What to Eat and Drink on a Date
Restaurants have traditionally enjoyed a crucial and privileged place in the history of dating, providing us with enough privacy to get to know one another and enough public scrutiny to help us feel safe as we do so. The food has largely been an excuse.
But what we decide to eat and drink together isn’t merely incidental to the real task of mutual understanding. It too is rich in psychological clues, communicating messages about who we are and what we might be like over a lifetime. How we order can in a minor key belong to the task of winning someone else over to our cause.
Let’s think of a number of ways of ordering food and drink that suggest intriguing and complex things about our identities:
What we might order: A large mixed salad, accompanied by a plate of fries on the side; we could eat the fries with our fingers and occasionally dip them in the vinaigrette.
What we’d be communicating: That we’re pretty sensible, in many ways, with a keen eye for restraint and a decent amount of self-control. But, at the same time, that we aren’t afraid of our own more impish desires. We’d be hinting that we were a sound blend of the mischievous and the prudent; that we had enough self-mastery and obedience to have earned the right for occasional moments of unorthodox indulgence.
What we might order: Fish fingers off the children’s menu.
What we’d be communicating: Through our order, we’d be implying that we could recognise, without anxiety, the claim of the more childish parts of our personalities, but that we were sufficiently grown up to be undisturbed by their presence. The order might work best if we combined it with an obviously sophisticated starter or desert. No one can be free of the legacy of their early past, we’d be saying through our food, what matters is the maturity with which we can acknowledge and navigate around it.
What we might order: Almost nothing.
What we’d be communicating: After putting in our bare order, we might allow ourselves to say with beguiling frankness that we were simply too nervous to eat. This would be importantly different from – and much more attractive than – merely ordering a normal amount, then pushing it idly around our plate. We’d be showing that we were upfront in revealing that the date meant a lot to us, and that there was in our eyes nothing shameful about being anxious in relation to an event that might turn out to be hugely significant. Our inability to countenance any desert whatsoever (not even a few berries) would be a flattering way of sending out a message that we were in the company of someone with a power to alter our lives.
What we might order: Cranberry juice
What we’d be communicating: The deep red drink would be a symbol of independence; we’d be making a rather unconventional order through it, this not being what people typically ask for in a restaurant. But it wouldn’t be willful or crazy either. We’d just be quietly asserting that we didn’t mind appearing a little odd for the sake of getting something we genuinely liked. We’d be, via the glass, saying that we were our own sort of people.
What we might order: the chicken, but – we’d add with a large smile and a hugely polite and patient explanation – ideally without the ginger and garlic and with the sauce on the side in a little jug, if that was even vaguely acceptable to the guys in the kitchen, who we really hope wouldn’t be put out by this sort of (in our words) ‘unbearably fussy’ request.
What we’d be communicating: That we knew our tastes were complicated and off the beaten track but that we had the self-belief and requisite charm to lay out our desires calmly and without undue or grating petulance. Everyone in relationships turns out in time to harbour a host of very particular requirements: no one, however casual they might appear at first, is ever really ‘easy’ in the long-term. So what matters hugely is if we have learnt the art of communicating our needs clearly, with grace, without entitlement or wilfulness, with the wit and will of the best teacher – an accomplishment there can be perfect opportunities to display in our approach to the ordering of the main course.
What we might eat: Something we hadn’t ever ordered, but that was sitting on our date’s plate and that looked especially appealing – and that we’d very sweetly ask if we could have a bit of.
What we’d be communicating: that we were ready to step over conventional barriers in the name of friendship; that we understood there were certain standard obstacles to intimacy but that we were interested in finding a few playful ways of getting past them – possibly later that night.