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Matchmaker Says: Dinner Date Venue Virtuoso

Since the good ole' dinner date is likely here to stay, professional matchmakers spill their restuarant venue criteria...

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Photography: Melvin Sokolsky, Paris

Photography: Melvin Sokolsky, Paris

Date planning shouldn’t fit into a dreary box! There are limitless options from museum outings, to music festivals to spa days. That said, the good ole’ dinner date is likely here to stay… and while meal-after-meal can begin to feel monotonous, a carefully selected venue makes all the difference. We asked the experts — what are the secrets of the most romantic restaurants? 

Gaby Aratow, Professional Matchmaker at Tawkify

  • Good lighting 
  • Charming decor

Not too quiet but no blaring music, which kills the mood faster than you can shout, “What did you just say?!

Candice Cain, Professional Matchmaker at Tawkify, agrees that lighting is essential:

Lighting absolutely sets the mood for a romantic date. I browse photos of the restaurant — if it looks either too bright or too dark, it’s a no-go. Restaurants with some sort of light source on the table, such as a candle or a tiny lamp are best.

Marina Brenner, Professional Matchmaker at Tawkify:

Romantic restaurants possess the right mix of energy, general ambience and good lighting! I seek out places for my clients where reviewers report popularity, but also that the restaurant is quiet enough to carry-on an intimate conversation.

In terms of ambience, I love wine bars and cocktail lounges for their relaxed vibe, the ability to easily share dishes and small plates — olives, cheese platters etc., and kick back in comfy chairs or couches. And, of course, the right lighting (as my colleagues have also reported) — I adore places with dim lighting, or better yet, candlelight — for that dreamy and ethereal quality.

Kimia Mansoor, Professional Matchmaker at Tawkify

My secret? Side by side seating!
 

Sitting next to your date allows for those sultry side smiles and possibly even a little physical touch (if the mood is right), perfect for firing sparks!

Joanna Mandell, Professional Matchmaker at Tawkify, says it’s all about cozy and cocktail:

My romantic restaurant equation:

Cozy (with a fire) + dim lighting + not too noisy + couches = the most romantic.

If no fireplace, a set of corner seats at a well equipped bar served by a great bartender will absolutely do the trick. If you run out of things to say, the bartender can fill-in the silence. I also prefer less food on the first date (small plates are best). Best to avoid toothpicks and food-in-the-teeth, both of which are not romance friendly. 

Remy Boyd, Professional Matchmaker at Tawkify:

Establishing an intellectual and emotional connection through conversation is the objective of most first dates. Naturally, the restaurant has the power to make or break the achievement of that goal. Restaurant choice might be as important as the match itself! Besides a variety of cuisine (that both parties will enjoy), key factors that I consider are ambiance, service and whether those factors impede or facilitate connection. 

Ambiance includes everything from restaurant layout to lighting, table size(s) and settings, music (genre and volume), decor and location. These are the elements that set the tone for the date. They should support the service and kindle the connection daters hope to make.

Good service adds to the romantic vibe exponentially! Timely wait staff trained with an intimate knowledge of the menu, in addition to making a couple feel cared for, boost the memorability factor! If the food and drinks are pleasing to the senses, it’s like icing on the cake.

Ngoc Tran, Professional Matchmaker at Tawkify:

Going against the grain here, but I don’t typically choose restaurants for first dates unless the client insists.
 

I’ve noticed a segregation by age group — clients 45+ tend to prefer dinners, as they are able to smooth over initial awkward small talk, while younger clients abhor the thought of being “stuck” for hours over dinner with a possible bad date (hehe)!

I believe the best first dates are planned to distract and educate — less sitting across the table from each other, forced into small talk, and more gradual interaction.
 

My favorite date spots are tastings — think: winery, brewery, cidery, distillery, chocolates, bakeries, you name it! These active venues give daters the opportunity to learn something new and set a basis of conversation.

If they can connect positively on a new, common topic, this greases the wheel for further, deeper and more personal information sharing and conversation. The amount of alcohol served is not enough to impair anyone which is a plus and who doesn’t appreciate a little of bit alcohol to dampen first date jitters, anyway!?

Melody Kiersz, Professional Matchmaker at Tawkify:

What’s romantic for one person might differ entirely from what’s romantic for another — so my client’s personality is the top deciding factor when choosing date venues.
 

Some clients like something more upscale while others prefer a more laid-back option. Regardless, there are a few components that apply no matter what. Such as, the decor and ambiance — dimmer lighting, sensual and elegant colors and textures, and background music that sets the stage. Also critical, the place must be quiet enough so two people can connect in conversation. Unobtrusive service that makes them feel taken care of and relaxed is also essential. 

Kate O’Connor, Professional Matchmaker at Tawkify:

As some of my colleagues have also expressed, romance is different for everyone. Some people feel uncomfortable dressing-up for dates while others insist upon it.

Personality rules the venue decision-making process.
 

For laid back daters, opt for a less flashy venue — something like drinks at a local brewery or vineyard. You don’t have to get too dressy and no one is in a hurry. It’s the perfect relaxing, low pressure environment.

