"Never let a man take you to a restaurant that doesn't have a waiter," said my college friend, Carl. He told me that after laughing about a guy who surprised me with a Dutch date. How does one blow up another person's phone for two days, ask her out, confirm that she's coming and then expect her to pay? Well, that guy did. And I left him sitting alone and made lunch plans with a family member who also laughed just as hard at this joker.
But Carl's issue wasn't so much the Dutch date as it was he couldn't believe a man would take a woman somewhere without waitresses. In the case of this date, it was Portillo's in downtown Chicago.
"If you have to walk up to a counter to order your food, you keep walking right out the door," Carl continued.
From that day on (back in 2003), I took Carl's advice. But I also learned a few more reasons restaurants should be the first place to go on a date. Check out the photo gallery (above) to find out why.
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Let's have a chat
In movie theaters, there's darkness, previews and watching the film. At a play, there's the need for silence to hear the actors. In a coffeehouse, there's a lot of background noise and people sitting close enough to hear your entire conversation while freeloading on a Wi-Fi connection. But in a (quiet) restaurant, there's nothing to distract the two of you from having a conversation. Besides the food, you two are each other's entire entertainment and it's easier to get to know each other.
Pick up the phone
In a recent Gallup poll, 86 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds owned a basic cell phone in 2005, but it's the least commonly owned technology device among this age group by 24 percent in 2013. However, 88 percent of this same group now owns Smartphones. In total, 62 percent of the people who were surveyed owned iPhones or Android Smartphones.
And with popularity comes the antsy need to use new toys. But not on your date. If you really want to know whether you'll have your date's full attention, observe whether that Smartphone is on silent, vibrate or a third conversation piece at the table.
Unless there's a family emergency or kids on standby, you should have his full attention, especially on a first date. If whoever is on the other end of that phone takes more priority than you, you better believe you'll continue to play second fiddle down the line.
Dine and dash
Restaurant tips can be tricky. And so can the service. But a restaurant meal can prove how well both of you handle conflict-resolution and treat other people.
Waitresses usually make their income based on tips. In 2014, minimum wage increased in 13 states but Illinois remained the same. Tipped employees must be paid minimum wage, but an employer may take credit for the employee's tips in an amount not to exceed 40 percent of the wages. An employer may pay a training wage for tipped employees 18 and over in the amount of $4.65 for the first 90 days if applying the tip credit of 40 percent or $7.75 if utilizing the tip credit.
In general, tips should be 15 or 20 percent. If your date is paying, make sure he tips the waiter. If he doesn't, you should. You can pout about who paid the tip later, but don't let the waitress get caught up in your debate about money.
If the service is terrible, try not to make a scene at the restaurant. It can spoil the date. Excuse yourself to "go to the restroom" but pull a manager to the side to state your complaint. Or contact the restaurant after the date is over. But ranting at the table about how badly the service is (regardless of whether the waitress deserves the criticism) can make your date look at you a different way.
Mind your manners
Your date can put his best foot forward with how he treats you, but his true colors come out when the food is on the table. If you're putting your napkin in your lap, but he's blowing his nose over your appetizer, this might not be the guy for you. There should also be no teeth sucking, toothpick flicking, open-mouth chewing and yelling across the restaurant. You'll save yourself a lot of grief if you find out early in the relationship what level of class he has.
Diversity is key
"You know who you look like? Bruce Lee," said one date to a Chinese waiter.
"These people think they're better than us. Why should I talk lower? They probably don't speak English anyway," said another date while walking through Chinatown shops.
"I talked to a European today. Aren't you proud?" said another date while glaring at a nearby soccer team of white men.
Unfortunately, I'm not making up any of these quotes. I've dated two guys who made those comments. America may have segregated cities in places like Chicago, but it is still a melting pot community. If you're someone who can easily mingle with various groups of different races, cultures and backgrounds and your date is only used to being around people like him, you two will have a problem.
