Guide To Dinner Dates

Men's Dating

Guide to Having a Fruitful Dinner Date

Mackenzie Buck

Written by: Mackenzie Buck

Mackenzie Buck

Mackenzie Buck is an experienced writer who earned a master's degree with distinction from the University of Manchester. Her relationship advice has been featured on the New York Post, among other publications. She has worn a variety of hats in the digital marketing space over the years and is excited to bring her unique voice and storytelling chops to DatingAdvice.

See full bio »

Edited by: Lillian Castro

Lillian Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro brings more than 30 years of journalism experience to ensure DatingAdvice articles have been edited for overall clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement. She has worked at The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, The Gwinnett Daily News, and The Gainesville Sun covering lifestyle topics.

Reviewed by: Amber Brooks

Amber Brooks

Amber Brooks is a dating and relationship expert who has penned over 1,800 lifestyle articles in the last decade, and she still never tires of interviewing dating professionals and featuring actionable advice for singles. She has been quoted by the Washington Times, Cosmopolitan, The New York Post, and AskMen.

See full bio »
Discuss This! Discuss This!

Let’s start off this guide with a simple challenge: Stop what you’re doing and name a romantic comedy that doesn’t involve some sort of dinner date. Trick question! You can’t (please don’t fact-check me on this) because there are none.

This is because dinner dates are a staple in the world of romance, even more so than flowers, chocolates, and that awkward face that guys make when they’re leaning in for the first kiss.

When planned and executed properly, dinner dates can create a safe space for two people to get to know each other on a deeper level, whether that’s as singles on a first date or partners celebrating their 40th anniversary. In this guide, we’ll be dishing out everything you need to know to make sure that happens, including tips on location selection, mood setting, and table etiquette. So sit back, relax, and get ready to break bread (gluten-free options available, of course).

Planning Ahead | Restaurant Etiquette | Conversation Tips

Preparation Is Key

Good things happen to those who wait? Nah. Good things happen to those who plan. The foundation of a dinner date that crushes is intention and preparation — and, yes, this means not waiting until the day of to start brainstorming. How much time you should expect to put into the planning process, however, depends on a variety of factors, including the date location. 

Choose the Perfect Venue

The question of “What should we eat for dinner tonight?” not only divides couples, but it divides nations — which is part of why it’s so important to give yourself plenty of time before the date to solidify your details.

"Date Night" movie poster
Plan ahead of time to ensure your romantic evening goes smoothly.

If you and your date want to venture out into public and enjoy some dinner at a romantic restaurant or bar, for example, you may need to make a reservation days or even weeks ahead of time. Lord knows you don’t want to end up like Phil and Claire Foster in the iconic movie “Date Night.”

You’ll also need to consider the food preferences and dietary needs of both individuals, but we’ll get into more of that in a later section.

You and your partner may find yourself uncomfortable with the thought of trying to connect over the sound of a dozen other couples deciding whether to order truffle fries. In that case, you may want to consider a more intimate setting, such as a dinner at home or a picnic in a quiet corner of your local park. 

Dinner dates at home can mean ordering in, having one person cook for the other, or cooking a meal together. The latter can be particularly effective at building a connection between yourself and your partner/date as it’s a hands-on activity that requires teamwork, listening skills, and (if you want to feel like you’re in a romcom) a mini flour-throwing fight. If you’re struggling to find some easy date night recipes, you can find tons of good ones here.

Set the Mood

Another variable to consider when planning your dinner date is the ambiance of the location. Are you looking for chic and upscale, or quaint and low key? Do you want bright lighting or a dim room with candles? It all comes down to the vibe you and your date are going for.

We encourage you to remember this: A restaurant with a hot pink furry wall and Instagrammable neon sign can only do so much for you on a romantic evening out. If you can’t hear what your date is saying, it may not be worth the cool pics (at least on this occasion). 

You or your partner can also contribute to setting the mood for a date by incorporating a small gift or gesture. For example, a bouquet of fresh flowers, a handwritten note, or playing some soft music in the background (if you’re dining at home) can go a long way. You may want to pick up ingredients for cocktails or mocktails as well!

The Restaurant Experience

Staying in for a dinner date may be a great option for those who prefer the comforts of home, are on a budget, or anticipate desiring a quick transition from the main course to dessert (if you catch my drift). Sometimes, however, you’re just craving a night out on the town.

Photo of a restaurant
A local restaurant can be great for a memorable date.

Restaurants and cocktail bars can be sexy and intimate in their own right — plus, they may be a nice change of scenery if you’ve been spending a lot of nights inside binge watching “One Day” on Netflix. That said, there are a handful of considerations to keep in mind during the planning process if you’re looking to create a seamless night of romance. 

Exploring the Menu

Maybe you’re used to perusing the menu for 15 minutes before making your meal selection. Or maybe you like to choose through a casual game of Eeny Meeny Miney Mo. Whatever your usual preference, we encourage you to find a happy medium while on your dinner date. Why? Because navigating the menu together can be a nice bonding activity to help you ease into the rest of your evening and learn a little something about each other along the way — an icebreaker, if you will. 

If you’re looking for tips on safe foods to order on a date (to limit the risk of drips and splashes), take a look at this list.

Sharing is Caring 

Guy Fieri once said, “Food is the only universal thing that has the power to bring everybody together.” We couldn’t agree more! That’s why we recommend trying meal sharing on your next dinner date.

This could mean ordering a large dish and sharing it between the two of you, ordering two different dishes and dividing each in half, or going all-in on a tapas place. The latter two are great options if you’re looking to maximize your chances of deliciousness.

