Salon's social bootcamp: Is a swanky restaurant too much for a first date?

Readers ask Fancy, our etiquette expert, how to navigate tricky social situations and live their best life

Published September 6, 2016 12:00PM (EDT)

 (<a href=''>Kalinovskiy</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>/Salon)
(Kalinovskiy via Shutterstock/Salon)

Welcome to Salon's Social Bootcamp. Fancy is the pen name of Kirsten Schofield, a writer who spends her spare time considering modern etiquette, manners and social mores. If you have a question that's technical (Which fork do I use?) or theoretical (How shall I assess the unspoken rules of conduct at my new Pilates studio?), direct it to, and she’ll do her best to shepherd you in the direction of correct behavior.


Dear Fancy,

I'm a big fan of going out to a really nice dinner. I don't make a whole lot of money, but I budget for a special meal out about once a month. I'm a single guy who thinks that there's no better opportunity to create conversation and get to know another person's preferences than over great food and wine. With that in mind, sometimes I'm just down to plan a first date at an upscale restaurant. Is that too much? Am I sending the wrong message about intensity? Am I expected to one up it the next time?

Fancy Feaster

Dear Feaster,

Something that bores me about dating is that fancy dinners — you know, the kind where you get dressed up and decide to order the bottle of Soave instead of just a glass — get shelved until you’re pretty far enough into a relationship that you have an anniversary. You end up going out for a million coffees. It’s great that you like to incorporate this attainable luxury into your life and all the better that you want to share it with the people you’re dating.

Low lights and six courses for a gal that you have exchanged two messages with on OkCupid is almost certainly a recipe for getting trapped in an excruciating conversation about the relative merits of different shoe polishes. At the end of the night, you might have had some great food, but you’re going to be annoyed that you spent so much of your limited time and cash with someone you’ve got roughly a 1 in 10 chance of clicking with. Don’t do it.

Lest you despair, Feaster, let me assure you: There exists the ideal date for this kind of excursion. It’s the woman with whom you’re changing gears, like a co-worker with whom you have a great rapport whom you have finally asked out after months of quiet crushing. You already know you like her and find her interesting. So even if the sparks don’t fly, you’ve set the stage for a fun night. It also helps set a clear “Hey, now we’re going to try out being more than friends” tone, differentiating tonight from the happy hours that you and all the other folks from the office share together.

I don’t think if you pick the right person to accompany you to the chef’s table, you’re sending the wrong message about intensity or that you are creating unrealistic expectations for future dates. Say something like “I’ve been dying to try the tasting menu at that cool French place on Broadway — feels like a worthy splurge. And I thought you’d enjoy it, too” so she knows that (1.) This isn’t how you eat every night of your life and (2.) That you put some thought into whether or not she’d enjoy it.

I hope you find a spectacular companion for one of these outings, Feaster. Don’t skip dessert.

Yours in good taste that is easy to recognize,



Dear Fancy,

I’ve recently gotten back into the online dating game, and I’ve noticed a lot of men don’t list their height in their profiles. If they don’t say how tall they are, am I allowed to ask before we meet up?


A Tall Order

Dear Tall Order,

The worst part about online dating is when you have to actually meet the people, right? The guy you matched with on Tinder gives good text. But in real life, he’s rude to waiters and hates dogs. A man who looks like a young Paul Newman in his Coffee Meets Bagel profile borrowed one of his friend’s Facebook pics and passed it off as his own. Some dude you found on Bumble turns out to be afflicted with Nice Guy syndrome. It’s rough out there, and you probably have experienced at least two out of three of these scenarios. It’s natural to want to protect yourself from disappointment.

Unfortunately, you’re going to have to be disappointed sometimes. I’m not here to try to convince you to give shorter guys (or any guy at all) a chance. But I am here to dispense advice about how to be a polite and kind person, so the answer to your question is a hard no. If there’s no height listed on a profile, you can either decide to not respond to anyone who fails to tell you how tall he is (with the knowledge that you might sort out some guys who are self-conscious about being really tall or who simply forgot to fill that part out). Or you can meet up with people you click with online and let the chips fall where they may. Even if it’s true that you’re unwilling to date someone who is less than 6 feet 2 inches tall, that’s not germane to having a casual conversation with a human who is trying to connect with another human who is hoping might come to love him. You know, kind of like you are.

Now that we have the “Don’t tell someone you’re rejecting them for something that’s genetically predetermined” bit out of the way, let’s talk about what you do not have to do. You are under no obligation to spend your entire evening with someone you don’t have a spark with.

If you get to the appointed bar and your date is wholly unsuitable for you for whatever reason, you’re 100 percent permitted to finish your cocktail, pay your bill and say, “Tim, thank you so much for taking the time to meet up with me tonight. You’re a nice guy, so I don’t want to waste your time. I don’t think we’re connecting. Have a great evening.”

You don’t owe him an explanation about why you’re not attracted to him. Someone else in the dating pool thinks the thing you find unacceptable is fine or even great. You don’t need to create more doubt for another person with regard to his ability to love and be loved; we all do that to ourselves already.

Good luck in your dating endeavors, Tall Order. The right person exists out there for you, just like she does for your would-be suitors.

Yours from the short end of the stick,


By Kirsten Schofield

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