A question that sends a jolt of mild panic down my spine: “You'll decide on where to go for dinner, okay?”
Maybe you’ve been texting this person for a bit, things are going well (or so it seems), and the time has come for both parties to meet in person to decide if the ~IRL vibes~ are right.
Call me an overthinker (which I am, in fact, very much so) but the one thing more nerve-wracking than going on a first date? Picking a place to eat at during the first date.
Where to go??? What to eat???
I don’t know about you, but I am terrible with restaurant recommendations. Especially when it comes to first dates.
Numerous search results related to addressing this query must also mean that others are facing this mind-boggling problem as well.
But despite all the help Google tries to offer, I can't help but be plagued by a tangle of worries:
What cuisine should I pick What if I choose a really mainstream place and he thinks I’m boring? What if I choose a hipster cafe and he thinks I’m trying too hard to be edgy? How expensive/inexpensive should it be? Is S$24.50 for a pasta dish too much? Will he think that I’m high maintenance? Haiyaaaaaa.
I worry (incessantly, I realise) that the place I pick leads to my date forming a particular, potentially negative, impression of me, which they otherwise might not have if they had just gotten to know me better first.
Also, some places are contentious because people either love or hate them (*cough* Saizeriya, *cough*), and it would be best if we steered clear of these places altogether on the first date.
I'm all for minimal stress
I know what some of you are going to say – if somebody likes me, they should like me for who I am and not be a judgey little sh*t just because I chose to eat at [insert name of eatery here].
But in my (possibly limited) dating experience, I have realised that the last thing I need during a first date is for my brain to be on overdrive, constantly second-guessing my choice of venue.
And if I get to pick, I am likely to pick a casual setting where I would feel more comfortable in.
(True story: Many donkey years ago, I went on a first date at a French restaurant in town. While the food was very good, and my date was very nice to me, I ended up feeling very self-conscious. I couldn't help but feel uncomfortable because of extremely attentive waitstaff and also because I couldn't, and still cannot, pronounce 'coq au vin'.)
That's it, I thought, if left up to me, all first dates should just take place at a hawker centre.
The case for having your date at a hawker centre
Just to clarify: I have nothing against going to restaurants or cafes. If my date has somewhere in mind, I'd be more than happy to go along with it. My problem is when it comes to me picking a place -- and when that happens, I'm picking a hawker centre.
If you aren't already convinced of how awesome hawker centres are, please hear me out.
The sheer number of options available at a hawker centre means that we don’t actually need to decide on a particular cuisine in advance. Which is helpful because it gives both of us o p t i o n s when the day rolls around.
Thai food? Tze-char? Western food? Noodles? Popiah? No problem.
The overall quality of food at hawker centres also tends to be better (according to my plebeian tongue of course, for I am no fine food connoisseur). So even if the date turns out to be a complete failure, I'll know that it will be a decent, wallet-friendly meal at the very least.
Another highly understated upside of going to a hawker centre is that neither of us need to worry about dress code, which means that we are free to dress more casually (potentially more comfortably as well).
(True story: I once wore a T-shirt and shorts to watch a movie with someone because I thought it was going to be a casual affair. He ended up wearing a formal shirt and jeans. I felt terribly underdressed and ashamed, and I have since learnt to ask, in a totally non-creepy manner: "What will you be wearing?" before the date.)
But more importantly, for me, assessing someone’s willingness to eat at a hawker centre is probably a good indicator of how high-maintenance said person is. And whether or not I can afford to be with them.
So if my date refuses to eat at a hawker centre, that’s probably not a great sign for our relationship.
The case against having your date at a hawker centre
In an old Reddit thread from 2017, some have pointed out that it’s really hard to have a proper conversation in a hawker centre because it tends to be a bit noisier. And because there's no air-conditioning, the place could also be rather warm and uncomfortable.
Fair points, I say.
But I would venture that the same could be said for noise levels in certain restaurants or bars, and regarding the point on stuffiness -- not all hawker centres are warm and claustrophobic.
I mean, if the meal is going well and you’d like to continue the conversation in a different environment, there’s always the option of going someplace else for drinks or a walk.
As suggested by one person in the Reddit thread as well:
Why, thank you, Kaix3.
(True story: I once met someone at a hawker centre near Beauty World for our first meal date. We ate Hokkien mee and popiah. We then wandered around the landed property estate in the area for fun and thought about the most frivolous things we would buy to put in our houses if we are ridiculously wealthy. I think it went well because there were subsequent dates.)
Ultimately, people are entitled to their views of what constitutes ideal first-date spots. And it all boils down to your preferences and/or what you’re most comfortable with.
For the record: I would totally prefer going to a hawker centre.
Top photo by author, Mothership reader.