However, we do recommend confirming that your date is open to this route, as some people may have food allergies or simply don’t live the “sharing is caring” life. In this case, you could opt for splitting a wine bottle instead. Ultimately, the idea is to create a shared experience and sense of togetherness, so however you’d like to make that happen is up to you.

Table Manners and Etiquette 

It doesn’t matter if you flew your date to the top of the Eiffel Tower in a helicopter for dinner — any and all romance that you’ve managed to create for the evening can disappear in an instant if you don’t display proper etiquette.

Some common rules of thumb for maintaining good manners on a dinner date include chewing with your mouth closed, placing a napkin on your lap at the start of the meal, waiting for your date’s meal to come before you start yours, eating cautiously (to limit the risk of food stains and drippage), and being polite to the wait staff. Personally, nothing is more of a red flag to me than rudeness. 

Photo of a rude date
Texting or taking a call during a date is disrespectful.

Other rules of etiquette aren’t so cut and dry,  especially when it comes to paying for the date. It may be fair to assume that the person who asked you on the date will pick up the check, or at least offer to. But because of Western culture’s recent transition away from traditional gender norms, finding the right answer to this can be a bit tricky

If you’re a man going on a date with a woman, she will likely anticipate you paying for her or offer to split the check out of courtesy. Some new arguments suggest, however, that paying for the woman you’re on a date with is still a valid expectation, considering that there continues to be a gender wage gap and general discrepancy of power between men and women. Some men report that even though they know they don’t have to pick up the check on a date, they want to anyway as it’s romantic and masculine-affirming

Within the LGBTQ+ community, there seem to be far fewer rules and expectations. On one hand, this may be nerve-wracking, but on the other, this could just mean that there’s a lot more room for flexibility

Dietary Considerations

When I first figured out I was lactose intolerant in 2005, I didn’t know a single other soul who suffered from the same tragic fate as me (macaroni and cheese, how I miss you so). Now, it seems like the rumbly tumblies are popping up in people left and right.

According to sources such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Medical News Today, 6% of adults in the United States have a food allergy, and an estimated 15-20% experience food intolerances. 

6% of Americans have a food allergy
Keep dietary considerations in mind when choosing a romantic restaurant.

That said, before you move forward with booking a dining location for your date night, you should check in with your partner and take note of any foods on their no-can-do list. Nothing extinguishes the flames of romance more than a stomach ache or, even worse, a trip to the emergency room.

Conversation and Connection

Dressing up and giving your taste buds a zesty treat is always fun, but at the end of the day, a dinner date is designed to help you create a deeper sense of connection and closeness with the person joining you. This means that the quality of your evening will have more to do with what you talk about and how you’re able to show up in the moment than what’s on your plate. 

Engaging Dialogue 

You can only chat about the menu and the traffic on the way over for so long. After the initial chitchat and niceties, it’s time to get the ball rolling on some meaningful conversation. This will look differently for every couple, but the key here is to stay present and engaged — this means asking open-ended questions, engaging in active listening, and putting in equal effort to contribute to the conversation.

We also recommend avoiding certain topics to keep the mood light, fun, and sexy. If this is your first date, it’s best not to talk about your ex, get too deep into personal information too quickly, or love bomb them. If you and your date are in a long-term relationship, we suggest leaving talk about home insurance and work stress at home. This time at the table is yours to share with your special person, so make it count. 

Active Listening 

Nothing is more infuriating than being on a date with someone who is clearly not engaged in the conversation. Whether their eyes keep darting to everywhere but you, they’re repeatedly checking their phone, or they’re only responding with the occasional shrug, it’s incredibly rude, and it certainly doesn’t make you feel like all the effort you put into this date was worth it. 

If you hate how this feels, you should take action to make sure you’re not pulling the same stunt on your date. Using the skill of active listening is a highly effective way of doing this. 

Photo of a note reading "Speak less, listen more."
Pay attention to your date’s words and body language.

Active listening is a term used to describe any behavior that lets the person you’re in a conversation with know that you are fully present and focused on the topic at hand. Actions that indicate active listening can include maintaining solid eye contact, nodding and smiling, asking follow-up questions, and allowing the speaker to share their thoughts without interruption. Not only will practicing this skill maximize the enjoyment of your date, but it will bring you closer as a couple in general. 

Unplug from Distractions 

This one has become tough to do as technology has become more integrated into our daily lives, but one of the most impactful choices you can make on a date is limiting your distractions. This could mean putting your phone on DND (or at least storing it away in your coat or bag), turning off the TV (if you’re dining at home), or hiring a sitter (if you’ve got kids).

In this modern world that praises the “never stop grinding” lifestyle, it’s a special treat to be able to sit down in a peaceful environment with the person you care about and just, well, be

A Culinary Journey to Romance 

In case you were initially doubtful that we could write a multiple-page guide to optimizing something as simple as a dinner date, not only will you walk away from this experience humbled, but you’ll walk away with a pool of information with which to draw from as you move forward in your dating journey. The dinner date is a simple art, yes, but it’s an art form nonetheless. And everything from the menu item you select to the sound level of the music playing in the background plays a role in how your romantic evening turns out. Details do matter. 

At the root of all the choices you make should be a common goal: creating a safe, romantic space where two people can spend time deepening their relationship, regardless of how much or how little time they’ve spent together thus far. If you end the night with a Cheshire cat grin, some wine-stained lips, or a bid for a second date, you’ve got your proof of a job well done.