Valentine’s Day is upon us, and for many, that means love is in the air. But if you don’t already have a special someone in your life, this is also the time when online profiles get created, edited, re-edited, and re-re-edited, and when many of us go on first dates.
Picking the perfect first date restaurant is something of an art. You’re working with limited information about the other person, and you want to make sure (at the very least) to set the right conditions for both of you to have a good time.
First things first. Whatever place you suggest, I recommend having been there at least once before. There’s a lot to be said for spontaneity, for “I heard there’s this really great place…,” but save that for your second date. Choosing a place you’re familiar with will minimize unpleasant surprises such as long wait times, loud noise, lack of parking, and any other irritations you might not have anticipated. One of my girlfriends went on an internet date with a guy who suggested coffee… not realizing that the Starbucks he chose was inside a grocery store. “Cleanup on aisle two!”
Be considerate by picking a place convenient to your date. If your neighborhood haunts aren’t close by, don’t fret. Kelli Stember, Director of Events for the dating service Three Day Rule, offers this suggestion: “When in doubt, higher-end hotel bars usually have a relaxed yet sexy vibe, and most offer small plates and wines by the glass. And then you can stay there together on your anniversary!”
Hotel bars, and bars in general, also offer a nice balance of formal-but-not-too-formal. Sometimes coffee might not seem like enough; sometimes a full meal seems like too much. “Grabbing a drink and small plates in the bar area is ideal, because it’s comfortable and informal,” Stember adds. “And if the date is going well, you can order more to eat. If it’s clearly not a match, you’re not giving up three hours of your evening.”
Tapas and small plates have an added benefit: they’re meant for sharing, which can tell you a lot about your potential mate. A variety of small plates also means you can both get something you like, and you can be playful over who gets the last bite. You also know that whether you pick up the tab or split the bill, no one is going to break the bank. Even if tapas aren’t your thing, keep in mind your date’s dietary restrictions. If you know the person is vegan, keeps kosher, has food allergies, doesn’t drink alcohol, etc, make sure the menu wherever you pick has plenty of options. And if you don’t know, don’t stress. Just pick a place that would accommodate the most likely situations based on what you do know.
I personally like going to bars on first dates, especially wine bars. For me, picking a wine is an easy conversation starter, a little team project towards a shared goal. And since you usually only get one wine menu, you can lean in close to read it together. Of course, not just any old bar will do. While I love my dive bars (the grittier the better), I wouldn’t be wooed if you took me to one on the first go. Choose a place with atmosphere, but not so much vibe you can’t hear each other. Another tip? Stember recommends finding a lounge that has couch-style seating, “where you can sit catty-corner from each other, and not directly across from each other like an interview. It will make a first date feel more like a second date, and you can pick up on body language signs more easily, like if your date is scooting closer, or leaning towards you.” Ooh-la-la!
You may not get it perfect every time, but a little research and forethought goes a long way in setting the right mood for your evening. And if the date isn’t great, but the place you choose for it is, go back! At least you got an awesome new hangout out of it.