It’s that magical time of year when bars and restaurants begin filling up again after the holiday lull. People start coming back around Valentine’s Day, and with the V-Day crowd comes everyone’s favorite trainwreck: first dates.
The restaurant or bar first date is a staple in the dating scene; public places are the best place to meet a stranger for a million reasons. Many years in the service industry have given me the superpower to spot a first date from across the room—and I am not alone.
Bartenders can provide the best advice for a wide swath of topics, from the best place to get a sandwich within walking distance, to what to order for someone who loves the band Buckcherry. I therefore asked some of Reno’s finest bartenders to share their worldly experience and offer some advice for those going on a first date, because, let’s be honest: Everything is easier when the bartender has your back.
Walk it out; talk it out
One of the most complex parts of picking a first date can be deciding where to go. Things can get awkward fast if your date and the location do not mix.
“The best place for a first date would be a walk first, or an outdoor meeting place to walk to a bar or coffee shop,” said Noel Judal, of Craft Beer and Wine. “If you arrive together at a place, you might feel more connected.”
A light stroll can take some of that pressure off and give you time to get to know one another before you sit down.
Ashley Wheaton, a bartender at Death and Taxes, had some excellent advice for picking the perfect date spot: “Look up three places, and let them pick the location (among them). It’s good to create common ground, and it looks like you are putting in the planning work while also allowing them to have some control.”
Having your date pick an activity from a curated list also shows how excited you are to share your time with them. Everyone loves a thoughtful date.
Do not drink to impress
In this golden age of cocktails, it can be difficult to select a drink among the overwhelming options, let alone pick a drink when you know it may be leaving a first impression. Jamie Stachofsky, front-of-house manager at Kauboi Izakaya, had some common-sense advice when asked what to order on a first date.
“Whatever you normally drink!” she said. “I think it’s silly to get off on the first step by pretending to like something you don’t! Be yourself! If you hate negronis, don’t order one just to seem cool.”
I’ll admit it: I have been guilty at times of being a walking drink encyclopedia; my wife deals with it every time we go to a new bar. But Stachofsky wants you to remember: “There is also nothing worse than hearing someone trying to impress their date with their vast knowledge of Japanese whisky, when everything they say is incorrect.”
It is the bartender’s job to educate your date; nothing looks better than showing you are willing to ask questions when you don’t know the answer.
Know your limits and your surroundings
The most crucial bit of advice for first dates is to know your limits, and think about what impression you want to leave. One of the most common mistakes on first dates is overdrinking.
“I’ve seen numerous people keep saying ‘yes’ to another drink when their date offers, and end up having a few too many. It’s always sad to see a date that was going well end because someone’s too drunk,” Stachofsky said.
Noel Judal also had some sage advice on this topic, “I would personally stick with wine or something lower in alcohol at first. You don’t want to seem too nervous chugging back martinis.”
It’s easy for multiple drinks to go down too fast on a first date—because nothing keeps your hands busy like bringing a glass to your lips. But keep in mind: The average person can only consume one drink per hour without getting drunk; three drinks in an hour on an empty stomach can mean a slippery slope for most folks.
The other limits to remember have to do with the people serving you: Treating your bartender or server poorly is a turn-off for everyone. As front-of-house manager at one of Reno’s busiest restaurants, Stachofsky knows: “While it may be a big day for you and your date, it is just another day for us. Sometimes we are very busy, and sometimes, things inevitably go wrong in every bar or restaurant. We are doing our best and are not out to get you.”
Patience and kindness are very sexy traits, so be kind to the ones helping your date go well.
My favorite bit of advice came from Judal—and I admit I have been guilty of this.
“For god’s sake, please don’t make a late reservation on a first date and keep the whole staff an hour after closing, getting to know each other,” Judal said. “People are self-involved on first dates and tend not to notice when every chair beside theirs is up on the tables.”
When a first date is going well, it’s easy to lose yourself in the moment and the romance. As someone who has been on both sides, trust me when I say: You should know when to wrap it up.
All this first-date advice is essentially saying the same thing over and over: Be thoughtful, kind and patient with yourself and everyone around you. The more considerate you are, the sexier you are.