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Illustrations by Ashlie Juarbe

How to Pick a Great First Date Restaurant

Spend less time stressing over the location and more time focused on making meaningful connections; a Bumble expert weighs in on what to consider after you’ve made a match.

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You’ve downloaded the app, you’ve made your first move on Bumble, you’ve set a first date — win, win, win. That all seemed easy, but now comes the tricky part: Figuring out where to go. There are so many variables to consider that it can be overwhelming to know where to start.

It helps to have some restaurant ideas ahead of time, but how do you know if it’s just right for that first date you’re looking forward to so much? Consider this your toolkit for deciding on your restaurant for the night; with it, you’ll take some of the stress out of the encounter so you can focus on fostering a connection with the other person.

You’ve made your match, now it’s your move to find the perfect date night spot.

A date night dining checklist

Whenever an online suitor asks where she wants to go on their first date, Bumble digital marketing coordinator (and unofficial resident foodie) Janelle Laqui offers three dining options in a lively part of the city. “Food in and of itself is a communal activity,” says Laqui. “So when the food tastes good, you’re more inclined to talk about it and it’s more likely to spur conversation.”

In fact, you should probably start this convo before you’ve even set a first date: Add some of your own favorite foods or restaurants to your bio, or even a food-related question for your match to answer. After all, how else will you know that they’re similarly obsessed with tacos, or ice cream, or ramen?

As for date-friendly eats, it’s up to you to define what that means. “I’m not sure if I’d want to be slurping spaghetti or eating chicken wings on a first date, but, of course, to each their own,” Laqui says. Maybe your roommate doesn’t love slurping soup dumplings to eating with their hands at that new Ethiopian restaurant, but if your mouth is watering and your date is game, don’t let that stop you. The meal is more about a connection rather than the messy logistics of it. (Just be sure to be mindful of dietary restrictions or preferences before you pick the place, so both of you can enjoy the meal.)

And if your date’s profile badges indicate that they drink “Socially” or “Frequently,” chances are they have a preference of beer, wine, or cocktails. “I also love a good cocktail, so I definitely want to make sure that the restaurant has a great beverage menu with a lot of variety,” Laqui says. There’s plenty of reasons someone might refrain from drinking alcohol, so pick a place that offers a selection of mocktails too.

But there’s more to consider outside of the menu: A restaurant’s ambiance matters too. When it comes to the lighting, it’s a bit of a Goldilocks situation. If the place is too dark, it can feel overly intimate. However, if the place is too bright, it can feel like a job interview. Aim for a moody, romantic middle. And avoid places blasting loud music as it makes it hard to have a conversation if you’re shouting at each other.

Aside from the ambiance, it’s crucial to consider the price point. Choose a restaurant that’s within a price range you’re both comfortable with. A good guiding principle is that whoever does the asking out should be the one picking up the tab. But in any case, it’s reasonable for both people to offer to cover all or part of the check and have a conversation about it. “My go-to is to stick to restaurants that fall within the two dollar sign range on Yelp or Google Reviews,” Laqui says. If the restaurant is too expensive, there may be pressure for you or your date to outdo yourself and spend beyond your means, she added. If you’re still unsure of your match’s price range but feel too nervous to ask, let them decide: Pick three date spots in different price ranges and let your match choose.

Finally, a pro tip: Make a dinner reservation even if it’s not a super busy restaurant. This way, Laqui says, you’re guaranteed a seat upon arrival so you can start the date right away and you won’t have to awkwardly occupy yourselves until your table is ready.

Regardless of how well you know your date, make sure to tell a close friend or family member where you’re going.

But remember, safety comes first

A comfortable, safe place for a first date is key, but there are steps you can take even before the date to feel more secure meeting a new match IRL. Laqui recommends using Bumble’s video calling features within the app, allowing matches to connect without needing to exchange personal information like phone numbers. She also recommends looking out for profiles that are verified by Bumble’s photo moderation team. If you’re hitting it off with your match and their profile is not verified, you can also request they verify their profile, right in the app.

Even if you’ve vetted your date in the app, tell somebody close to you where you’re going, Laqui says: “Let them know when and where, and that you’ll contact them within a certain amount of time.” You can also drop a pin and share your location with friends so they can see where you are in real time.

It’s also a good idea to arrive at the restaurant early and let the host or waitstaff know you’re on a first date with someone you recently met online. That way, Laqui says, they’re aware of the situation and can be there for you if things get uncomfortable. “Some bars and restaurants across the U.S. have signs in the restrooms that let you know key words to say to staff whenever you’re in a dire situation,” she says. And, if you and your date are drinking, she recommends taking a ride-share to the destination to guarantee a safe ride to the restaurant and back.

Where to go from there? Obviously, a restaurant choice doesn’t always make or break a first date. Do some last-minute research and read up on your match’s badges before you’re seated. Laqui does her due diligence, and before she meets her Bumble match, she looks at their top Spotify artists — a feature that can be integrated into your profile. “That way, we can have another fun topic to talk about during our conversation of getting to know one another,” she says.

No one can guarantee that you’ll have a perfect first date, but by being thoughtful about the place you’re dining at and making sure it’s appropriate and you’re safe, you can spend less time fretting about the particulars and more time focused on the person sitting across from you.

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