More Etiquette Tips

A good first date is a lot like a movie trailer: it ought to be short, exciting, and should leave you both wanting more. As a bartender, I’ve helped facilitate hundreds of first dates, and I’ve seen it all — the good, the bad, and the deeply awkward. While asking someone out for a drink can be a perfect way to stage your initial attempt at romance with that new hottie who's caught your eye, there are pitfalls galore that you need to avoid. Following are some cardinal do's and don'ts to keep in mind when choosing the best venue for your amorous opening gambit.

The Do's and Don'ts of Taking a First Date to a Bar (Slideshow)

DO: Choose a bar that isn’t too fancy, but isn't too dive-y. You want a place where you can wear jeans, but maybe not shorts. If you go too fancy, you’ll end up looking like you're trying too hard to impress, putting an extra level of pressure on the date that you just don't need. Go too far in the other direction, though, and your night may end in a bar fight with a drunk construction worker on disability instead of a smooch from your new paramour.

DON'T: Go to a chain restaurant. Ever, really, but especially not on a first date. Outback, Friday's, and Chili's all have their place on our dining cards — for me, it's usually when I’m stranded in a hotel along the interstate somewhere — but they should never be an option when trying to woo someone, no matter how much of a soft spot you have for frozen daiquiris and jalapeño poppers.

DO: Select a bar with good lighting. Everyone looks better in low, warm, incandescent light. That includes you and your pretty mug. If there are fluorescents buzzing overhead, no matter how nicely you're dressed or how good your makeup is, you'll both look washed out and drawn. Further, some studies show that institutional fluorescent lights may actually have an effect on your mood, making you tired, anxious, or even sick to your stomach. You've got enough hurdles to overcome on a first date without introducing an easily avoidable mogul in your way.

DON'T: Take your date to your usual hangout. It’s cool if you know the bartender where you do end up going — in fact, it may be a plus to have an ally behind the bar — but you don't want to walk in and have everyone there shout, “NORM!” It’s difficult to have an intimate conversation with a new friend when all the barflies you know are coming up and reminding you of that crazy time you got wasted and did a striptease during karaoke — last Wednesday. That place is yours and yours alone, and should stay that way until you get to know your date better.[related]

DO: Choose a bar with decent music and a good crowd, but isn’t too loud or too mobbed. While you may think seeing that Styx cover band in a venue that fits hundreds sounds like fun, it’s not appropriate for a first date. You want to feel comfortable in a room where others are enjoying themselves, and you want to be able to hear each other. Your attention should be on your date, and not on shouting your order to an overworked bartender dealing with customers three deep at her bar.

DON'T: Go to a bar where they allow smoking. If you happen to live in the rare city where smoking is still allowed inside bars, avoid them at all costs, even if both of you are smokers. You'll stink so badly of cigarettes, you'll even offend yourself. In my experience, those last bastions of smoking bars in the U.S. tend to be on the lower-rent side of things. Remember: you're trying to impress this potential love connection. If you do smoke, it's not the worst thing to go outside for a little alone time together. If things are going well, this may be the perfect opportunity to steal a kiss.

DO: Pick a bar where some manner food is served. While a nice glass of wine or a cocktail provides a necessary hit of social lubrication to grease those moments where the jitters threaten to derail your attempts at suavity, a few handy nibbles will give you something to do with your nervous hands.

Anthony Giglio demonstrates how to create a proper wine bucket.

In this interview at the 2011 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, wine expert Anthony Giglio talks wine etiquette, drinking by yourself, ordering wine by the glass, and wine date night.

Click here for other interviews with Anthony Giglio.


People always have questions about how and why to order things. What are some things to do or never do?

When ordering wine at a restaurant, never, ever, ever ask the waiter for advice. And that’s not because they’re idiots, but because that’s not their job. People think I’m condescending, but I was a waiter for 10 years before I was a sommelier. It’s not their job to know, and they’re going to try to do anything they can to please you, and it ain’t going to help you. They might just recommend the most popular wine that they keep hearing over and over and over again. And that’s not going to do you any good. Ask for the wine director.


