Etiquette Suite

September 22, 2013

The First Date: Part One

the first date

— Rochelle Soetan

Once you’ve communicated your interest to the other party, extended a dinner invitation, and reviewed some basic protocols, you are ready to venture forward with the first date.

  • Meet, Greet and Eat!

When you arrive at a date’s home, be prepared to meet and greet anyone else in the household including parents, children, or roommates. This is a timeless courtesy. There is no need to go overboard with chatter; just a few minutes of conversation and connectivity will suffice and show your interest, then it’s out the door. A prolonged exchange with coffee and rugelach will have to wait!

Most dates involve some kind of meal, whether it’s at a fine restaurant or a quick bite at a local deli. Restaurant reservations can be made one week to 24 hours in advance depending on the venue and in one person’s name only. Everyone has different tastes in food and environment and one person’s idea of an appealing ambiance might put a damper on another person’s vibe. Therefore, it’s important to ask for recommendations in advance. Both people should speak up if they do not care for certain cuisines or sceneries. The last thing you want for you or your date is to be uncomfortable.

  • Grooming at the table

When table manners are used in the privacy of your home, they are easier to use in public when dining out. Consideration for your date and others is the rule governing good table manners. It is unappetizing for others to see someone talking at full gallop with food protruding out of his mouth, making noises or singing while eating, smacking or creating a mess on his clothes or the table.

Couples will occasionally order opposite dishes, and each wishes to try a taste of the other’s. Never stick your fork into your date’s plate. Tasting another person’s food without an invitation is disrespectful and distasteful. This rule may be permissible if done unobtrusively and when you and your date have agreed to say, share a piece of pie on the same plate but with separate utensils. Otherwise, he could put a small portion of the moussaka with eggplant on the edge of her plate. At the end of a meal, a woman may quickly powder her nose, touch up her lipstick, or comb her hair – but never at the table. Personal grooming should be limited to the restroom. These rules apply to both men and women. Good table manners always will make a good impression.

  • Splitting the Check: The “Who Pays” Dilemma

Men and women who go out regularly often pay separately for their meals. When each person is paying for his or her own meal, order what you can afford. However, for the first date at least, it is customary that the man pays unless both parties have agreed in advance to share expenses. In some cultures and regions, the “man always pays” rule is still observed, especially in the early stages of a relationship. Older men and women who grew up with this traditional rule might find it hard to conform to the new formality of today’s society.

It is wise and thoughtful to keep finances on the back of the brain, especially when the place is pricey. With consideration, you could stick to the middle price range, unless your date is ordering for you. If your date suggests doing something additional such as going to a concert or cruising out of town for a day, then it is only courteous and reasonable for him or her to split the extra costs.

  • Money Matters

No matter the simplicity of your experience, ALWAYS be prepared by taking your own cash or credit cards. You never know when you’ll need to hike a taxi alone! As it relates to personal matters, asking about a date’s income is out of line. So is disclosing your own financial status, particularly in an effort to impress the other person. Plain and simply put – it’s a bad idea. Mind your money matters and mealtime manners and have a great first meeting!

**Stay tuned for part two of The First Date where we will explore limitations, public displays of affection and politics and religion!



Rochelle SoetanRochelle Soetan is the columnist of The Etiquette Suite, a new and innovative column of The Journey Suite. The monthly themes here will explore the employment of courtesy, the continuity of chivalry and many common protocols for connections made between singles on the dating scene. Rochelle is a veteran of the protocol arena, a published author and global activist for the empowerment of women and girls. She is the founder and director of Pearls of Poise LLC, Washington DC’s flagship premier Etiquette and Civility Academy and facilitates personal etiquette training, group workshops and customized tea seminars upon request. E-mail: