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What Is the Real Cost of a Date?

BY: Rebecca Loeser | Dec 6, 2016

Questions about dating etiquette have raged since time immemorial: how much should you spend on a first date? What about the second? Fiftieth? And should the cost of a date be different if you go to a romantic French restaurant, as opposed to a popular bar?

In the past, Groupon has tackled these questions by asking three etiquette experts who should pick up the check on a first date. But for this exercise, I’m not interested in the experts. I want to know about real people. And I really want to know anonymous dirt about my coworkers. So I tossed on a lab coat and polled Groupon’s editorial department, a group of young people in their 20s and 30s, about money and dating. Check out what they had to say below.

Let’s talk numbers: the cost of a date.

What do my coworkers usually spend—or expect their counterparts to spend—on a first date? 

A clear majority said $21–40. But whose pockets should that cash come from exactly? In other words ... 

Who should pay on a first date?

Rather than going dutch, our respondents largely agreed that the responsibility for paying falls on whoever asked the other person out.

“I am an old-fashioned girl in many senses, but in this day and age, I think we should progress towards having females pay once in awhile, as well.”

This person advocates picking up the tip or getting the popcorn. Others agreed with her, and some had surprising, nuanced caveats: “I'm a woman who dates men and, boy oh boy, if it's a bad date, they better be picking up that tab. But on the first date I had with my now-boyfriend, we ended up splitting the check. I think in general I didn't mind dropping some cash on a date that turned out well—which maybe isn't completely fair.” Another respondent added:

“I don't like to think in terms of ‘shoulds’ when it comes to paying on a date.”

She added, “Personally, my preference as a woman is to split the bill just to keep things feeling ‘even,’ especially on a first date, but if someone insists I may let them pay. I think things should be taken on a case-by-case basis without much expectation one way or another.”

Do you do "the reach"?

You know what I mean—the wallet reach. When it's clear that the other person is paying, do you show them that you’re going for your cash anyway? Alternatively, do you expect your date to do the same token reach? Surprisingly, nearly a third of my coworkers (31%) said “no.” I guess they’re above empty gestures (I’m not).

What’s the best—and worst—way to save money on a date?

Nearly all respondents—a whopping 96%—agree that leaving a bad tip leaves a bad taste in their mouths. Dating is a time to put your best foot forward, and while you don’t have to drop a bag of cash, you do want to show how considerate you are. Coming up in second place is dividing the bill a little too mathematically. After all, no one wants their date to grill them about how many pieces of calamari they’ve eaten. Next was conspicuous spending, or throwing money around just to show you’ve got it. 

Have you used a Groupon to save money on a date?

Our new Groupon+ deals allow customers to pay with their credit card, without presenting a Groupon voucher. Claim in advance, visit the business as you normally would, and look for the cash back on your credit card statement. Using a Groupon+ deal is a super-discreet way to get discounts, which means it's pretty much perfect for use on dates.

That said .... how do my coworkers really feel about using Groupons on dates?

The answer is: not bad! And yes, this survey was anonymous, so I don’t think anyone was censoring themselves. Certainly these folks didn’t:

“I used a Groupon for a restaurant on a first date once. We did not have a second. On a different occasion, I invited a date to an autopsy seminar that I bought on Groupon. That was better because I didn't have to actually present my Groupon to anyone, but worse because it was a third date at an autopsy center.”

That wasn’t the only unique experience connected to Groupon usage. “The best date I've ever been on started at a shooting range,” said one. “We shot a couple rounds and then went to a brewery nearby to use a Groupon. The night ended with dinner.”

While a far-from-insignificant 20% of respondents said they’d refrain from using one, the majority said they’d pull up a voucher, no problem. “I personally think someone using a Groupon on a date is cost-effective and budget-conscious, so I see it as a positive thing,” said one woman. Another drew this distinction: “Using a Groupon on a first date? Faux pas. Using a Groupon with your long-term partner? A-OK!”

Can’t buy me love.

This theoretical money talk is all well and good, but can my coworkers back up their financial ideals with real-world examples?

“I don't think there's really a correlation of good date to expensiveness. My best date was at a bar. It was simple, and we just ended up getting to know each other. It just so happened that my date and I clicked!”

A lot of best-date stories followed this pattern. One person remembers buying Epic Burger before settling on the steps of Chicago's Shedd Aquarium with her date. “It was so chill and relaxed,” she said. “Our total bill for the two burgers was about $20. The experience and getting to know him better? Priceless.” Another person suggested the free activity of stargazing (“the gooier the better”), while another suggested the zoo: “It's free, and doing bits with the animals is a great way to gauge each other's sense of humor.”

Yet another story started with a discussion of politics and linguistics at a café (“you know, the usual”), then saw the couple heading to the Chicago Riverwalk, where the respondent’s date proceeded to climb a tree. “I remember being both impressed and terrified, since, if he fell and hurt himself, I didn't even know his last name yet.” Nonetheless, it remains this person’s most memorable date, due to the “mixture of good conversation and spontaneity.”

Indeed, it seems that when it comes to lasting romance, the cost of a date doesn’t matter nearly as much as the other stuff does—stuff like spontaneity, conversation, and chemistry. This is a principle worth keeping in mind, and it’s probably illustrated best by this tale:

“I loved being taken to a place I had casually mentioned in one of our first phone conversations. It showed he listened when I was talking, and remembered something of no real significance, simply because he thought I would enjoy it. He’s now my fiancé.”


Learn more about the new Groupon+ deals, an easy (and discreet) way to save: