If you can cook up a storm, the way to a man (or woman)’s heart is definitely through their stomach. Serving a delicious meal shows your new lover that you’re creative and capable – not to mention good with your hands. It’s also a great way to say “I care about you” without having to find the words.
However, there’s plenty that can go wrong. If you try impressing your latest flame with lumpy mash or burnt bangers, your budding relationship may sink faster than a souffle. Here are 10 ways to ensure that your seductive supper hits the spot.
1. Research their taste buds
Beautiful food is in the taste buds of the beholder. Cooking dinner for someone is about serving something they’ll love, not something that you love and think they should try.
For example, don’t spend all day creating a feast of venison stroganoff with vodka cocktails, only to find that your lover is a teetotal vegetarian.
If in doubt, ask what they’d love to eat, and make sure you know what they don’t like. Don’t worry about “spoiling the surprise”. Surprises are nice, but people would rather get something they genuinely want.
2. Experiment on friends first
If you’ve never cooked fish before, don’t try to impress your lover with grilled butterflied monkfish. Stick to what you know, or practice on friends first. If you mess up dinner for your mates, there’s no romantic mood to spoil – and you’ll learn from your mistakes.
3. Get the timing right
A new relationship is like a lemon souffle: go in too soon and you’re sunk. An elaborate invitation for “dinner at my place” is too keen for a first or even second date. Save it for someone you’ve been seeing for a month or two.
When you’re planning the night itself, give your lover a few days’ notice and make sure that the date suits you both. Go for a Friday or Saturday evening if you both work weekdays. You don’t want to have to rush everything because it’s a school night.
4. Feed their libido
Certain foods supposedly have aphrodisiac qualities, and the science seems to bear out their reputation. For example the Aztecs nicknamed chocolate "nourishment of the gods" because eating it gave their moods a lift, and it’s now been discovered that chocolate contains traces of the hormone seratonin – the very stuff that Prozac is designed to boost.
Oysters are famous aphrodisiacs, and their reputation also seems scientifically sound. Shellfish contain high levels of zinc, which has been found to boost testosterone levels.
So get busy with those seafood recipes, but not before you’ve made sure that your date will eat them. All the testosterone-boosting powers in the world aren’t enough to persuade some people swallow an oyster.
5. Prepare as much as possible in advance
Within reason. If you cook your meal 10 hours before serving time, your dish will die before it’s even been tasted. But do as much chopping and prepping in advance as you can.
When your guest arrives, don’t leave them twiddling their thumbs in front of the telly while you finish your masterpiece. Rudeness is not seductive. If they turn up before you’re finished cooking, invite them into the kitchen to chat while you cook, and keep their wine glass topped up.
6. Go easy on the romantic cliches
If you know that your lover would get a thrill from a candlelit table and posh cutlery, go for it.
But true romance is about imagination. It’s about giving someone a memorable evening that you know they’d love. If you know that they’d get a bigger thrill from a takeaway in a tent pitched in the garden, or a living room picnic of home-made curry, beer and their favourite film, do that instead.
7. Get the conversation right
A dinner date isn’t just about the food, it’s also about good company. So remember the usual tricks: listen with interest to everything they say, make eye contact and try not to let your mind drift.
If there’s something in the oven that needs attention in 20 minutes, set an alarm. Otherwise you’ll be too busy worrying about it to pay enough attention to your guest.
8. Enjoy it
Your dinner guest won’t enjoy the evening if you’re stressed and constantly in the kitchen. The main thing you’re serving up tonight is your excellent company, so relax and enjoy it too. Don’t rush around like a waiter with his bum on fire.
If you’re insecure about your cooking, at least try to act confident. Don’t keep asking, “is it OK? Do you like it?”
9. Have an after-dinner plan
When the plates are empty, don’t just flip the lights back on and go back to the usual telly-and-biscuits evening routine. The meal doesn’t end when you’ve downed the last mouthful. Leave the plates, and invite your date to snuggle down for a glass of wine and the next bit of the evening.
Again, think about what they’d really enjoy. A DVD? A romantic walk? A wrestle under the duvet? If seduction is on your mind, close the deal with a kiss and a tour of your house or flat.
10. Leave the washing up
It can wait until the next day, or at least until your guest is sleeping off their dinner. The last thing you want to do is draw attention to it or rope them in to help. When they come down to a spotless kitchen the next morning, they’ll think you’re God’s gift.