The Do's And Don'ts Of Taking A First Date To A Bar

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.

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.

DON'T: Order dinner. Remember, this date has an expiry time, an hour or two.; three at the most, but only if it's going well. Going out for drinks means that neither of you have to commit to being in each other's company for longer than you want to be. A first date can be weird even if there's obvious chemistry, but weirder times would be had if you order prime rib and mash, and your date orders a little bowl of edamame. I've seen it happen. Trust me, no one wants to watch you eat. That said; eat something before the date so you've got a good base coat down on which to pour a date's worth of alcohol.

DO: Drink good booze. Whether you drink beer, wine, or liquor, order the nice version of your usual poison of choice. If you're a Bud Light drinker, select a nice craft pilsner instead. Go for top shelf liquor instead of well. The words "house chardonnay" should never come out of your mouth on a first date. Feel how you want about it, but snobbery does exist in the drinking world, and your date may well be paying attention to what you imbibe, passing judgment on your character as they do.

DON'T: Drink too much. One or two cocktails ought to be enough to smooth out any rough spots in this heightened social experiment, but three or four might put you over the line into red-faced and sloppy. Even if you're a nervous drinker, you need to rein that in on a first date lest your companion comes away from the evening thinking you're an alcoholic.

DON'T: Drink before your date. I've encountered this over and over at my bar: an anxious suitor shows up 20 minutes early to put a few away before their date arrives, and ends up a boozy mess for the date itself. When your date finally does arrive, and leans in for a familiar cheek kiss or quick hug, you want them to smell your shampoo, perfume, or aftershave, not an eye-watering wallop of Kentucky Gentleman. 

DON'T: Order for your date. It's pushy and can come off as pretentious. The whole point of a first date is to get to know what they like, their preferences and bugaboos. By definition, you don't know these things about them yet. Ordering an expensive bottle of Bordeaux may seem like a baller thing to do, until you discover that your date gets migraines from the tannins in red wine. Then you're stuck drinking a whole bottle of wine yourself, inadvertently violating a few of the don'ts above.

DO: Tip your bartender. Well. This may sound self-serving — because it kinda is — but a show of generosity to the person taking care of you will go a long way to making your date better. Even if you make all the right moves, crappy service can easily ruin a perfectly nice, romantic evening. Be nice to the people serving you, and show your appreciation. If they're any good at their job, they'll take good care of you if you do.

DON'T: Make a big show of your generosity to your date, or your fat bank account, or any other aspect of your healthy finances. Just this weekend, I had a customer telling two ladies at my bar that he was the richest guy in the room — three times — and guess who went home alone? On the flip-side, don't complain about being broke, either. Just leave money out of the conversation entirely. When the check comes, pay for it, unless your date insists on going dutch, in which case, don't put up a fuss about that either. Most of all don't make it your bartender's problem to negotiate who pays for what.

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