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How to Have a Successful First Dinner Date

Andrea has a background in Myers-Briggs and Western astrology. She mostly writes about relationships.

Keep a list of romantic restaurants in your back pocket. It's a good idea to go to different restaurants to get a feel for the best food in town.

Keep a list of romantic restaurants in your back pocket. It's a good idea to go to different restaurants to get a feel for the best food in town.

For the first date, you want to go to a restaurant that has food that will match you and your date's interests. You don't need to go to the fanciest place in town for dinner. On the other end of the spectrum, don't go somewhere noticeably cheap. Do skip McDonald's and all other fast food.

There are two kinds of dates:

  1. You're testing the waters to see if there is a spark. You're not taking things too seriously. Lunch or coffee would likely suffice.
  2. This is someone you've liked for a long time, and you really want to impress them. So you're taking things up a notch.

I've been on dates where we essentially looked up what was the closet food near us. The most important part is that you and your date are having a good time. The food might be forgettable, but the connection shouldn't be.

Foods that are messy, smelly, or challenging should be avoided on a first date.

Foods that are messy, smelly, or challenging should be avoided on a first date.

Foods to Avoid

There are certain foods that are a really bad idea on a first date. This includes things that are really messy or smelly. You shouldn't eat the following on a first date:

  • Garlic loaded anything
  • Onions
  • Durian
  • BBQ
  • Lobster
  • Fish
  • Beans
  • Corn on the cob
  • Blue cheese
  • Spaghetti

Don't try new food on a first date. Now is not the time to be adventurous. If you normally don't eat shellfish, now is not the best time to try it.

Things that are wildly exotic are also a bad idea. As cool as eating moving octopus is for some people, it could seriously freak out your date if they're not used to that. Difficult foods are also not recommended. Your date doesn't need a food puzzle.

Now isn't the time for a spice challenge. Don't take your date to a restaurant that prides itself on having the hottest, spiciest, and boldest flavors. Some people have no tolerance for spice.

Cheese is delicious! But some people don't do well with dairy, and it can smell bad or make you gassy. Think twice before going to a restaurant that prides itself on cheese.

Sushi is great, but only if you've had it prior. If you're trying to learn how to use chopsticks while on a date, expect things to get awkward.

I would also recommend taking your date to a restaurant that's local to your area. Franchises and chains feel too corporatized, and the food is often mediocre. There are exceptions to this rule.

Smart foods to eat on a first date are manageable, not messy, and don't have any risk factors (too spicy, smelly, etc.).

Smart foods to eat on a first date are manageable, not messy, and don't have any risk factors (too spicy, smelly, etc.).

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The main takeaway when it comes to picking foods for a first date is to go with something manageable, that doesn't pose a distraction, and you know you enjoy.

Here are some foods I would suggest:

  • Bite-size pasta
  • Grilled chicken
  • Chicken piccata
  • Pizza
  • Steamed vegetables
  • Risotto and other rice dishes
  • Hamburger
  • Dessert
  • Strawberries

Chicken is often a safe food to order. I would avoid fried chicken or tenders. Fried chicken is messy, and tenders (as good as they are) might make you seem a little young.

Appetizers are a great idea because then you're sharing something with your date, which might help the date to get the right energy. Splitting a pizza has the same effect, preferably it's a restaurant-style pizza and not one from a cheap chain.

Dessert and/or coffee/tea is great if your date is going well and you want to linger at the restaurant. Keep in mind your date might not be prepared for an appetizer, dinner, or dessert. You could also get dessert at another place that way your stomach settles.

When selecting a restaurant for a date, you want it to be close, familiar, and not too busy.

When selecting a restaurant for a date, you want it to be close, familiar, and not too busy.

The food shouldn't be the only consideration when selecting a restaurant. You should take your date to somewhere that's familiar to you. You want to go somewhere that isn't too busy. It's better to go somewhere that has a waitstaff that will be attentive to you and your date's needs, and where you can show that you have good manners when it comes to communicating with restaurant workers.

You don't want to go somewhere that has a long wait time. If you know a place has a long wait time, get a reservation. Also, consider parking. If parking is really bad near that restaurant, I would suggest going somewhere else. You might be a little nervous about your date, so you don't want something like bad roads and challenging parking lots to sidetrack you.

The restaurant should be relatively close. You don't want to drive an hour out of town to get specialty ice cream, unless you have a really good reason why, and that reason applies to your first date. If there is something really incredible out of town that you want to show someone, build up to it . . . don't make it a first date.

Here are the following criteria you'll want to have for your first date restaurant:

  • A place that's close
  • Somewhere with local fare (not a franchise)
  • Doesn't have a long wait time
  • Has decent parking
  • Not too noisy
  • Plenty of space between other tables and booths
  • Doesn't have a bad smell or weird vibe
  • The place has good Google reviews
  • You're familiar with the restaurant and could recommend things from the menu
  • The prices are middle of the road. You're not spending a fortune and scaring your date with an expensive meal. You're also not getting something so cheap that your date assumes the two of you are just hanging out.

Do not take your date to a place where you and your ex frequented.

Are you paying for the meal or splitting the check?

Are you paying for the meal or splitting the check?

Etiquette

If you invited the person out to dinner, there is a good chance that they'll expect you to pay. If you're not planning to pay for your date's meal, make sure you say that upfront! You don't want them thinking they can order whatever they want and then have the bill sent to them. Ouch.

Make sure whatever you two decide when it comes to the bill that the conversation happens fast. Don't fight it if they want to pay for their meal. This interaction should be short and quick. Fighting about who is going to pay will get old really quick, and will likely leave a bad taste in your date's mouth.

Other important things to keep in mind while on the date:

  • Be nice to every person you meet at the restaurant. Rudeness will expose you as a potentially bad partner.
  • Do not eat your food if it arrives first and your date's food takes longer to arrive. Only eat it if your date gives you the go-ahead.
  • Do not order something complicated with lots of notes that your waiter will have to write down. Your order should be simple, easy to understand, and doesn't have substitutions and the like.
  • Do not pressure your date to order something in particular.
  • Do not go into a long conversation about alcohol if you find out your date doesn't drink alcohol.
  • Do not steal food off your date's plate.
  • Keep your hair out of the food.
  • Water is an excellent drink choice if you don't know what to drink.
  • Avoid complaining.
A first date outfit should be flattering and comfortable. Don't wear something that's so tight that you can't eat.

A first date outfit should be flattering and comfortable. Don't wear something that's so tight that you can't eat.

What to Wear

Wear something you feel comfortable in but also looks flattering. If you're going to a fancy restaurant, check the dress code online.

I recommend button-down shirts for men, nice close-toed shoes, styled hair, and lay off the cologne. Some people have more sensitive noses. If you go crazy with the cologne or perfume it may overwhelm your date. Only wear ties if it's a formal event or required by the establishment.

For ladies, sundresses and skirts are flirtatious. A blouse with ruffles or a free-flowing top is nice. Wear pretty shoes, but skip the heels. Unless you're a pro at wearing heels, they can be a major pain in the butt during a date... especially if a date goes well and the two of you end up walking/traveling all over town. The heels could be a setback.

I recommend a coat or dress with pockets so you can store things on your person and not just in a purse.

When in doubt, ask yourself if you're wearing something nice enough for an interview. Make sure your outfit isn't going overboard. Most first dates are going to be at a local restaurant, not in the VIP section of a secret mansion.

If you are planning to take someone to a really fancy establishment, let them know in advance, so they can dress accordingly.

© 2022 Andrea Lawrence

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