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[Image: Robyn Lee]

Dear Molly,

Getting back into the dating scene brings with it the fact that at one point or another, I will be going out to a restaurant with someone. Perhaps I'm just over-thinking it, but other than knowing what the other person's dietary/allergic restrictions are, are there any big no-nos when it comes to choosing a place for the first time going out to dine? Just trying to avoid a faux pas.

Thank you for your help,
Here We Go Again

Dear Here We Go Again,

You sound like a lovely date. Your thoughtfulness should serve you well out there.

It's been quite sometime since I was on a date, so, as always, I hope readers chime in with comments and suggestions that don't occur to me. Drawing on memory, common sense, and the recent experience of friends, I have a few ideas for you.

First, you want to keep it easy and casual. First dates and subsequent dates* can be awkward, even when things are going well. The quiet of a hush-hush formal restaurant can be a challenge for established couples, but can become an absolute buzz-kill for more fragile situations. Yet you don't want to have to yell to have your date hear how many brothers and sisters you have or where you went to college, either. Think lively but but not so trendy or bar-like that the decibel level becomes a challenge.

I suppose some might suggest that you avoid overly messy food or things that are tricky to eat. Garlicky or spicy cuisines might be out of the running for some as well. All of these suggestions, however, assume a fairly staid idea of romance and what's attractive that may or may not apply to your situation.

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Escargot on a first date? [Photograph: Ben Fishner]

In any case, you're right to consider your date's dietary needs and preferences. You don't want to take a vegetarian to a steakhouse or someone allergic to shellfish to the new oyster bar downtown. When setting up the date, simply ask if there's anything they don't eat.

You also want to think about location. A venue convenient to wherever they're coming from and going to will help highlight your thoughtful nature and make the occasion easy for your date. Don't make your date drive all over the place. (I'll admit to projecting my own dislike of driving here.)

If you've proposed the date, you need to come up with the spot (you seem to know this already, but I feel the need to make this clear for everyone). None of this "Where do you want to go?" nonsense. The onus is on you. After gathering the information above, look for a place where you can talk but not feel the need to fill every pause, where there is plenty for you both to eat, that's conveniently located, and that fits your taste and budget. Did you notice that last bit? It's important. You need to choose a place where you're going to feel comfortable and be likely to enjoy yourself, since that's when we're all at our best and you want to shine.

Finally, present your choice and ask if that works for them. Bonus: this exchange should give you a bit of insight into them. Most of us appreciate it when other people take on the task of making plans. Unless they have a solid reason for suggesting a change (i.e. they got food poisoning there and wouldn't return for anything), fussiness at this juncture might not be a red flag, but let's just say that it wouldn't overly impress me.

*My sources tell me that restaurants are horrible for actual first dates. They seem to all agree that meeting for coffee or drinks—casual, short, with an easy out after one beverage if things aren't clicking but the possibility to order seconds if things are humming along—is the way to go. Another option is a weekday lunch. There's a natural time limit as people need to get back to work, it's easy to keep it super casual, and a nice lunch is always a treat.

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About the Author: Molly Watson honed her ability to guide others in tricky situations by telling her little brother the best way to do everything. See what she has to say beyond dining at Ask a (Sensible) Midwesterner. Catch her work as a recipe wizard at Local Foods.

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