Really? Ask for the wine director?

It doesn’t matter how much you know about wine, nobody knows that list better than the wine director, so you’re wasting your time. When I’m handed an 80-page list, it’s like, sure, I could read it, but I actually want to spend some time with the people I’m eating with. I can fall completely into an 80-page wine list and not say a word for a half an hour. And that’s ridiculous. I would rather say to the wine director, “This is a really impressive list. I’m looking for...” And then you say, "What’s the price point?" And you’re going to tell that to the person.

Americans feel completely freaked out by mentioning prices because it’s gauche, right? But we have no problem talking about money in any other situation. So come up with a number that works for you and your guests if it’s a meal where you’re all sharing the cost. So I say to my friends, because they all expect me to order, and I’ve had in the past recrimination, “Oh my God, we spent $300 on wine?” And I’m like, you were licking the glass, and those were bargains by the way, and we just happened to have 10 bottles of it because you’re insatiable! But I would say to my friends first, “What are we spending on wine?”


You say that outright?

I don’t care if you’re having the tofu salad, and you’re having the côte de boeuf for two, what are we spending on wine? Is it $25 a head, $50 a head? And if we’re six people, and we’re in New York where we don’t have to drive home, is it a four-bottle night or a six-bottle night? Dinner party etiquette, by the way, is to count one bottle per person. You’d be shocked at how often it goes beyond that number. Honestly, always have one bottle per person on hand. Once I know that number, so say I know I have $200 to $300 to play with for dinner for wine, I ask for the wine director. I don’t introduce myself as "Anthony Giglio, I Write About Wine," I just say, “Congrats on your list, man, it’s amazing, and we have everyone here eating everything. So there’s the fish, there’s the tofu, there’s the beef. I would imagine this would be fun.”

And I did this at Empire State South the other night. I said, “Can you put two glasses in front of everybody, one white, one red, one rosé, and help me pick?” And he pointed at $40 to $50 bottles of wine, which was exactly where I wanted to be, and I didn’t even have to say it. So I think he just took us seriously because of the instructions I gave. Otherwise I would always point to a number, and it could be any wine on the list, but you point to $40, or $55, or $60, and you say to them, “I’m looking around here.” And that’s if you want to be polite and not talk money in front of your friends. Or you say, “Hey, look, we’re probably going to have four bottles, so let’s call it $50 a bottle, unless something’s really exceptional, but then minus it from something else. You have a budget of $200, and we’re probably going to have four bottles. Surprise me.”

And you wouldn’t believe how well you’re treated, and that’s without credentials. That’s just giving them something to do besides pouring you another glass of Chardonnay and Merlot, which is what I would say 75 percent of people are doing in restaurants by saying, “I’ll just have a glass of red, I’ll just have a glass of white.” And it bores them to tears. Engage the wine director, and they will treat you well. They really will. But if the wine does come warm, you would say, “You know what? I tend to like my wine a little cooler. I’m sure you’re going to disagree, but I would love a cooler. Can you bring an ice bucket and make sure there’s some water in there too?” And if not, I ask everyone at the table for their water glasses, and I dump everything into the ice bucket and then call the busboy and say, “Can I have water, please?”


Any wine advice on going out as a couple?

A great thing to do with two people only, I call it Date Night Wine. My wife and I have a Monday night babysitter until 10 p.m. We get out of work at 7 p.m. and have two hours for dinner, more or less. I will call the director over and say, “Listen, Monday night or Tuesday night wine, so we’re talking $35 max. Blow me away. What do you got?”

And they’ll say, "Oh!" And we could be at Daniel, at BLT Steak, anywhere, and I’ll just say, “What do you have for $35 bucks?” Or “Under $40, blow me away.” And they might say, “Any parameters?” And I’m like, “Of course it’s red, it’s not Cabernet, probably not from California, but whatever you got. Let’s see what you got.”

