The unemployment rate remains over 9 percent -- about the same as it was a year ago. But you already knew that, educated readers of Cafe Society. What you didn't know, or maybe haven't thought about, is what you shouldn't eat if you find yourself in that third or fourth level of the job-interview dimension, when things get serious and you're asked to grab a bite to eat with your prospective employer. Never before (except maybe on a first date that you actually cared about) has choosing what you eat said so much about you; never before has it mattered so much if you spill your meal down your shirt and onto the tie you were planning on returning if you got the job. So as a public service to all our readers looking to land that dream job, here are ten foods you should never, ever, not even for a second, think about ordering while on a job interview. 10. Salad This should be a no-brainer, but why order the Caesar salad when you're not paying for the meal? No one is suggesting you ask "What is today's market price?" about any menu item, but you may as well eat well. Another reason not to get the salad: It says you're not taking this meeting seriously. You just want to eat and go. You want to look busy, but not too busy to relax for a few and nosh on something of substance with your future/could-be boss. 9. The Kids' Menu One, if you're going to a place that offers a kids' menu, you should ask yourself, "What kind of job is this?" But if for some reason there's a kids' menu, just stay the fuck away from it, even if you really want the star-shaped chicken nuggets. 8. Just booze "Oh I already had dinner." (You didn't and you don't want to eat in front of a stranger because it's weird.) Yet for some reason you order cocktails. It'll loosen you up, you think. And your could-be boss ordered one first, so it's acceptable. You just drank on an empty stomach, sir, and when it comes time for another round or two, the person on the other side of the table has a base of meat and potatoes to soak up those alcoholic toxins, and you're way ahead, commenting on the server's figure. Yikes. 7. A meatball sub Have you ever tried to eat one of these? It's a food best enjoyed alone. Meatballs go everywhere, as does the neon-orange grease and marinara mixture. If it's a casual lunch, this will almost certainly be on the menu, so avoid it at all costs. 6. Something more expensive than what your boss orders Avoid extravagance (see item #10), but make sure you're in the same ballpark. This rule is only broken if the boss notices. If not, chow down. 5. Anything that requires a bib This should be self-explanatory, but just don't get the ribs. While wearing a bib should make for a good conversation piece and show you're okay with a little self-deprecation, old-school types may just think you're an undignified buffoon. 4. Garlic soup This one is really a toss-up. You could enjoy the garlic soup (or garlic anything, for that matter), have your dinner and drinks, be witty, smart and full of ideas, go home and get a phone call the next week saying you're the perfect person for the job. Or this could happen: You eat the garlic, dinner lingers on a little longer and the smell of your breath and skin begins to linger on as well. While any reasonable person would be okay with this and brush it off, others might just think of garlic when they think of you, especially if you overdo it. 3. Something off the menu Any decent restaurant will have a few off-the-menu specials on a particular night (I once heard a server prattle on for seven minutes about the half-dozen off-the-menu entrees available), but it's best to avoid these items. Keep it simple; your meal should draw the good kind of attention, not this kind. Also, if you order it off the menu, you shouldn't send it back. 2. Dessert "Hey I'll just get a banana split or brownie a la mode!" Don't even think about it. This breaks the rule that says you should get something similar to the person picking up the tab. And like salad, ordering dessert says you may not be taking this job interview seriously enough. 1. Nothing at all "It's okay, I'm not that hungry." This is suicide. Order something, eat it, smile, ask how your could-be boss's meal tastes. Do not, under any circumstances, order nothing, or just a soda or water. You're there to eat and learn about the new job and be comfortable, and nothing makes someone uncomfortable like a person eighteen inches away from them watching them eat.
What you should order: The weirdest thing on the menu. If you're smart, you knew about this dinner interview a few days ahead and planned it out: You ate something small beforehand and looked at the menu online, so now you can order with confidence and have a good conversation piece if the topic of your prior felonies comes up and things get awkward.
Remember: If this list turns you into a neurotic mess, just ignore it and do what makes you feel comfortable. But you can't blame us if you're sobbing in the front seat of your car in the company parking lot next month.