What to Look for in a First-Date Restaurant

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First dates are one of two things:

1. They turn out to be thrilling evenings of lust and intellectual discovery spent with someone who just might be your soul mate, or

2. They are colossal wastes of time.

We’re generalizing, of course.

But since life is like a box of chocolates, and some of them are really good walnut caramels and others are turtle dung, it pays to choose a first-date restaurant destination that will let love flourish.

Below are the top five factors to consider when selecting a first-date restaurant. Think of a few restaurants that fit these criteria in your neighborhood, and keep them written on a piece of paper in your wallet or tattoo them on your forearm to avoid that pre-date “I don’t care, where do YOU want to go?” banter.

  • Lighting

Perhaps the most crucial element of a first-date dinner is making sure that everyone looks their most attractive. Are there candles on the table? Does the restaurant owner understand how dimmer and dinner go hand in hand? With soft light glinting off stemware, it barely matters what you’re eating.

  • Cost

When it doubt, go upper-middle. Chances are one of you will insist on paying while the other politely demurs, but to suggest a Michelin four-star penthouse restaurant that just opened last month seems a little high-maintenance. That being said, if you suggest hitting the Kenny Rogers Roasters near the airport, your date may question your critical-thinking skills and taste. Aim for a new, interesting place with good buzz and entrees that cost about $12-16. And if they allow BYOB with no corkage, do it, you crazy lovesick animals.

  • Options

Unless you’ve already covered the topic of vegans vs. carnivores in your pre-date flirting, it’s always good to prepare for the possibility that your date doesn’t want to go to an all-meat schwarma palace. Check ahead and ask if he/she has any "dietary considerations" (use that term instead of "weird screwed-up food neurosis"). At least one or two veggie options on the menu will mean avoiding the chance of one of you picking hungrily at a plate of lettuce.

  • Loud Music

IS THERE ANYTHING MORE IMPORTANT THAN ACOUSTICS ON A FIRST DATE? WHAT? We think you said no. But we couldn’t hear you over the blistering '90s metal lams the waiter is playing. Other conversation killer? Restaurants with crazy-high ceilings or marble floors. The clatter from dishes and the din of other diners can strangle even the most well intentioned getting-to-know-eachotherness. If you’re not sure about ambiance, case the joint the night before to see if you’ll be “mingleshouting” through a meal with someone you might love -- if only you could hear them.

  • Valet

Maybe this is just an L.A. thing, but valeting on a date can be worth the extra few bucks. Here’s a super secret from one of our girlfriends (OK, one of us): If you’re not too excited about the date, valet your car so that at the end of the night, there won’t be an awkward smooch. I mean, all the valet guys are watching and the whole restaurant can see you. Clean getaway! But if there are already sparks, park down the street; you'll HAVE to use the buddy system, which leaves plenty of time and space for that end-of-the-evening peck (read: make out).

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