Dating, dining, love - Illustration of three white plates on a blue circular dinner table, one plate covered in a heart shaped strand of spaghetti.
Illustration: Lorenzo Matteucci

What Not to do on Your First Dinner Date

Garlic breath, being rude to waiters: Here's what can turn a date into disaster.
Giorgia Cannarella
Bologna, IT
LM
illustrated by Lorenzo Matteucci

This article originally appeared on VICE Italy.

Restaurants seem like a great venue for a first date. They can be intimate, they can be fun, and they tend to serve alcohol. However, as anyone who has actually been on a first date knows, even the most seemingly rock solid of eating plans can fall apart. 

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That person from Hinge you’ve been talking to for weeks might turn out to be a noisy eater, a poor tipper, or the kind of person who treats waiters like shit. What they eat, and more importantly how they eat it, can make a huge impact on the likelihood of you seeing one another again.

I once went on a date with a guy from Tinder. We agreed to go to one of those dinner-in-the-dark places, where you eat – well, in total darkness. During the course of the evening, and without warning or consent, he thought it'd be a good idea to lick my fingers. There was no second date.

Knowing that I couldn't be alone in having been out for disastrous dinners, VICE asked our followers on Instagram to share some of their first-date deal breakers.

Obviously, one of the most contentious issues when it comes to a restaurant date is money. "A friend of mine went on a date with a girl who, when it came time to pay, worked out how much each person had eaten of the things we’d shared," said Alice Bianchi, 33. "She actually told her, 'I've only had a the wine and dessert. Can you pay three-fourths of the bill and I’ll cover the rest?'"

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I once went for a drink with a guy who was determined to split the cost of the four beers we’d ordered. The problem was, the bar’s card machine wasn’t working and I was cashless. Rather than covering for us both and letting me repay him down the line, he said, “Why not leave your ID at the bar and come back tomorrow to pay up?” This was over an €8 bill, by the way.

From talking to people about the issue, it’s apparent that the problem is rarely a lack of funds. Rather, it’s people who penny-pinch and obsess over money, even if they’re the one who suggested trying out that hot new pricey small plates and natural wine place that everyone on Instagram seems to have eaten at recently.

That refusal to make things fair – to say nothing of displaying genuine generosity – says a lot about the kind of relationship you might end up in if things progress past the first date stage. It should be noted, too, that who pays for what isn’t a matter of gender, but of intention and politeness.

Before the bill arrives you’ll be witness to how your potential other half approaches another possibly thorny issue: table manners. Good manners can be the difference between enjoying a date and enduring it and when it comes to dinnertime etiquette some of us are more exacting than others.

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“I don’t like people who eat onions or garlic. I don’t like people who blow on their soup so hard that their breath reaches me. I don’t like people who chew with their mouths open. I don’t like people who burp loudly,” said 27-year-old market research executive Juicy Onugha. That isn’t everything she can’t stand. "I don’t like people who get sweaty or dirty when they eat,” she added. “Or people who use a toothpick and then examine their findings.”

Ironically, reading Onugha’s list brought me out in a sweat. I’ve long been a messy eater, and have been teased by partners as a result. Actually, I have been told off more than once because I don’t seem capable of eating a meal without splashing sauce all over the place.

Happily for me, and others like me, not everyone is as strict in their adherence to the rules of the table as Onugha. “"I like people who enjoy experimenting with the menu and maybe even share their food. Generally speaking, I like people who aren’t too uptight at the table, people who mop up their plate with bread,” said Alberto Marozzi, 28. “Oh, and I love people who comment on what they’re eating. Who say how good the wine is and tasty their meatballs are.”

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Perhaps the most important thing you can can glean about someone over a bowl of pasta and a glass of the second cheapest red on the menu is how they treat the restaurant’s workers. Victoria Small, a 31-year-old writer, recalled a disastrous first date in London. “He snatched plates out of waiters’ hands, interrupted their dish descriptions, even urged them to hurry up and serve him.”

Her date wasn’t just rude, he was a liar. “He’d suggested this pizzeria to me and I’d asked if they served anything other than Neapolitan pizza, which I don’t like. He said yes, but when we arrived it was obvious that they didn’t – he even insisted that I had to try it.”

A member of staff, who had clocked that things weren’t going swimmingly for our couple attempted to avert a crust-related crisis. “He kept coming up to the table with some excuse to see if I was OK. My date said to him: 'Can't you see we're on a date? If you want to hit on her, do it when she's not on my time slot.' He wasn't really a nice person.”

For some first-timers, the key to a successful dinner date – other than being a good sport about the bill, keeping the mess to a minimum and just not being a total dick to the people who are paid to bring you food – is ensuring that you’re on a level playing field.

"A guy took me to a family pizza restaurant. He knew everyone - those who worked there, those who cooked there - and I felt so awkward,” said Davide Puca, a 32-year-old semiotician. “He thought taking me to a place he was familiar with might make him look and feel important. It actually had the opposite effect.”

Khris Pagaspas, 27, works as a bartender in Milan and is no stranger to observing couples on first dates. “There’s a lot of know-it-alls, people who know every cocktail out there and act all cool about it,” she said. “Then there’s the pretend teetotallers, those who don’t drink alcohol because they're afraid their true personality will come out if they indulge a bit too much.”

Pagaspas reckons keeping an eye on the couple’s drink is actually the simplest way to tell if a date is a success or not. “Look for the people lost in conversation, the ones really getting to know each other. They take forever to order – and they hardly touch their cocktails.”