There are a lot of great ways to get to know somebody, but none are as efficient and satisfying as going out to eat with a person. I’m someone who takes food very seriously — cooking for people I care about is truly one of my favorite things to do, and as someone who eschews the traditional “did he call after a day or two days and what does it all mean?” school of thought when it comes to dating, I use other barometers to measure relationship success.
I once cooked a three course meal for someone I had just started dating, and was aghast when he didn’t offer to help (I would’ve said no anyway). I was even more shocked when I found myself washing each and every dish by myself. Needless to say, it didn’t work out. The ability to successfully enjoy food together when dating someone is tantamount to the relationship’s success. How you behave at home, after a few glasses of wine and something delicious simmering on the stovetop is certainly telling (as it was with the guy who didn’t offer to help), but I am a firm believer that we are our truest selves when dining at a restaurant. The way someone behaves when they have their public face on gives you a pretty clear indication of many important things. Here are some to pay attention to on dinner dates:
1. He shares food with you, happily and heartily. The best part about going out to eat with someone else is that your culinary horizons are immediately expanded. Do you really want the fish, but also maybe two to three bites of the pasta special? Start your negotiations when you sit down. There’s nothing more satisfying than getting to try a little bit of everything on the menu, and how willing your date is to share is a good indication of his inherent generosity, or lack thereof. The best kinds of relationships are the ones that feel easy, that are homey, that are just as comfortable on the first or second date as they are after a year. If you feel at ease taking a little bite off his plate, and approach ordering as a team activity, then the process for things like planning vacations or talking frankly about finances should be much easier down the line.
2. He is a picky eater. I am a person who will happily eat most things, an inclusive eater, with an appetite for adventure. Like most people, I have my personal preferences — I have a strong dislike for cooked carrots and am unwavering in my stance, but that doesn’t mean I’m a picky eater. I will gladly try most things once, or twice, and would never think to be fussy about a home cooked meal, because it came from a place of love. That being said, I would have a lot of trouble dating someone who subsisted entirely on a diet of Papa John’s pizza and Cheetos, or wrinkled his nose at a particularly pungent dish of kimchi. A picky eater and a fussy personality go hand in hand. For a relationship to work, it’s important to understand the necessity for adaptability, the natural ebb and flow of things. The picky eaters that walk amongst us can be unadaptable to change, and lack the occasional spontaneity needed to create a relationship that’s dynamic. Keep an eye on this.
3. He is rude to the waitstaff. For a while in college, I waited tables at a tea cafe on a fancy street in Boston, where I served a variety of tourists tea, mediocre sandwiches and scones of questionable provenance. Here is a brief list of things that generally don’t fly:
-Snapping your fingers at a waiter.
-Waving down a waiter as if you were hailing a cab, then asking them what happened to that glass of wine you ordered two minutes ago.
-Touching the waitstaff at any time, even if you are putting a gentle hand on their elbow just to be nice.
Here’s the thing to know about food service: unless you are one of the rare people who truly enjoys the service industry, any of the aforementioned behaviors are going to do nothing more than irritate the person serving you. I was once on a date with someone who, in an attempt to be chivalrous, I guess, flagged down a waiter from across the room, and let him know that he had forgotten my iced tea. I had ordered it about two minutes ago. I appreciated the gesture, and understood that it was intended to be gentlemanly and not rude, but the look on the waiter’s face, and my internal horror said otherwise. If I see someone treating a server with a general disregard for common courtesy and respect, that’s a red flag for me. Treating other people the way you’d like to be treated is actually a pretty good way to live, so if the you’re out with someone who isn’t as nice as he could be to the waitstaff, file that away in your mental rolodex.
4. He refuses to handle the bill like an adult. This is trickier territory, and there is always a brief moment of awkwardness at the end of any evening out when the check is quietly slipped onto the table. I’m not here to lay down an absolute about who does or doesn’t pay for dinner on a first date — that is an entirely personal preference, but whatever the decision you make, it should be handled gracefully. If he decides to pay the bill, there should be no irritated huff, no big to-do. If you decide to split it, that can be handled in the same manner. If the person you’re with is now taking out a pen and making an itemized list of who got what, then that’s not the best sign, either. Obviously, if your date ordered the Ossobuco for $75 and you got a salad and a small steak for $30, do not split the bill evenly. But if it’s a matter of one beer versus two, and there is still haggling, be wary. Watching your budget is one thing, but treating the bill like an object of scrutiny, is a bad sign.
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