a stick figure couple eating a romantic dinnerSharing a meal is a perennially popular date idea, but many people fail to put as much thought into the choices that go along with it as they probably should. Every decision you make from the time of day, to the restaurant, to your menu selections makes a statement. What do your choices say about you?

Scheduling - Lunch or dinner?

Lunch and dinner dates both have their pros and cons that you’ll need to consider. With dinner you’re more often than not limiting yourself to Friday and Saturday nights. Lunch on the other hand, can pretty much work 7 days a week, increasing the odds of finding a time you’re both available. Choosing a lunch date during the week can also be a strategic move allowing you to remain in control with an easy out – just in case. If she spends the whole time immersed in her blackberry or talking about her ex or he can’t stop calling the waiter “bro”, saying you have to get back to work is an indisputable escape plan. On the other hand, hopefully the date goes great and you can both decide to play hooky and take the afternoon off. One nice thing about dates during regular business hours is that once you’ve finished your meal the possibilities of what to do are only as limited as your imagination.

For many reasons, dinner is the more popular choice but don’t forget that a little planning will go a long way. Call ahead for a reservation and if you can, choose a later seating time. This way the restaurant won’t be looking to bring you the bill to free up your table for the next seating and you won’t be finished dinner at 8:30 standing in front of the restaurant making a cliché remark like “want to go for coffee?” or “interested in grabbing a drink?” Chances are the restaurant you just left offers both of the above, and your date probably isn’t thrilled with standing outside making last minute decisions; a little bit of aforementioned planning will help you avoid this situation.

The biggest drawback of dinner dates is the lack of after-dinner activities (that aren’t overzealous – we’re keeping this article G rated) Our solution: Make eating out to be the focus of your plan. The classic progression of a meal is an extraordinary experience that most don’t savor. Stop looking at dinner as simply appetizer – main – dessert. Try making your visit exciting and submit to the experience. If the restaurant you’re in offers a tasting menu, give it a shot! Otherwise, begin with cocktails, many places even make signature creations that can be interesting and effective conversation starters. Follow with appetizers, wine, mains and then before dessert spring for a cheese course to finish your wine; it’s something people rarely do and you would be astonished at how enjoyable it is. Finish with coffee and sharing dessert, it’s romantic and engaging. After dinner stay for drinks and good conversation, it’s a lost art that most don’t exercise nearly often enough. Doesn’t that sound better than shouting over bad music in a night club or sitting silently through another bad Mark Wahlberg or Jennifer Aniston movie?

Valentines Day dinner written in calendar

Choosing a restaurant – What’s your budget ?

Ask yourself, are you looking for a romantic restaurant? A fun restaurant? A casual restaurant? Do you want classic food? Or forward-thinking modern cuisine?  Only you can answer these questions. Whatever you do, don’t pick a place that you’re uncomfortable or unfamiliar with and certainly don’t pick a place you can’t afford in order to impress your date.

Deciding what to eat based on the price column of the menu is no way to relax and enjoy oneself, so why put yourself in that situation? You should be paying attention to your date not secretly adding up the bill in your mind – “Sorry, what did you just say?” At the end of the day, the restaurant you choose for a date says something about you. If your choice doesn’t accurately portray your personality or where you normally like to eat all you’re doing is providing a false representation of yourself. Did you really intend on keeping up this charade of eating food you don’t even take pleasure in that’s out of your price range? Doesn’t seem like a sound plan to us, and it probably won’t to your date either, once they inevitably realize that you’re a fish out of water. There’s a simple solution to all of this. Choose a place you like to eat where you feel relaxed and confident, after all isn’t that how you wish to appear on a date?

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Budget is equally important when choosing wine, set a price limit your comfortable with and don’t let the waiter or sommelier intimidate or coerce you into surpassing that limit. Talking money at the table isn’t fun for anyone but neither is spending your rent money on a silly bottle of wine. Perhaps the best tip we can offer on wine selection is not to worry if you’re not an expert; most people aren’t, including us. If there’s something on the list that catches your eye or that you’re familiar with, great. If not defer to the staff and adhere to your budget. Whatever you do, don’t spend 20 minutes making a decision or trying to exhibit your wine prowess to your date by talking about it with the waiter, it’s obnoxious and boring.

One last note on alcohol: Many times 50% of your bill at a restaurant can be for wine and drinks, keep in mind that alcohol in the restaurant is often marked up as much as 3 times what it would otherwise cost in a liquor commission. Perhaps you might consider choosing a bring your own wine restaurant for your date. This way you don’t have to compromise on the experience while saving yourself a substantial amount of money. We’re always on the lookout for a good BYOW spot.

heart bubbles coming out of champagne glasses

What to Order - What Do Your Menu Choices Say About You?

Last but certainly not least always keep in mind that how and what you choose to order on a date can speak volumes about you. Are you the kind of person that’s always requesting exclusions or substitutions? No big deal right? Or is it. Special requests like this not only indicate that you’re a picky eater but that those characteristics might also reflect your personality in other aspects of your life. You might think that all you’re asking for is sauce on the side but your dinner company might be hearing “high-maintenance”.

Your willingness to accept suggestions or recommendations from your waiter can also be telling, maybe it’s a sign that you’re not too egotistical to accept help when you need it. At the same time, you can skip agonizing over whether to get the veal or the duck. Taking advice in a situation like this will help you avoid appearing indecisive and you can get back to what matters – enjoying your company. Some restaurants offer tasting menus where the chef will choose a series of dishes for you or perhaps there’s something really interesting like offal or an unusual protein like goat. Making a selection like this can show that you’re adventurous and open to trying new things, nothing says boring like the chicken breast with Caesar salad girl or the token steak and potatoes or anything bacon Neanderthal.

Occasionally your menu selections can even tell you something about your date. Take for example slightly controversial items like foie gras, some people can’t help but make snide remarks upon hearing you order it. We don’t know about you, but for either one of us, playing the PETA card at dinner would be an instant deal breaker. And for heavens sake, do we really have to tell you to be polite and courteous with the staff? The way you treat strangers is an enormous testament to your character. Finally, a note to men: while it’s true that some women like a guy who takes charge, this does not give you the right to make your date’s dinner selections for them. If you’re hoping to get another date, you’re probably better off keeping comments like “ I think you should have the salad” to yourself.

So, next time you have a date, we’re not saying that you should put less thought into possible topics for conversation or what you plan to wear but maybe you should be putting an equal amount of consideration into some of the points we’ve discussed above. You’d be surprised how much you’re saying without actually saying it.

Aaron & Carolynne are a couple living in Montreal, Quebec that have been dating ever since they met one another in culinary school nearly five years ago. They spent several years as employees in the restaurant industry and currently operate the blog foodiedatenight.com where they share photos and write reviews of their dining experiences.

You can find them on Twitter: @FoodieDateNight and Facebook: Foodie Date Night or you can email them at foodiedatenight[at]gmail[dot]com.

Graphics for this post were created using images from photoxpress.com and a little help from Photoshop.

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