If you are full of pizazz and flash, opt for a sexy place! I’m talking dimmed lights, good music, sexy drinks, and pretty presentation. I love sending my clients to rooftop bars overlooking the city or to off-the-beaten track speakeasies. 

Kathleen Dolan, Professional Matchmaker at Tawkify, reminds us that logistics matter…
 

When prospecting potential locations, I ask myself a series of questions:

Will both parties be comfortable here? For example, is it a long drive? Is there convenient parking? is it in a “safe” area? There’s nothing worse than arriving tired from a long ride, frustrated from challenging or expensive parking or from having to grab a can of mace to kill the romance.

What do others think? I read the reviews and focus on the quality of service. Constant interruption by under-achieving or over-eager service staff can ruin the romantic vibes. 

What does it look like inside? Outdoor views are fantastic for romance. Waterside or mountain-view settings provide fuel for the flames! Also, cleverly designed floor plans that enable clients to escape to a private setting are ideal. The privacy permits a little more “closeness” to connect.

Brigitte Weil, Matchmaker at Tawkify and author of Heartalytics column Eat Date Love:

The key? I only send clients to venues that I would also arrange a date for myself. My go-to favorites focus on sound level, physical space, and lighting. The noise level needs to be reasonable. There is nothing worse than not hearing what your date is saying — especially on a first date when both parties need to listen carefully to establish connection. 

My clients are concentrated in NYC (as am I), so I typically choose a venue from my go-to bar/restaurant list where I also know the table numbers and can request my favorites.

A ‘good table’ is vital.
 

The best tables are always in the corner, where two people can be in close proximity to lean-in and express interest. This creates a sense of warmth, comfort, and feels less like of a business meeting. Subtle, soft lighting is also preferred and most kind. There’s nothing worse than vivid attention called to the lettuce leaf stuck in your front teeth!

Alyssa Bunn, Professional Matchmaker at Tawkify:

True romance is felt through all five senses. When selecting a venue, I often pick a location based on the following qualities.

Sight — A venue should complement the personality traits of both people meeting. I select venues based on common interests, style, and ambiance. Universally, venues should be naturally lit for daytime, and soft and warmly lit for evening. Open and airy spots work best, and be sure to check out the seating arrangement if you choose the restaurant. Communal and bar seating is popular in trendy restaurants, but private tables with space lend way to a more comfortable setting to get to know one another.

Touch and Feel — Venues should feel native to both you and your date. Whether it’s nearby their home or work, convenient for the both of you, or just a place your date already enjoys or would like to try. Enjoying the space you are in and feeling comfortable in it will make both of you feel relaxed and more apt to be yourselves. Even more so, check the venue’s reviews, especially if you are going to a service-oriented place, like a restaurant or museum. The quality of the hospitality can impact the overall impressions made of each other.

Be sure you confirm your date’s dietary restrictions before the date.
 

Taste — Are they vegan, celiac, or a non-drinker? Having an understanding of your date’s diet will make them feel heard and respected, plus you’ll prove how thoughtful you are before the date even begins!

Sound — If the date is inside, I chose an atmosphere with melodic tunes. Music impacts our emotions, which in turn impacts mood. If the date is outside, I chose an area where nature can be heard, which allows people to connect with greater ease. 

Smell — Smell is the strongest sense tied to memory, so select accordingly (this includes what you’ve sprayed on yourself!). Personally, I do not recommend heavy perfume or cologne. Make sure to check for fresh breath as well!

Research indicates we have 60-seconds to make a first impression, but recent studies show we may have even less time than that! Control the senses, and set your odds for success!

Tania Abramova, Professional Matchmaker at Tawkify:

When selecting a restaurant, I consider three things — type of food, ambiance, and popularity. While it’s difficult to account for people’s varying culinary tastes, I’ve found that a restaurant with many options, including a wide selection of appetizers or small plates, is ideal.

Committing to a full meal can make the meeting feel too formal or set financial expectations that some are uncomfortable with for a first date.
 

Sharing an appetizer or tapas is intimate, easier on the wallet, and a fun collaborative activity. Another reminder for big city dwellers —  most popular/well-rated restaurants are often super busy. Being in a space that’s crowded and loud makes it difficult to connect with someone you’ve never met before. I opt for more low-key options that give daters a chance to have a real conversation without yelling over other patrons (or the music). 

Jennifer Magana, Professional Matchmaker at Tawkify:

When I am curating a first-date, I am very intentional. It’s my job to create a unique experience. People remember how you made them feel… and we all know that they way to a person’s heart is through their belly! So what venues make the cut? My romantic restaurant checklist:

  • Unique
  • Hidden gem
  • Owner has a great story
  • Location has top-tier ambiance
  • Food crafted from the heart
  • Establishment takes pride and care in customer’s needs/experience

I run through that list and if a place checks all my boxes, it’s a hit! I research unique restaurants with amazing food, delectable treats and drinks. The best spots I’ve found have been compiled into a go-to list.

Some of the matchmakers you’ve heard from here were also interviewed by NCR Corporation on this topic! Read more here

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