The dinner date. To some, a perfect way of getting to know someone, to others, a terrifying ordeal of remembering their childhood table manners. Whether or not you’re a fan of this particular courtship ritual, there’s no doubting it’s a minefield of potential pitfalls, that can turn a fiery passion into a damp squib before the starters have been cleared.
First of all, there’s the choice of restaurant. Do you keep it casual and risk looking cheap? Do you go all out and be marked as a show off? Is BYOB a step too far?! (by the way, the answer to this is always yes. Unless that trestle-tabled Korean round the corner serves the best food you’ve ever tasted, stick to a menu with a full wine list. Trust me.)
Now, I’ve been on my fair share of dinner dates. And I always feel sorry for the men who ask me – they know what I do for a living, there must be a certain amount of pressure. I’ve experienced rather a broad spectrum – from the BYO (see above) Caribbean with the argumentative quango man, to the extremely swanky Japanese with the vertically-challenged barrister, to the understated, meat-eaters’ paradise with The One That Got Away. Stereotypes are alive and well it seems.
I think by now, I’m pretty good at the dinner date. Although the fact that I’m still single may suggest otherwise. So here is my list of things I’ve learned, in the hope that any other daters out there will have more success than me. And for those who are happily coupled up, you can relax in your smugness…
- Resist the urge to talk loudly about how full you are after three bites of your carpaccio. Contrary to what Scarlett O’Hara’s Mammy said, any man worth sitting through dinner with will not find you more attractive if you eat like a bird.
- While I think you should order what you fancy, be aware of the language of food. Shellfish says romance. Fondue doesn’t.
- If he chooses a wine and you think it’s corked, speak up. After all, it’s not his fault, and a little social embarrassment is way better than a thumping sore head in the morning from a bottle of off plonk.
- Always, always order water, and remember to drink it. Really. Nervousness leads to drinking quickly, and there’s nothing more painful than recalling that emotional diatribe you had two bottles in about your awful ex. In situations where alcohol mixes with a need to impress, water is your friend.
- Unless you’re planning on sitting in silence for significant lengths of the evening, talking with food in your mouth is unfortunately necessary. That’s not to say that your mouth should be full. Take small bites – it’s not a race.
- Don’t decline pudding then steal his. I learnt this from bitter experience, when a date that had been going very well suddenly went downhill when I dipped my spoon in his ice cream uninvited, and he got in a huff for the rest of the evening. In fact, all food stealing should be avoided unless offered. This includes chips.
- When the bill arrives, always offer to split it. If he tells you it’s his treat, for heaven’s sake don’t argue! Accept with a thank you and put your card away. If he takes you up on it, it’s fair enough – we all argue we’re men’s equals after all. If, as a date of mine did, he tells you that since he had a £4 pudding and you didn’t he should pay slightly more, try not to laugh incredulously. I did, and it wasn’t very tactful. Pay up, bid him goodnight, and delete his number.