First date. Always makes you both nervous and excited at the same time. And always the same questions comes up: Where to go,what to do, what to say, how long to stay… But eventually no matter how you see it, it seems that dinner, either as “just dinner” or as an event that follows or precedes something else (eg drinks or movie), is the most popular first date choice. And for a good reason too. It has several advantages: brings you close, you get to spend time doing something familiar to both and has a very specific duration 1-1.5 hrs. Deciding, however, on dinner as first date does not mean that you are done. Now actually comes the tough part. Where to go, what to eat, what to say. I am not a date coach or a dating expert. I am a foodie. Over the years I developed a set of rules that makes dining-out from a necessity to an experience.
Although these rules are tailored for a date you can follow them for other occasions as well. When you go out to eat, you pay and when you pay you want to have a good time. So here I describe a few tips to help you optimize this interaction and make the most out of it. In this cases what you want to do is remove any distractions, make a neutral environment that let you focus on you and your date.
1. Where to go?
Quality: Do your homework and do it well. Nowadays there are many sites that help you choose a restaurant based on cuisine, rating, price, location etc. Yelp! and Urban Spoon are my personal favorites because they are based on users’ opinion. Since both are based on a large number of users, that go there different times and different days you get a statistically more accurate sample. On the other side Zagat and other reviewer-based rating systems although come from experts, they don’t always agree with the dinners. Aside the obvious choice of quality, however, there are still some additional things to take into consideration.
Type: Avoid franchised restaurant. And by franchised I don’t mean McDonald’s or Wendy’s only. I mean every restaurant that has more than 5 shops in 3 different cities. Although many of them are good, they are still generic. You need to show that you put thought into your choice. I am not advocating that you have to impress your date, but you have to show that you really thought about it and you have the intention to show them a good time. Also unless you know your date well, l avoid strong ethnic cuisine. For example Indian food can be very spicy for some taste buds. Sushi can be very unappetizing to other. That said you can still go to an Italian, a Mexican or a Chinese restaurant, or any other than you think does not have extremes flavors. Unless of course if you have already talked about it before (eg “hey do you like sushi”). And a last note: make sure you can make reservations. The restaurant that do not take reservations are a definitely no.
Nutrition and diet: You must take into account the fact that many people have specific diets, not eating fried food, calorie watch, vegetarian, gluten-free etc. So when picking a place make sure that has several options including vegetarian and healthier dishes. Make sure that the restaurant of your choice also provides options for appetizers and deserts. Many places have only one desert that is usually a box brownie with cheap ice cream on top, showered in chocolate fudge and caramel syrup. Not what you want to eat at a date. Actually not what you want to eat at a restaurant in general. You need something more than that. Many restaurants provide a choice of 3-4 deserts that are daily made in-house.
So how would you know all this? Websites! Almost every respectable restaurant has a website. Have a look and decide.
Price: You don’t want to go cheap but not overboard either. Based on the city anything between $40-80/person is reasonable and it gets you an appetizer, entrée and desert. More on that later. A price range as the one mentioned makes sure that the service is also adequate. Bad service can really break the mood. Also the price give you an idea of how casual a place is. A burger joint with waiters with attitude and dirty chairs no matter how good it is too casual. An overpriced steak house that charges $100/oz is way to formal. You are not going out with your buddies, you are not on a business meeting with the president. You are on a date.
Ambience: The same goes for the ambience of the restaurant. Too loud restaurants makes you scream and too quite makes you very cautious with what you say, almost whispering. The placement of the tables is also important. If they are to crammed then you will again feel intimidated to speak sitting next to people who can hear all you say. Small tables are preferable. Remember you need to come physically closer with your date. A bit more intimate. You are on a date after all. But again don’t go overboard. Don’t reserve a private room or a private booth. You need both to feel comfortable and casual. A very private dining experience is almost like inviting someone home for dinner. A very good idea, most of the times are the restaurants that have a unique decor, like license plates, old vinyls, hats, 50’s theme etc. They are fun and make good conversation starters.
Alcohol: Finally it is important to go to a place that serves alcohol… But not a bar or a pub. Their ambience is way to casual. I don’t mean that you should get yourself or your date drunk, but a glass of wine, beer or a cold cocktail can really set a better mood. This is almost the opposite of the food. More strange beers or specialty cocktails makes a better impression and you can always find something you like. Avoid, however,poster drinks like slushy, oversized margaritas with neon colors served in an inverted sombrero hat. Blah!
In summary you need to pick a restaurant that serves good food and drinks, it has a nice happy ambiance, good service and offers many choices.
2. What to eat.
This is a tough one. Going to the best date restaurant in your city and ordering a pulled pork sandwich will make you look like a kid eating chocolate. Sauce all over you, your clothes and the table. So choose wisely…
What to order: Any good meal has 4 basic elements. Bread and butter, appetizer, entrée and desert. This four items not only make sense gastronomically but also lengthen the time of the date.
