Should You Ever Cook Dinner on a First Date?

Food and love go hand in hand. For Valentine’s Day, we’re exploring this fiery connection in all stages of a relationship, from a first date to living together to breaking up.

When it comes to a first date, Jess Felton refuses to go for drinks, grab a coffee or take a walk. It’s either dinner or no date at all.

“Dinner dates used to be the standard,” said Ms. Felton, a 40-year-old influencer in Brooklyn, N.Y., who posts as @ohuprettythings on TikTok. “But dating has become so casual.”

To her, a dinner date is more than a meal. It’s a litmus test for how seriously a man takes her.

Indeed, any sort of first date can set the tone for a relationship — and presents a number of panic-inducing questions: Should you dress up, or down? Should you act like yourself (a person who spends an hour hyping herself up for a two-minute phone call) or an idealized version of yourself (a person who regularly brushes her hair)? Perhaps the most polarizing question of all: Should you go out to dinner?

The dinner date has become a contentious topic hotly debated in Reddit forums and group chats alike. Some singles demand it, like the woman who became a TikTok star by ordering 48 oysters, potatoes and crab cakes on what was meant to be a cocktail date. (She was left, unceremoniously, with the bill.)

Others warn gravely against it. You’re trapped at the table, at the whim of the service and with no exit route. And matter how much you enjoyed the company, you may be stuck with a hefty tab at the end.

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