First Date Etiquette with Gray & Farrar


March 18, 2013 | BY Soo Jin Kim

Claire Sweetingham, head of operations at the British luxury matchmaking firm, imparts some tips for that all-important first meeting

First dates are always tough – it’s a universal truth regardless of what our age is. Who chooses the venue? Who picks up the tab? What do we do once the date ends? When should we call each other again – and who should make the first move? With so many questions, it’s a wonder that relationships can form at all.

To help us navigate through our confusion the old fashioned way is Claire Sweetingham, head of operations at Gray and Farrar, a London-based elite introduction company with more than 20 years of experience. With more than ten years of professional matchmaking success, she draws upon both intuition and experience to share her first date etiquette tips.

Before the first date

Resist the urge to  Google or Facebook stalk a potential love interest, says Sweetingham, no matter how curious you are about their interests. It’s a double-edged sword – one click on the Internet and you have too much information about the other person, “ruining [the] romance” and the potential of “getting to know one another, unfolding yourself slowly, and really falling in love,” she explains. After all, do you really need to know the other person’s inside leg measurement before the first date?

The first phone call to set up the date is just as important as the date itself. This is, afterall, your first point of contact. “The first call should be brief, should be a bit of a giggle, and it should be to arrange to meet,” she says. Some of her clients have made the mistake of treating the first call like an interview and revealing too much, something that should be left until the date itself.

“Until you’re in the same room as one another, you’re never going to be able to tell that much about each other,” she warns. Remember, the first date is where you really reveal yourself to each other – not over the phone or over Twitter.

Once the offer of a date has been accepted, it’s time to start thinking about the venue. Men can’t go wrong with asking the women if she has a favourite place and whether he should book it. “That’s gallant and girls like to be made to feel feminine,” notes Sweetingham. She also suggests meeting up for early evening drinks to take the pressure off of committing to dinner straight away. But leave your evening free for a possible meal, so if everything goes well, you can continue the night together.

During the first date

Unless you’re Lionel Richie, often the first hurdle is running out of things to say after “Hello.” If that’s the case, don’t fret. If you followed Sweetingham’s advice and met up first for drinks, you can always make your excuses for the evening and go your separate ways. 

Once dinner or drinks is over, a dilemma inevitably comes up: who pays? It’s not just the men who would prefer the women to share the financial responsibility. There are some women who become mortally offended when they don’t share the tab, and some who feel that men picking up the bill is gallant and courteous, as Sweetingham reveals. 

The best way to avoid this potentially awkward situation is for the women to offer to split the bill, and for the men to decline and pick up the tab. “It sounds a bit silly,” says Claire, “but everybody will feel comfortable, because she’s offered and done the right thing, but he has declined and settled it. I think that’s the nice way to do it.” It’s the perfect win-win situation.

After the first date

By the end of the first date, you will have decided whether there is a possibility for a second date or not, based on the evening’s chemistry. Regardless of which it is, it is necessary to demonstrate honesty and good manners in either scenario. Remember, genteel graciousness is always preferable to catty cruelty.

After the date, send a text or a note to thank him or her for the evening. If it didn’t work out or if you’re not feeling it, be honest and don’t play games. “I think just to be completely straightforward is by far the best way, and the kindest way,” says Sweetingham. “Just be honest. Speak from the heart and you’ll never go wrong.”  Tell the other that you’re not sure the chemistry was there and wish him or her the best of luck in their search.

If the chemistry is there and you are interested in meeting again, Sweetingham suggests honesty and forthrightness. “If you meet someone you like, go for it,” she says. She also recommends not following the outdated rules of dating etiquette that advise waiting for a certain amount of days before talking or meeting each other again. This is the 21st century, not the olden days of Jane Austen with nosy chaperones.

For those too shy to make the next move, Sweetingham suggests phoning or texting to thank for the evening, especially if he paid. If the other is interested, the conversation will no doubt lead to the subject of meeting again, which you can then accept graciously.


No matter how painfully nervous or anxious you are, remember that some things are impossible to fake or force. “You have to instantly click and that is something that nobody can predict, or assist, or manufacture a scenario for that to happen,” says Sweetingham. There has to be some sort of chemistry, urges Sweetingham. So although what you feel may not quite be a ‘thunderbolt’ moment, as experienced by Michael Corleone when he met his first wife, you need to at least feel something. So if you find that certain someone with whom you can click with, consider yourself lucky and plan for that second date.

Brush up on your dining etiquette with Kristine Stewart, the director of the Hong Kong Institute of Etiquette

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