Bread and butter give you something to do until the appetizer comes. Something to kill the first few awkward minutes of the date. The appetizer is what sets the mood for the food. Something to curb your appetite so you will not eat the entrée like there is no tomorrow. This actually bring us to a good point of this discussion. You are going there to meet your date not to eat. Remember that. Don’t go and be too hungry. On the other side, don’t just get a salad or an appetizer because you are not hungry. That will make you look like an anorexic weirdo. Eat a normal portion at normal pace, taking breaks to talk. The entrée is what you actually eat. It is your food that’s why you are there. No need to say anything more. Finally the desert is the sweet note that will conclude the dinner. It is something that very often you can share. It also lengthens the date time and give you and you the opportunity to enjoy a cup of coffee too. So get one.
Generally speaking you should not omit any of those courses. Don’t dare to ask the question “do you want a desert/appetizer”. It will make you look cheap and weirdo (again). consider it a part of the meal and just order it.
Never forget that at some restaurants you can also get multiple courses meals from a prefix menu. 5-6 small courses make the meal more interesting. That, however, has to be researched for each individual choice.
Appetizer: The appetizer is a must because is something you share and brings people closer. Pick something that is not messy or finger food. Yep sorry no wings guys. No saucy stuff, no dips or salsa. Get something that can be shared more than once. Something like calamari, stuffed mushrooms, potato skins etc. Salads are a good choice too. Generally items that are small bites (so you don’t eat like a pig), allow you to show your good manners by serving your lady, don’t drip all over and can be eaten with a fork and a knife without too much effort.
entrée: The above mentioned general rules still apply. Prefer items that eaten in small bites, don’t drip or spatter all over and can be eaten with a fork and a knife without too much effort allowing you to casually portion the food while you are discussing. Especially not saucy stuff. I cannot emphasize enough the saucy food. Sauce is bad. Sauce is your enemy. Pasta is probably one of the worst. It spatters, it drips and it is hard to eat. Not only is doused in sauce but also you need to spin your fork to wrap the spaghetti around. I for once, cannot get the right amount wrapped around my fork. Avoid also complicated constructions like skewered meat. Don’t look like a savage trying to eat his freshly killed game.
Remember that it is a good idea when possible to try to get something that you can share. Entrée are not usually made to be shared but you can exchange a small piece of steak or fish. It bring you closer and also makes you look like a guy that cares. Pasta our old nemesis, is the worst thing to share. My top choices is either chicken, stake, fish or if you are a vegetarian a stir fry.
Generally no matter what you so stay away of burgers and other sandwiches that force you to eat with your hands. Yes you can eat a burger with fork and knife. You can also peel an apple with a fork and a knife. You don’t do it; don’t eat the burger that way. Eating sandwiches or other hand food with fork or knife will delay you, and it will draw your attention away from your date. Remember you are not there for the food. You are there to discuss and get to know each other. A civilized meal that is eaten with fork and knife casually is always preferred.
Desert: Desert is something people share very often and don’t let the opportunity go to waste. Again try to get something that does not have the potential to make a mess. A cheesecake, a custard, a pie. You know the drill by now.
What to drink: Drinks in general are an important part of each meal. If you follow my advice and you are in a restaurant that can serve alcohol you can pick either a nice beer or wine. Both are classy and traditionally accommodating meals. Cocktails are better to proceed or succeed the main corse. Again here it pays to go online and look at the menu and the wine list. Many restaurants offer a long list of wines that will take for ever to go through. Know from before the wine based on what you plan to eat and the price range you want. You can always ask your server but servers are trained to push the more expensive wines.
Important: Always get water. It will make you drink slower your drink, hydrate you and make you enjoy the food better. Water is always a must.
What to do: There are some etiquette that you have to follow. Ask your date what she is thinking to order. If you plan order something similar it is a good opportunity to share a bottle of wine. This is where your homework pays off. Based on the meal you have 2-3 back up wines that fit your budget and your food. The wine bottle will also involve the process of smelling the cork, tasting and approving the wine. If, however, you are stubborn and you want to order something different it is better to get wine by the glass. If you get cocktail or beer although these rules do not apply they are still decent and well respectable drinks.
When the time to order comes, let your date always order first, then follow. Order the appetizer as well. Thank the waiter. Once the bread, appetizer or salad arrives make sure you are serving your date first. Be a gentleman.
A very important aspect is the eating pace. Eat slowly at the same pace with your date and make sure you both taking breaks talking. This is common sense and you should always follow that rule. Don’t take big mouthfuls that take five minutes to swallow. The discussion will be going back and forth and you want to avoid the awkwardness of the moment that after a question you signal that you want to swallow first.
3. What to say
On that you are on your own!
In summary try to pick a move restaurant that serves good food and drinks and has a neutral atmosphere that both of you will feel comfortable. Follow some simple table manners and always be considerate of your date. These rules do not guarantee a successful date. They guarantee a pleasant time. At the very end not every date has to be an experience, but every meal has to be. In this discussion we eliminated many restaurants that are favorite; diners, BBQ, pizza and burger joints. These places are fine and can be the destination for future dates, just not the best choice for the first date.