Don't worry about which fork to use. Instead, focus on manners and kindness.
The other night, my friend Alex and I went to dinner. We went to a cramped ramen place and were seated at a small table next to two 20-somethings very obviously on a first date. We were so close to them; it was as if we were at a four-person table. And while Alex and I had no interest in eavesdropping on their conversation, the date was impossible to ignore. The conversation was an example of all the things you shouldn’t do on a first date.
Not only did he interrupt her constantly, he talked about himself the entire time, and seemingly forgot all semblances of basic dinner table etiquette. Their whole date experience was so obviously impolite that it ruined our dinner. Across from me, I could see she was dressed for a good time, but her face told a totally different story. She was not having fun.
Honestly, I don't know why one of us didn’t stand up, throw a bowl of ramen on the offender and storm out of the restaurant. They were just so rude. And talking about it afterward, Alex and I were doubly upset that this was in no way an isolated incident. This behavior is a theme.
So, I'm going to start at square one because some people out there don’t know how to conduct themselves properly on a date. Let’s go back to the basics with dinner etiquette 101 and tell all on how to show someone a good time, regardless of the spark. I’ve reached out to relationship consultant, Julie Nguyen, for her take on how to have an amazing first dinner date and it starts by being a good date. Meaning sincere and genuine. Without further adieu, here are seven simple (emphasis on the simple!) rules to a dinner date. If someone agrees to go out to dinner with you, please follow these rules.
1. Use Your Manners On The Date.
When two people are on a first date, you’re usually looking at each other and scrutinizing every little thing to evaluate a second date. So, be sure to close your mouth while chewing and don’t ask them questions before they take a bite of food. “Be on your best behavior on a first date,” Nguyen tells Elite Daily. “You don’t know what people’s pet peeves and preferences are, so it’s good to have some awareness of your body and the behaviors you’re displaying.” An example is being polite to your waiter and showing up on time.
And while we're at it: Don't put your elbows on the table, put your napkin on your lap and use utensils (unless the meal is intended to be eaten with your hands).
2. Practice Good Conversational Skills.
Please. For the love of all things holy. Let your date finish their sentences. This is what made Alex and I the most upset. He would not let one thought come out of her mouth without immediately trampling over her words with passive-aggressive comments. No matter the topic, he had to immediately insert his two cents.
And maybe this seems like an extreme example, but really, listen to yourself when you talk. And if you catch yourself doing this, please make a change. Nguyen agrees and points out it’s just good conversational skills to practice in all areas of your life, not just on dates. “You already know about yourself, this is the opportunity to know them. Imagine if everyone approached a date that way,” Nguyen says. She suggests matching each other’s energy as a good starting point. “For every fact you throw out about yourself, use that as an invitation to tease out a hidden nugget about who they are as a person. This helps you share just enough without going overboard.”
3. Compliment Your Date Sincerely And Respectfully.
I'm going to put this one very delicately and very specifically: Unless you've tricked them into going out with you, you both know this is a date. You're here based on some sort of mutual attraction. And you both probably tried to look good, and you both probably stood in front of a mirror for an extensive period of time. You are both trying to put a good foot forward. So… when you see them, float them a respectful “you look wonderful/ beautiful/great.” Because I'm sure they do. Because it's fun and flirty and you're on a date, there's no reason not to be charming.
Then that’s it! No need to mention it again and again. Move on to talk about their job, their last vacation, or their favorite movie. Don't be weird.
4. Put Your Phone Away.
Are you talking about your dog and want to show off a picture of said dog? Then, forgive me, ignore this rule. But if not…. come on. Someone has decided to spend their precious time with you. They could be out to dinner with their friends, or home working on their novel, or out with someone else. But they’re out to dinner with you.
So, when you are sitting there speaking with and looking at them and then you break eye contact to check your phone, do you know how wildly disrespectful that is? What could you possibly be checking on your phone? And heaven help you if you say “the score of the game.”
Far be it for me to tell you what to do, but someone checking their phone while you're talking is the perfect cue to throw that ramen. “First dates are unpredictable. You don’t know if sparks will fly or if it’ll be completely platonic,” Nguyen says. “It’s a huge act of vulnerability to go on a date and basically admit you want to find a connection. Respect that and at the very least, give them your undivided attention so you both feel good during the dinner date,” Nguyen says.
5. Get To Know The Person Sitting In Front Of You.
What is a date other than an opportunity to get to know someone better? Maybe you'll learn that another person's experiences and opinions can inform your own. Maybe you'll learn that wow, this person is really cool, and you like spending time with them. But you'll never get to that conclusion if you don't try to learn more about them first. “Some people get into the habit of talking about who they want and not about the things that make up who they are,” she says. “Make it a habit of getting past the surface-level stuff and get into the fun stories. Why did they choose their job? What meme makes them laugh? What’s an embarrassing childhood story? Then really listen. When people truly feel heard and seen, it totally changes the energy of the date.”
Of course you're going to talk about yourself, and when you do, be proud of who you are. Talk positively and graciously. But don't ramble on. Don't embellish. Don't lie. And when you're finished, get back to asking about them. You already know about you.
6. Finish The Date On A Positive Note.
This one requires delicacy, kindness and the ability to talk through a point of contention. First, when you ask them out on a dinner date, say “Can I take you out to dinner?” That way, it's been established, you would like to take them out to dinner.
Then, later, when the check comes, here's how this should go:
You reach for the check.
Your date: Do you want to split that?
You: No, that's really nice, but I wanted to take you out!
Maybe it ends there, and if so, great job being nice and fun! But maybe they continue:
Your date: Are you sure? I would really like to at least split the check.
Here comes the tricky part. Stick the landing.
You: Are you sure?
Wait for it…wait for it…
Your date: Yeah, I'm sure.
Now here comes the most important part.
You: OK, thanks!
Then when you leave the restaurant, hold the door open for them and send them off with a hug and a “get home safe” comment. Congratulations, you did it. Tens all around. You stuck the landing on wrapping up a dinner date and showing someone a fun time.
7. Be Kind To The Very End.
Regardless of how you’re feeling about the date, Nguyen says it’s a good rule of thumb to treat all of your dates like you would treat anyone you care about. It’s just the polite thing to do. After all, they’re a person deserving of love who decided to spend an evening with you.
Depending on the vibes, the date could go in two directions: If you’re vibing, send them a text and ask them to do something like this again soon. If it’s a match, congrats!
If you’re not vibing, please don’t commit a dating offense and breadcrumb them before you eventually ghost. “Dating apps would be a much better place if people treated the end of the flirtation as positively as they did at the beginning,” Nguyen says. “It’s more about making a good first impression and wearing a cute ‘fit. At the end of the day, being a good dater really comes down to being a kind person and doing the decent, honest thing with their feelings. Plus, it’s excellent dating karma.”
So, if you’re not feeling it, send them a polite message letting them know and wishing them well, and pat yourself on the back for a well-executed dinner date. If they liked you but you weren’t into them, don’t drag it out or hem and haw your way through the conversation until it eventually peters out. Be upfront and let them know there wasn’t a connection although you enjoyed the date. There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?
Julie Nguyen, certified relationship coach, consultant, and writer