Harish Alagappa gives dudes the dope on dates: how to choose the venue, what your date's order says about her, and why you must always have french fries on a first date.
Every now and then the stars align, the gods smile on you, and that coin you threw in a wishing well pays dividends. You saw a cute girl on Tinder and swiped right, more out of wild hope than any real expectation. And to your utter astonishment, she liked you back. You had a short conversation, dinner plans were made, and here you are; wearing your one good shirt that you’ve had especially dry cleaned for the occasion, with hope in your heart and a pack of Durex in your pocket.
The force may be strong with you, young Padawan, but to truly succeed in the dating game know this; the old cliché about the way to a man’s heart being through his stomach applies equally to women too. To be her paramour, it is paramount that you craft the perfect first date dinner experience.
As far as venues are concerned, your regular hole-in-the-wall – you know, the joint where the guy behind the bar is usually as drunk as the patrons – is not an option. You need a place that’s well-lit, safe, and where the music isn’t permanently at a volume that necessitates yelling in the other person’s ear as the only viable medium of communication.
The menu is a great way to keep the conversation going. Don’t just sit there staring at it like a doctor looking at a patient file, try and share a menu, talk about what you think looks good, what you might like to order, or not order. Use that as a segue to expand the scope of the conversation to include her likes and dislikes outside the world of food. You can usually tell a lot about a person based on what they order on a first date. Salad? Maybe she’s health-conscious or, possibly low on money. Paneer? Okay, playing it safe with something familiar, that’s an intelligent move. Fried chicken and beer? She is The One TM.
Courtesy and common sense dictate that if she’s a vegetarian, you don’t order pork ribs; and if she doesn’t want to drink, don’t push the issue and stay away from the booze yourself. You don’t have to do these things, but it would make her feel more comfortable and that’s what you want in a first date.
In my many, many years as a modern-day Casanova, I have come to realize that girls have a strange relationship with french fries. They love them, but society’s unrealistic expectations of what a girl’s body is supposed to look like means that they are forbidden from expressing this love. Thus you will rarely, if ever, see a girl order fries. Rather, she will wait for you to order them and then gaze lovingly at your general direction. While you’re distracted by the sight of her beautiful face, are lost in her eyes, and are charmed by her voice; like the sirens in Homer’s Odyssey, she will surreptitiously lure your plate of fries towards her and help herself to at least half your stash. And it is totally worth it. Always order fries on a date. Alternatively, if your date orders fries by herself, resist the urge to go down on one knee then and there.
As it is, India is a bit like khichdi, what with all the diverse cultures and languages stewing in one giant pot. Therefore, it’s highly likely that you and your date won’t share the same cultural background. You can make a highly risky play here by taking her to a restaurant that serves traditional cuisine from her homeland. The risk is that you might end up at a restaurant where the food is a poor facsimile of the real deal, which will definitely put her off, but you might still get brownie points for trying. If you manage to pull it off successfully, you will have made one hell of a positive impression. In either situation, the odds are that it will make your date more likely to open up and indulge in a conversation, even if it is all about how it is impossible to find good sambar in Delhi.
Of course, as you’re sitting there silently judging her, her well-trained eye is on you too. So order something that you will absolutely, positively not spill on your one good shirt. If you can eat a fat burger without ending up with melted cheese and assorted burger juice anywhere below your fingertips, go right ahead. She will be extremely impressed with that. But if you, like me, are a mere mortal who struggles to keep the rest of the burger within the confines of the two buns, perhaps you better stick to safer fare, such as pasta, biryani, or a steak without too much sauce.
Oh, and the fork goes in the left hand and the knife in the right. Now you’re good to go. Fare thee well, warrior of the heart. And get me a doggy bag.
Harish Alagappa is a writer, nerd, and amateur stand-up comic. He was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2006. You can find more of his work at porterfolio.net/harisha and on his blog, prefrontallobotomy.wordpress.com.
This is the second piece in a two-part series on first dates and food. Read the first piece here.