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If I am invited to a lunch (or dinner) interview at a company, would I be expected to pay for it? Should I at least try to offer and "reluctantly" decline?

The company set up the lunch interview, including the location. I was not aware it would be a lunch interview until they told me (although I have no problems with it).

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up vote 140 down vote accepted

Should I at least try to offer and "reluctantly" decline?

No, let them pay for it. They called the interview and place, it's up to them to pay. That's just an 'understood'. Anything else is just playing around and looks fake.

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It might be wise to have some money on hand (or a credit card) just in case. Odds are you won't need it, but every now and then you run across a really flaky company. – Bradley Uffner Feb 10 at 17:26
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Which does not mean that you should not thank for the meal. – J. C. Leitão Feb 10 at 19:20
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@BradleyUffner Tbh, you should carry some cash or a credit card with you when you leave the house even when walking your dog out. – khajvah Feb 12 at 12:32

Always play it by ear, but be prepared to pay. If they are paying, which is the norm, let them. Don't fight it.

Several times, I've had a company buy me lunch, dinner, plane ticket and hotel room to come out for an interview, and the like. Only time I've ever had to pay my own was with the rental of a vehicle, which I believe is connected to the liability insurance risk. They reserved it, but I had to use my own credit card to pay for it and then get reimbursed.

Even when the company is paying, you should still consider being reserved. It's an opportunity for them to see if you are frugal or extravagant. Whether you will have the ability or authority to approve spending decisions or not, you might be tasked with reviewing a product or software and it's better to be seen as frugal than extravagant with the company's money. While you don't have to order the absolute cheapest item on the menu, do NOT order the most expensive item on the menu.

Generally the company will be very upfront about it. "Order whatever you like. The company is paying." I once was told almost these exact words. The executive then went on to praise the blah-blah-blah on their menu. It was a median priced item, it was what he ordered, so it was what I ordered. Subtle directions like that should be followed, unless it's something you are allergic to or you really do not like. It may sound simplistic, but it's an easy way to plant a brief message in their mind. "Frankie likes the Club Sandwich, so he must be a good guy." If you are one of the final candidates, a hiring decision can be swayed by such nuances.

If you get no such directions, choose wisely in terms of how easy the item is to eat. BBQ ribs have a high potential for making a mess of you and your clothes. If it's a BBQ place, maybe order a pulled pork sandwich.

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Perhaps, as well as considering the many excellent answers here, you will want to consider whether a company that expects you to pay the bill is the sort of company you want to work for.

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It's the part of the job interview where both sides decide if the other side is suitable. Seriously, if a company takes you to a lunch for an interview and expects you to pay, you pay your bill and call it a narrow escape. – gnasher729 Feb 10 at 9:07
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"pay your bill and consider it money well spent" - since that small amount saved you a lot in unseen costs to your career/well being had you joined such a company. – Burhan Khalid Feb 10 at 9:19
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This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. - From Review – Jan Doggen Feb 10 at 12:16
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@JanDoggen disagreed. Bob is just being concise. – Mindwin Feb 10 at 15:22
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@JanDoggen: I don't think every answer has to be complete. BobRhodes gave a very important aspect of a complete answer that may have been overlooked elsewhere. That's fine with me. – gnasher729 Feb 11 at 14:04

Usually the company will pay,as it will give a real bad image of the company if they did not.

Just offer to pay and start opening your wallet in plain sight.

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What industry do you work in? In the one I work in, this would be odd. – Amy Blankenship Feb 10 at 16:30
    
I agree with @AmyBlankenship offering to pay would be odd. – Kevin Feb 11 at 17:18
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Offering to pay, then feeling around and checking pockets for a missing wallet and loudly bemoaning it being inexplicably lost while turning your pockets inside out would be marginally better I think – Kilisi Feb 12 at 8:06
    
To be clear, I do not think you should pay. My initial answer was "feigning the will to pay", as it is more a polite act than your sincere will. – Bougret Feb 16 at 0:51

If a US company is interviewing you, it's generally expected that all business expenses (including plane tickets and a hotel room, if applicable) are covered by the company. I'd go into any interview with those unspoken expectations, and if that turned out not to be the case I'd feel like something a little bit weird was going on, to say the least.

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As others have noted, normally the company will pay. But I'd always make sure to have plenty of cash and a credit card just in case. If for whatever reason the company doesn't pay, you don't want to be in the embarrassing position of not having the money, and turning what should be a trivial issue into a big deal.

Unless they're taking you to someplace super expensive, paying for your own lunch shouldn't be a problem. Presumably you normally pay for your own lunch. If a company hiring someone for a minimum wage job took him to a 5-star restaurant and expected him to pay for the meal, I'd think that pretty bizarre and inconsiderate.

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If I am invited to a lunch (or dinner) interview at a company, would I be expected to pay for it? Should I at least try to offer and "reluctantly" decline?

No. Don't be quick to offer. You're taking time out of your schedule to meet with them for a job for which they'll be paying you. They should pay for your interview meal.

When the bill comes, wait a pregnant few minutes for your host to reach for the bill. Because of the context of the meal, your host will very likely reach for the bill, and there will be no awkward moment. If after an unbelievably awkward 20-30 minutes, the host still doesn't reach for the bill, offer to pay for half (just to get out of the restaurant and end your engagement). And if you have to pay, then it's probably not the kind of company you want to work for anyways.

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