At some point between when Sex and the City began airing and now, the dinner date was lost, with nary a hashtag or R.I.P. to denote its passing, which is a damn shame. Once the gold standard of early relationship milestones, the dinner date’s become an increasingly rare occurrence, thanks in part to the proliferation of dating apps—which understandably favour less demanding first dates, like drinks or coffee—as the main vehicle to meet other singles. It was a concrete moment in time where a couple took things to the next level—a clear start of something. Without it, a lot of young couples don’t even have a recollection of when they started dating, as opposed to when they were just hooking up. Most people I know, myself included, chose near-arbitrary dates when trying to pinpoint an anniversary. (Should I go by when we first slept together? Made out? Called each other boyfriend and girlfriend? Do I even remember any of these dates?) In fact, the only people I know who had sit-down first dates are some—not all!—of the contestants on The Bachelor.
The dinner date is magnificent in its simplicity: It’s a great way to make a good impression on someone without having to get too creative. There’s a very real feeling among women that the bar for men is on a continuous free fall—that there’s no light at the end of the mediocre-bar-date-tunnel. Take advantage of that. Simply by inviting someone to share a meal together, you’ll be miles ahead of most men’s romantic efforts. Should you get points for going on the most classic date of all time? No. But you’ll probably get them anyway since those of us who date men are rather starved for the kind of intention a dinner date demands.
The supposed appeal of the dating apps that now govern the majority of our romantic exploits is that they make the whole process easier, giving us a much wider pool of eligible date-ees. But all that dating is costly—not just financially, also in terms of time spent. As one guy friend of mine, Jake put it, “Dating is so hit or miss and we’re all broke as hell, so there’s not a good reason to invest the time and money a dinner takes until there’s a level of certainty that it will be worth it for both of us.” This is why low-cost and low-stakes dates, like grabbing drinks at a bar or late morning coffeehouse meet-ups, have done so much of the heavy lifting in recent years. But the entire point of the dinner date is, arguably, effort. Who wants to date someone who thinks that getting a meal with them is too much work?
For the most part, we’ve all gotten extremely comfortable with casual sex and hooking up with friends. Paying £50 to sit down and eat with someone you could be just inviting over to hang on your couch feels a bit fiscally irresponsible. (On perhaps a more logistical note, one man told me, “I’m gay and I usually do just drinks first because if things head to the bedroom it’s better to have not had a full meal.”) But not only that, if you’re trying to date multiple people, it uses up a lot of energy. As a guy I talked to put it, “It feels like too big of an awkwardness gamble if you’re not sure about someone.” I understand the hesitancy, but you don’t have to be ready to put a ring on it; you just have to know that you can and will have fun talking to a person. If you’ve been messaging back and forth for a while, you should have a good idea if it’s going to be easy or effortful to maintain a good conversation.
Because of the high cost, the early-on dinner date has become almost gaudy, ostentatious, akin to booking a trip for your partner or buying them a watch—something you’d only do if you’re already exclusive and committed and they’ve seen your weird pinky toe and still haven’t left you. But dinner dates, like denim jackets and Mariah Carey, are classic for a reason. When we let the dinner date go, we lost something: a mature, universal way to show interest in another person romantically. It’s a way of giving someone the gift of your time and effort, which is extremely hot. Anyone can get drinks. People do job interviews over coffee. Dinner is for romance. It’s time to take that back.
First thing’s first, you have to know what you’re doing with a dinner date, since, as we’ve established, it’s expensive and time consuming. Multiple people I talked to suggested that dinner dates came later. That’s okay, but don’t hold off for too long. If you’ve slept with a person twice, and you want something more than a friends with benefits situation with them, it’s time for a dinner date. Don’t freak yourself out; dinner with someone doesn’t mean you guys are on the path to holy matrimony or anything, it merely suggests you care about someone enough to want to spend time hearing about their food allergies and thoughts on the Democratic primary. If talking to someone for an hour or so over cacio e pepe sounds like a chore, you should not be dating them.
While a first date dinner date might feel like a big gamble, if you met someone at a party and talked for a while, or you’ve been messaging back and forth for a few weeks, and you’re confident it would be a good date, go for it. The offer makes a big impression and will make the other person feel like you’re really bought in.
And if you want the date to go exceptionally well, plan it out painstakingly from beginning to end—not so that you can rigidly follow your itinerary, but so there’s a backbone to the evening from which to deviate. Want to really make your date swoon? Make reservations somewhere. Reservations say, “I’m an adult who knows that sometimes restaurants are crowded, and I’ve put forethought into making this night go well.” Also, figure out what else is around there that might be cool afterward. A vintage movie theater. A kooky ice cream shop. A great bar. You don’t have to actually do any of those things, but when the date ends and you still want to hang out with the hottie you invited, you’ll have something to say other than, “Uhhh I don’t know, what do you want to do?”
One man I talked to, Luke, expressed concern that the dinner date is simply too cliché. At one point in time this was probably true. But because they’ve become such a rarity these days, I’d actually argue that they’re one of the best ways to make an impression on someone you really like. Plus, dinner is great for trapping two people in an event that takes more than thirty minutes, and doesn’t rely on some contrived activity to generate conversation. Yes, rock climbing is fun, but anyone can bond with someone over the adrenaline of a near-death experience. A dinner date is much closer to what it’s like to actually be around a person day in, day out.
So use the dinner date wisely; it will absolutely smoke out people who are boring or who can’t hang. Anyone can be fun and friendly over two drinks on a date that lasts 45 minutes. On a dinner date, you actually have to be on your A-game. Worried about that? Ask lots of questions! It’s crazy what actually being interested in someone as a fellow human can do for a conversation. This date isn’t just for you, after all. The wonderful simplicity of the dinner date forces both of you to actually be interesting—and be interested—if you want it to happen again.
Why video dating is here for the long run
How to react to your child coming out as gay
These sex scenes prove that post-Covid TV will be missing something major