Dating Etiquette for Your First Dinner Date
The dinner date. It’s been around for as long as couples have been courting and chefs have been cooking. But just because something is commonplace doesn’t mean it’s easy. Dating etiquette, like the culture itself, is ever-changing. From ordering wine to paying the check, first-date rules aren’t clear cut, and taking a date to a restaurant is fraught with tough decisions. That’s why we’re making it a bit easier with this simple guide to planning the perfect date night. If you’re wondering what to do on a first date, read on:
Step One: Picking the Restaurant
When all else fails, order Italian. Everyone loves it.
You got their phone number, and you set a date. Then comes the first big question: Where will you make a reservation? There are a lot of dating etiquette elements at play when choosing where to go on a first date, including price point, ambiance, and your partner’s preferences and dietary restrictions.
Those aiming to impress should try getting a table at a restaurant that’s relatively, well, nice. This doesn’t mean you have to blow your entire paycheck on a 12-course Michelin-starred meal. It just means that your selection should show some degree of thought and consideration. In general, establishments with white tablecloths, low lighting, and attentive service are more likely to spark romance than places that serve food on styrofoam dishware or seat you next to a row of TVs airing football.
Ambiance is important, but the type of cuisine you choose is just as crucial when you pick where to go on a first date. Avoid foods that are overly messy or tough to eat. Ribs, ramen, half-pound burgers, and italian beef sandwiches are all delicious, but nearly impossible to eat without getting sauce or broth slathered on your face. And unless you know for certain that your date doesn’t have any allergies or dietary restrictions, try a spot with a well-rounded menu, including a couple vegetarian and gluten-free options. Of course, you could always ask your dinner date if there’s anything you should avoid in advance, but that spoils the surprise.
Step Two: Ordering Wine
If you’re not an expert, make friends with your server immediately.
Assuming both participants care for a tipple, the first hurdle you face is ordering wine. (You can opt for mixed drinks or beer, but the former can be a bit boozy, and the latter too carbonated—you should probably avoid burping until at least the third date.) The wine-ordering process is a delicate balancing act, one that requires finding a bottle that pairs well with your meal and fits your budget. The best advice here is to ask the server or sommelier for recommendations. They can navigate you toward the perfect chianti to pair with your red sauce or the best sauvignon blanc to complement the subtlety of your sea bass.
And if you’re nervous about letting your date know what you’re spending, here’s a great tip: When the server comes to take your order, point to the price, rather than the wine, on the wine list that matches what you’re looking for and say, “I’d like a bottle similar to this.” That way, the server can make a recommendation based on how much you want to spend, and your date will never be the wiser.
Whatever you do, sip that wine slowly. People who slur their words or pass out before dessert rarely get a second date.
Step Three: Selecting the Entree
Surf and turf? Seriously? How about just the turf?
Hopefully there hasn’t been any serious discussion about paying the check at this point in the date. That means that neither person should go gung ho and order the most expensive thing on the menu. It’s presumptuous to expect someone you just met to fork over $100 for an aged Kobe steak or lobster poached in liquefied gold, but ordering nothing more than a side salad sends just as many mixed signals. Stay on the safe side by ordering whatever midrange menu item looks the best to you.
Price isn’t the only factor to consider here, though. Avoid ordering foods that are pungent, sloppy, crunchy, or still squirming. And a first date is rarely the perfect time to try something totally foreign. If you aren’t sure if you’re going to like what you order, skip it. Leaving your food untouched or sending it back to the kitchen is just as big a faux pas as ordering that $100 lobster.
Oh, and whatever you do, don’t order for your date. Maybe it used to be chivalrous, but this is the 21st century, and you’re not a zombie version of Clark Gable.
Step Four: Behaving Yourself During the Meal
Pretend Miss Manners is secretly watching you from the bar.
First-date rules are just like any other social situation: adhere to the basic laws of etiquette. You know the ones—avoid potentially dicey topics of conversation such as politics and religion, make eye contact, put your phone away and be present.
Then there are all the restaurant-specific guidelines. First and foremost, don’t be rude to the server. Don’t snap, don’t condescend, don’t complain about things that are out of the server’s control. Being courteous to the person serving you food isn’t just a rule of thumb for dinner dates, it’s a rule of thumb for life. It might seem obvious, but you should also take care to chew with your mouth closed, eat slowly, and refrain from general vulgarities such as loudly belching (see Step Two) or picking your teeth with a fork.
Step Five: Paying the Check
Both of you get your wallets ready, and take a deep breath.
Perhaps no other moment strikes as much fear in the heart of daters as determining who picks up the check at the end of dinner. It’s not always realistic in this day and age to simply expect the man to be paying the check. After all, what if the woman asks the man out? Or the woman makes more money than the man? Or the man is on a date with another man? Nope, this edict is out of date, and it’s high time it’s scrapped alongside other anachronistic rules of etiquette such as wearing a full petticoat to church or removing your hat at the phrenologist’s office.
So what’s a modern couple to do? Following today’s dating etiquette, the easiest solution is for whoever instigates the date to plan on picking up the check, regardless of their gender or salary. That said, most polite partners will at least offer to split the bill. If splitting seems too formal, one party can pay the check and the other can leave the tip—make sure it’s at least 20%—or buy some after-dinner drinks. After all, few people get asked out on a second date because of the adorable way they pinch pennies.
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