The question I get asked most often is: “Where should I take my romantic interest on a date?”
When you ask me this, I secretly congratulate you on “dating.” The media often presents a rather skewed vision of college life, with claims of “rainbow parties” in middle school (I thought rainbows were the things that came after rainstorms) and incessant “hookup culture.”
I’m not convinced that things are really any different. I hear about coffee dates all the time. If romance is dead, the need to mutually self-coffeinate is not. As you get older, coffee becomes booze.
But the principle remains.
There’s obviously no simple answer to the original question. A few relevant considerations: what’s the occasion? What’s your budget? Dietary restrictions? Willingness to travel? For the purposes of this post, I’ll discuss first date options here.
Let me make an aside to say that often, a cafe or restaurant might not be the ideal first date. If you feel like straying from straight-up conversation, try some of the following: ice skating, checking out a cool boutique, attending a street fair or other local happening, doing something horribly touristy, or exploring a new neighborhood (say, Chinatown or the North End). You’ll probably get a better sense of your date by seeing them in the wild.
Still, the tried-and-true coffee date a good option. My favorites in Harvard Square are Crema Cafe (try around 4-5pm on a weekday for your best chance at snagging a seat) and Algiers (sit upstairs, if you can get a corner table, all the better). Crema serves excellent sandwiches and pastries, and Algiers does a good Arabic coffee and some decent Middle Eastern dishes. If you feel uncreative, Starbucks works, too, smacks of generic coffee date-ness.
If you want to do something more formal for a first date and are hunting for a restaurant, my major piece of advice is to keep your audience in mind. If you take a adventurous, food-loving person like myself to Bertucci’s, you are not going to score any points for clever locale. (Which is not to say that snobbery is ok.) While the gesture may be well-intentioned, it’s like handing a card in hideous “Papyrus” font to a typographer – it shows a lack of interest in the other party and/or deficiency in your moral character.
Similarly, if you’re picking a place for a vegetarian, don’t choose Brazilian barbecue. If your date has ridiculous dietary restrictions, figure this out BEFOREHAND so you don’t end trying to get Wendy’s to create a gluten-free, meat-free, fat-free, dairy-free, sugar-free entree. It ain’t gonna happen. Better yet, don’t take this kind of person on a date that requires eating. Or in my case, don’t date them!
Another thing to keep in mind is the mood you’re trying to create and how you want to present yourself. Pick a cafe if it’s meant to be quick and low stress, a restaurant with low lighting if you’re having a bad skin day, a place with booth seating if you’re looking to sit close to him/her/zyr.
With this kind of philosophical understanding of dating, you can ask me again for advice and I’ll be able to answer helpfully. “So, Lingbo, I’d like to take this girl who is a lacto-ovo vegetarian out somewhere nice and moderately priced, preferably in Harvard Square, Porter, or Inman. Somewhere romantic would be nice.”
To which I’d reply, try Elephant Walk?
And I’d smile inwardly that you’re making an effort. Because that counts. She’ll appreciate it.