Dating & Dining: Essential First Date Tips

Manipulating cutlery, juggling food and glasses, all whilst trying to converse and impress someone I was meeting for the first time just didn’t make sense to me. A meal could potentially last hours, and it could prove difficult to extricate myself gracefully if the going got tough – I liked to be secure in the knowledge that a quick coffee or drink could be brought to a swift conclusion should the date prove to be less than ideal.

“I imposed a dating rule: I would never arrange to go out for a meal on a first date”

However, as time and dates rolled by, I decided to revise my ‘no plates on first dates’ rule. Some dating evenings I am just plain hungry! And what’s the worst dinner scenario that could realistically occur? Sitting opposite a stranger in a restaurant definitely have its merits, and dinner dates have slowly climbed up my ‘list of favourite of ways of getting to know someone’. I’ve come to appreciate the benefits of a dinner date, primarily because of the intense and personal nature of dining with your date sitting two feet opposite you in close quarters with few distractions.

So whether or not you’re a veteran of the first date meal, or taking your first bite, here’s a few first date tips that I have gleaned along the way:

1. Be Early

I love arriving unflustered to sit at the bar, or table, gracefully sipping a cool cocktail before a date. This gives me time to feel at ease in my surroundings and adjust to the interior temperature (do your best not rush into an overheated restaurant – your face might take on an unfamiliar shade of puce!) In reality, I’m often dashing to get to our date in time, leaving me with the unenviable challenge of spotting my date amongst the diners – definitely one to avoid. Fun fact: I have actually approached the wrong person before with a smile and ‘Hello, are you Pete?’ It wasn’t Pete. Thankfully he was amused, as was my date when I confessed to my case of mistaken identity (in my defence, they could have been twins).

To sum up: if you’re nervous, get there slightly earlier. If you are running late, that’s fine, but always make sure you let your date know when you’ll be there; no-one likes to be sitting alone in a restaurant for long when they’re expecting someone.

2. Have a drink

Start with a tipple, but don’t start knocking back the shots like it’s a Saturday night out with your friends. Most people like to take the edge off with alcohol, so just make sure that you’re matching your date for drinking. If one of you is drinking far more than the other, both parties will feel a little unsettled. I recently dated a tee-totaller, who threw me at first when I ordered a large white wine and he had a sparkling water. I asked him if he minded me drinking – he didn’t – but it did make me moderate my alcohol intake for that date, which wasn’t a bad thing. Unless the mood is right and you have both decided it’s a fantastic idea I wouldn’t recommend drinking too much. We’ve all been less than pleasantly surprised at how more than a few drinks can influence your judgement. Besides, if the first date goes well, there will be plenty more opportunities for cocktails! To stay safe, always make sure that you are sober enough to ring for a taxi, or even call that emergency friend if you feel like you require a quick getaway.

3. Choose from the menu wisely

Best case scenario, I glance over the menu on my way to the date. If not, I have a swift look and automatically discard my ‘non-date’ food – dishes I would happily chomp once I am comfortable with a partner, but not before. My usual culprits are shellfish (too tricky), soup (scarily sloppy) or salad (time-consuming and awkward to eat), super spicy offerings (to avoid make-up running) or pungent bites (not ideal for a conversation or embraces). Be fun, but I wouldn’t recommend sailing into too many uncharted culinary waters when your first impression is on the line; if you do make a mess, just style it out with a witty quip and embrace that imperfection!

There’s a huge variety of dates out there, but some of the best first dates I have had happened over a meal. Go in with an open mind, a good toothpick to hand, and enjoy a delicious meal. And remember, there’s always tapas!

For more advice head back to our dating section, or read more of our dating blogs.