Cause for that money, I could do better from Europe than in California, and typically what happens, if they know who I am, they’re going to try to impress me more, but I’m telling you, blind? Blind instructions from Anthony Nobody, and more often than not, the enthusiasm is unbelievable. They’ll come up from the cellar with three bottles, and one might be dusty — seriously like as if it’s from a movie. “This was on the list last year. We took it off. I forgot it was down there. We used to sell it for $40; I’ll give it to you for $35.” Or, “This is my favorite. It’s $50. I’ll meet you at $40.” Or, “If I can talk you into $50, you really should try this.” And I might not mind the upsell if they give me a good story about it and why they love it. There’s also, and I love this, “A salesman dropped a bunch of these off the other day. If you give me a glass of it, I’ll give it to you for $35, but it’s probably going to be $60 on the list.” I mean, this has happened. 

Everyone wants to host his or her first soirée in style, whether it’s at home


When entertaining, there are two secrets to a host’s success: An ability to bring together people and create lasting memories, and the foresight to see — and resolve — problems before they arise.

To be part of the Italian coffee culture, you have to walk the walk, of course, but you also have to talk the talk.

When I am a guest, a formal table setting is such a thoughtful and beautiful touch - the little details transform the occasion into a luxury dining experience. In fact, I still remember from years ago a table that featured a chocolate bunny at each place for an Easter lunch. As the Butlers Guild writes, "You are not just setting the table... you are also setting the mood."

If you only ever see elegant table settings at restaurants or other houses, it might seem a little intimidating. Following a few rules, a formal table is actually easy to assemble and looks so polished and professional. Once you understand them, you will have no trouble arranging a pleasing and inviting table for future occasions. And who knows? A lavish spread might make up for the fact that the chicken was a tad dry. Martha Stewart Living agrees that “special occasions require a more formal table than the traditional five-piece, and once you learn the rules you can alter or break them with confidence.”

As we all remember from Pretty Woman, the silverware is used from the outside in, but do you know where those tricky little dessert forks go? How about the butter knife? A formal table is perfectly suitable for at-home holiday gatherings, but before you start gathering the silverware, a thoughtful host would perhaps figure out seating arrangements beforehand to ensure a commodious vibe. I think name cards are an excellent and artistic way to take control of guest seating. As for the tablecloth, Etiquette Scholar suggests it to have a “luxurious and deep” overhang of between 10-15 inches.

Let’s begin with the placement of the individual settings.

Grand dame of all things proper, Emily Post, explains that for a formal table, everything should be “geometrically spaced.” From the plates to the silverware, everything has a place and is never thrown haphazardly onto the table.

The centerpiece is at the exact center of the surface, and the settings are evenly spaced. The Butlers Guild agrees that every setting should be exactly the same, to the millimeter. A spare arrangement is recommended to be on-hand in case something is dropped.

To ensure adequate elbow room, Etiquette Scholar recommends that there be approximately 24 inches from the center of one place setting to the middle of the next, and I would advise using a measure for the first few times until you are comfortable enough to do it without aid.

Each setting focuses around a large, decorative plate called the charger. Used to hold a place, Martha Stewart Living says, “food is never served directly on a charger, but a first-course soup bowl or salad plate can be set on top of it. The charger should be cleared along with the bowl or plate.” A piece of china, a vintage plate, or even a wood or metal design can be used to provide color and texture.

For ease and accent, napkins can sport a napkin ring and should of course be placed in the center of the plate.

For the silverware, all pieces can be lined along the bottom edge of the charger, about one inch from the edge of the table. As a reminder, forks are on the left side of the plate and knives and spoons on the right, arranged in order of use, with first-course utensils on the outside and main course ones nearest the plate. Knife blades face in towards the plate. Emily Post advises that if a spoon other than the dessert spoon is to be used, it is positioned to the right of the knives. No more than three pieces of flatware should be on either side, unless an oyster fork is required, which will go on the right of the soup spoon.

Ordering in

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