It is highly recommended that the first date you two go on is somewhere with a diverse group. There is no need for a second date if you find out on the first date that this guy is racist. Sometimes people don't realize their comments are offensive, and they can kindly be corrected. Other times they don't care if they offend. It is your call with how comfortable you are being around someone who will constantly insult those who are unlike him. But restaurants are one of the most popular places (outside of carnivals and sports arenas) to find out how well he meshes with other crowds.
What's on the menu?
For people with really opinionated eating habits, it's easier to just date someone who vibes with your diet. But you may miss out on a lot of good guys that way, and regardless of what he's eating, it doesn't have to go down your throat. Restaurant habits may prove how well he's willing to compromise.
As a 9-year vegetarian, my suggestion for lunch and dinner dates with omnivores is always Asian food restaurants. For someone who does not eat meat, it's incredibly difficult to find scrumptious meals in meat-driven restaurants unless you want to eat veggie burgers, salad or pasta drowned in tomato or dairy sauce all of the time. Meals in Chinese, Thai and Japanese food restaurants tend to have a larger selection of fresh vegetables, vegetarian main meal items (such as tofu) and even vegan dishes. If you can talk your date into going to the occasional vegan restaurant to check out tempeh, seitan, textured vegetable protein (TVP) and other dishes like that, even better.
Close to your heart, closer to your meal
There is a difference between having different tastes in types of food versus two people having completely different ideas of how to eat their meals. Psych Central reports that your significant other can help or hinder your dieting habits.
According to the CDC, about 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, but more than half of the deaths due to heart disease in 2009 were in men. Every year about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack. Of these, 525,000 are a first heart attack and 190,000 happen with people who have already had a heart attack.
Eating a healthy diet, exercising and maintaining a healthy weight are CDC tips for fighting against heart disease. Nothing ruins a date quite like someone lecturing another person on eating healthy, watching their portions and gawking at the condiments. But if one of you is on a mission to be a healthier eater, the best way to keep that going is to date someone with a like mind.
Nothing to wear
We all know men are physical creatures, and women almost always love a man in a suit. But women have "off" days, and men don't wake up wearing a tuxedo.
If you'd much rather wear yoga pants all day, but Justin Timberlake's "Suit and Tie" is his national anthem, you two may have problems. Same goes for him constantly sagging his jeans, but you look like Victoria's Secret has your number on speed dial. The way you dress at a restaurant is a pretty good hint at the type of fashion choices you two will make in the future.
Here's a clue: If he has no idea how to tie a tie, don't expect to order lobster at every meal.
Be willing to compromise though. It's incredibly rude to order the most expensive thing on the menu with someone who is a stranger, especially if you would have a problem paying the same price for this meal had you been dining with friends. Find a neutral restaurant for the first date. Not too cheap. Not too expensive. Dress accordingly.
On the upside
I had a boss who used to say she was going to be "Positive Patty" when she walked into the building. It sounded corny, but it made me laugh. On a date, especially one of the first few dates, topics that can cause an argument should be left off the table. Politics, death and race are three topics to try to avoid unless you're both forced to bring them up. Religion gets a bit shaky because one (or both) of you may want to pray before the meal. It's a huge waste of time to try to convert someone's religion when you first meet them. No, God did not send you on this date to change the error in someone else's way. If he doesn't pray and you do, pray privately. He'll take your hint. You'll know where he stands.
Out with the old, in with the new
Dating a new guy or girl? Be creative, and find a new restaurant to explore. Try a new dish. Live a little.
If you chose instead to go to one of your "regular" spots, you may run into one of your regular restaurant friends. If the date is a nightmare, now you not only have to dump him but now you have to explain to others why the two of you won't be seen again. Ditto for your regular waitress. Shiftgig estimates that there are 6,190 full-service restaurants in Chicago and 8,685 counter-service restaurants. Chances are high that you can find at least one new restaurant you like.
Plus if the date is horrible but he finds out about your regular spot, it'll be that much more awkward if you two bump into each other again while on dates with other people.