlling the conversation, you might perceive to possess the most authority, or who you might feel most comfortable with. We have seen too many candidates do this subconsciously. Anyone whose sensitive feelings were hurt because you didn’t adequately pay attention to him/her won’t have a warm and fuzzy feeling when they are completing your evaluation form. Spread the love . . . pay attention to everyone; move your eye balls and shiny smile around the table.
Don’t drink, silly
First, to state the obvious, please don’t order any alcoholic beverage, even if any of the attorneys does (some may get a glass of wine on the firm). Only bad things happen when you are intoxicated on an interview, and trust me, the attorneys will take note that you are having red wine with your $60 Kobe steak with truffles-infused Bernaise sauce. But you already know this.
What not to order
Besides alcohol, you should feel free to order anything you want, but you wouldn’t want to get anything overly decadent or expensive, such as a Surf and Turf. I am not kidding — some candidates order such things (sometimes intentionally to demonstrate that s/he has chutzpah, I suppose). That would surely cause many (but not all) attorneys to raise their eyebrows, who might consider that to be a sign of arrogance, waste, as well as a lack of social etiquette, common sense, and judgment, etc. Yes, they really should lighten up. No worries, not a “show stopper” by any means. You can never go wrong with a sandwich, soup or salad, but you could always go last in ordering and see what other folks order. Copy them and you should be okay.
Don’t gorge yourself
Limit your food intake, no matter how good the food tastes. You wouldn’t want to feel lethargic or sleepy for the afternoon interviews because you ate heavy or just too much. Furthermore, there would be a few attorneys ganging up on you to pepper you with questions or making conversation throughout lunch — you really can’t talk well with your mouth constantly full (as expected, talking with food in your mouth will not be well received). In light of the constant conversation, ordering bite-sized food that you don’t have to cut too much, and can pick up from your plate without looking down for an extended period of time, would be advisable.
Don’t spill anything on yourself
Whatever you do, don’t spill or drop anything on your clothing, especially your tie or jacket. You really don’t want your interviewer distracted by staring at your grease stain, wondering what it is and how you got it. We are talking not just the attorneys at lunch, but the interviewers in the afternoon. Being self-conscious about something like that never helps your mindset or concentration either. But then again, don’t be like those trust fund babies who insist on flipping the tie over their shoulders while eating, or who unfold the napkin and tucks it under the collar like a bib.
No one really cares if you are not using the proper knife or something, but refrain from doing anything really weird. Like slurping pasta, like you might with a bowl of ramen. Or trying feverishly to cut the meat with the spoon (true story). Basically, so long as the attorneys don’t think “WTF” to themselves or look at each other with a wide-eyed grin, you should be okay.
But just in case you wish to learn more about the proper dining etiquette, we included a video below that explains all the basics you need to know (and a lot more) in just 1:36 minutes.
This might sound kind of shallow and this rarely happens, but from time to time you hear associates come back from lunch and be angry that they had to sit next to a candidate who had a horrible breath (or B.O.). Not annoyed. . . angry. So, carry breath mints or gum (offer to share with everyone), and don’t order anything that might make your breath kickin.
Should I offer to pay for my portion?
Some people have asked this, but nope.
TL;DR, So, really, think of lunch as just another interview; not an opportunity to relax, enjoy and eat. You can always grab a sandwich when you are done. If you screw up, don’t fret. None of the things mentioned above are not “show stoppers” by any stretch of the imagination. Don’t believe the hype.