Before becoming a novelist I worked in the restaurant industry for a number of years. This experience inspired me to write a light-hearted romance about the inner workings of the restaurant world and the life of a PA to a celebrity chef. The heroine in my novel Yes, Chef! goes on a couple of first dates throughout the story. Once to an art gallery and another to see the Christmas lights along Oxford Street in London. Both are fine date options, but my personal first date preference would be a restaurant. My years working in restaurants means that I’ve probably watched other people on first dates more times than I have actually been on my own first dates. So, here are my top tips for ensuring a fantastic foodie first date:
Select the restaurant carefully; too formal and you won’t be able to relax, too casual and your date might think you don’t value him/her enough to take them somewhere nice. If you can, try to pick a well-known restaurant that she either already loves or has wanted to go to. There are sites like Broadsheet and The Urban List that can help provide some professional advice on this. I would also highly recommend dining somewhere where you can eat at a bar, either overlooking an open kitchen or the bartenders, as this means you avoid having to stare into each other’s eyes all night. Yes, I know this can be romantic, but those feelings usually comes later on once you’re already starting to fall for each other, not on the first date.
If the restaurant you’re dining at doesn’t offer bar-style seating then, whatever you do, don’t ask to be moved to another table if you don’t like the one you're seated at. The best way to get the most romantic seat in the house is to book early and request it. The staff will no doubt do their very best to accommodate your request. If you don’t get the best table then it means that someone else got there before you and good for them. You may not realise this but someone at the restaurant has spent time devising a floor plan that means every guest dining that evening receives the best possible service. If you ask to move tables you are not only disrupting this system but you run the risk of making your date feel embarrassed and awkward. Not a great start.
I really can’t stress enough how important it is not to be rude to the wait staff. Remember, the restaurant staff have the ability to make your evening either very good or very bad. So, be friendly and trust that if you have selected a restaurant of some repute, then your waiter is most likely highly educated in their field. Please don’t try and prove you know more about wine than the sommelier. Trust me, no one knows more about wine than a sommelier. They do a ridiculous amount of training and research.
Dining from shared plates is always great on a first date, as long as you can both agree on dishes. This way you never suffer from food envy and the meal is progressive, which means you won’t have breaks between each course to freeze up the conversation. Good restaurants are often lively, noisy places, designed for having fun. So don’t take it too seriously. Enjoy yourself and don’t decide to become a food critic as this will only make you come across as negative to your date. When dining out, there is always a risk that you will not like the food. What’s important to remember is that it was your decision to take that risk and so not necessarily the restaurant’s fault. The best way to guarantee a successful first date is to go with the flow and have fun. And above all, don’t talk with your mouth full!
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