How to make a great first date impression — and it starts long before the date

Etiquette do’s and don’ts to help with those first date questions and jitters

Etiquette do’s and don’ts to help with those first date questions and jitters

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

We've waxed philosophical on etiquette before — from elevators and gyms to being a hockey fan and ghosting a party — but some subjects are a little touchier than others, like going on a first date. Maybe because it's a world of possibilities; you may encounter the love of your life, or you may encounter an awkward stranger that you can't wait to never see again. So we scrutinize the entire process by reading into what food your date orders and obsessing over how to make the best first impression. But regardless of the particulars, there are some rules that must be adhered to, to ensure you and your date have a good time, and if the object of your attention is not following such etiquette, politely refer them to this article, then show them the door.

The asking

Before the asking, there are a few things you should ask yourself first. Why are you asking this person out? Is it because there is chemistry/attraction between you two or is it because you find them attractive? Asking someone out simply because you're attracted to them is a sure-fire way to set yourself up for failure. You might like their smile, but it's a different story when it opens. If you do find someone attractive, take the time to communicate and develop a rapport with them (in a friendly manner) to see if there is a deeper connection there before moving forward. A successful date goes far beyond the initial attraction and, if there isn't a connection there, you won't come off too eager.

DO first find out if this person is single. If you don't know, simply ask them if they are seeing anyone — it's a polite lead-up to your intentions and gives them a considerate buffer if they are seeing anyone or they're not interested.

DO be simple and direct when actually asking them out. Use the word "date", so there's no ambiguity and don't hide it in a run-on sentence. Most importantly, this question should be formed as a question. A statement like "let me take you out on a date" has a stronger scent of ignorance than any body spray.

Figuring out the particulars

DO figure out what to do. If you are the asker, it's YOUR responsibility to suggest what the date will be. The worst response to accepting a date is "So...what do you want to do?". If you do have a fun activity in mind, by all means suggest it, but you don't have to go for broke either — so maybe leave skydiving off the table for now. If you genuinely just want to get to know this person (and save your wallet) there is nothing wrong with going out for coffee, drinks or a simple bite to eat. But NEVER take them to a movie — there's no worse way to get to know someone than staring at Meryl Streep for two hours.

DON'T be afraid to suggest a brunch/lunch date. While in all likelihood, an evening date makes the most sense, there's nothing wrong with an earlier option. If it's a good day date, you can progress it into the evening, but if it's a bad one, neither of you have wasted your whole evening and, if you're savvy enough, you might be able to find a rebound date to make up for it.

DO be geographically conscious. Unless you have a specific spot in mind for a specific reason, the location should be relatively equidistance between the two of you; something closer to your home comes off terribly lazy. Nothing says "unwilling to commit" like refusing to leave your own neighbourhood. While you're not obligated to pick them up (though it may make sense if they're en route), you should at least pick a place that they can easily access (if it's in the city, keep it on a subway line).

Should you research your date?

If you feel so inclined, DO a little online research on your date. If you know very little about them, a quick social media search could tell you enough points of interest about that person to make for an interesting evening (what they're into, where they went to school, what their interests are). DON'T scour the web, this is not a background check looking for dirt or their previous dating history, so if you feel tempted to FBI this, shut off your phone, turn in your badge and enjoy your date like a civilian.

The start

DON'T BE LATE. Being on time (or even a little early) doesn't make you seem too eager or less sexy, it shows that you are a responsible and functioning human being. The rudest thing you can do is waste someone's time so barring a viable excuse, if they're more than 15 minutes late, you're completely in the right to cancel and then roast them if they ask why.

DO get to know them first. Whatever activity the date entails, put that on hold and actually spend 5-10 minutes just talking with your date first. Sitting down and immediately looking at your menu says, "I'm just here for the food" so spending the beginning of the date on taking each other's personalities in goes a long way to establish an actual connection.


DON'T TOUCH YOUR PHONE! Seriously. There's no better indication that you mean nothing to this person or that this relationship will mostly consist of tilted heads than checking your phone on a first date. Put it on silent and put it in your pocket. If by some chance you're waiting for an important phone call or message, at least state so at the beginning of the date so they know what you're up to. Also, if you're bold enough to show your date a picture on your phone, please make sure there aren't any other unscrupulous photographs they might see. This is an introduction, not a rectal exam.

What do we talk about?

This is where the delicate balance begins — you want to impress but also be yourself, you want to get to know your date, but you don't want to launch an investigation.

Firstly, DON'T lie or alter your opinions; if your date likes you, it should be because you're you. There is nothing wrong with different opinions or interests. Healthy contrasts will spark more interest than total agreeance will. Secondly; baby steps. Get to know this person, but keep it relatively in the present, allowing them to present themselves as they are now. DON'T delve into their past or press them on their future — everyone has deeper twists and turns, but those are better saved for a future date.

Shall we drink?

This social lubricant can quickly turn into the slip n' slide from hell. You need to be honest with yourself and use your own discretion. It always seems amicable to have more alcohol, but what are you like after one drink? After a couple? Sloppy is not a word that should be used to describe your evening, so if you know you get messy after a couple drinks, make the first one last and know when to say "no". And if you feel like you need to drink to enjoy your date, this is probably not the date for you.

Who pays?

Generally speaking, it is the original date asker who should pay (this whole thing was their idea in the first place). However, the other party should at least make a good-hearted attempt to pay themselves, to show they're not just out for a free ride. There should be no splitting of the bill. If you can't handle the price, you picked the wrong place. If the second party would like to pay for something, there is an opportunity to do so should the date continue to another location.

What now?

DON'T one stop shop. One and done dates are boring. Anyone who thinks they can take you to dinner and then back to your place is tragically void of depth. Dinner can be followed by drinks, coffee can be followed by a walk in the park, something more adventurous like batting cages can be complemented with a trip to the art gallery. The second location should be thought out but not strictly planned; so it can be a semi-spontaneous option if the initial date is going well.

The end

DO be flexible with your expectations. Presuming all things go well and you would like to see this person again, there are no hard and fast rules on how to end the date. If you want to see them again, it doesn't mean you have to kiss them. Conversely, if there is a mutual, consensual attraction between the two of you, do what you may. Every bond and circumstance between two people is entirely unique to them and should be treated as such. Imposing rules and expectations to this interaction would be at the expense of your own feelings.

The follow up

Similarly, how you communicate post-date (assuming you would like this to continue) is totally up to you — this "wait a couple of days before texting" was probably invented by frat boys who had no clue what they were doing. DO be courteous about the date you had and be clear and concise about what you'd like to do in the future — many a miscommunication can be had with ambiguous texts.

The caveat

At any time during this process, there is absolutely ZERO obligation to continue it. If you feel uncomfortable or simply don't feel a connection with this person, politely say so and end the date. There is no point in either of you wasting your time if the interest isn't mutual and, while it may seem awkward in the moment, in the long run, this is the right move. DON'T let your honesty be mistaken for rudeness. A date succeeds on the interest of both parties and any sense of "owing" this person the date only prolongs the inevitable. You can make your exit graciously and ultimately, with good intentions. Similarly, if it's your date who decides to leave, DO show that same grace and character. A successful date is great, but a failed date is not the end of the road; it's a learning experience about yourself and the people you want in your life. So DON'T get disheartened if it doesn't go well. Consider yourself better prepared for when that great date comes along.