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Restaurant date dilemma

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I was asked on a dinner date by an acquaintance and we plan to go out next week. He claimed to be a foodie and said he knew a “great little place.” Because I am a chowlady, I naturally asked what the name of the restaurant was. Anyway, I’ve heard some not-good things about this restaurant, and some online research and my own chowhound intuition confirmed that it was basically a bad to mediocre joint way, way past its prime.

My dilemma: I have a really hard time eating crappy food and pretending to like it. I went on another date (with another guy) who took me to a miserable sushi hack shop. The sushi was of such low quality that I was unable to eat it (it smelled fishy and the one piece I had was gross), which he of course noticed and asked me if I liked the food. I was honest and told him that it wasn’t the greatest sushi I’d ever had and that I knew other places in the area that were significantly better. No second date (not that I cared in that instance.)

So. Should I just go and order something as basic as possible and do my best to like it (assuming the restaurant is as bad as it seems to be?) Would it be tacky to suggest a different restaurant? (Just to be clear, I would just make sure my new suggestion was around the same moderate price point. I don't want to come off as angling for an expensive meal, just a good one!) I could always feign some kind of allergy… which is 100 percent untrue, as I have no food allergies and don’t want to be trapped in some kind of food fib.

Yeah, I know I seem to be focusing on the food and not the date. I just don’t want to come off as rude if/when my food arrives and I can’t conceal my “yuck” reaction, especially since this guy seems to like the restaurant.

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  1. That sure seems to be a dilemma. I suggest you take him to one of your own fav restaurants and tell him you've been craving to go there for weeks and want to share the gourmets with HIM. Lovely partner and fab food makes the date!

    2 Replies
    1. re: jo_k

      I disagree unless the OP wants to pay for the date! It sounds like OP is expecting him to pay, and if so, I think it is not polite to ask to go somewhere other than where suggested.

      I say, if you like the guy, or think you might, go to his place.You never know, you might be pleasantly surprised. If you like the guy enough for a second date, than you can choose, (and pay) and over THAT dinner you can discuss why you like your place better (if it turns out you do).

      If you don't like the guy and don't think you will, seems like a cancellation is in order.

      1. re: susancinsf

        Depends on if the guy gave her any wiggle room. He asked her out and probably wants to show her a good time. If he assumed he knows best and that's where they're going, that's one thing. But if he said he likes that joint unless she has some suggestions/preferences of her own, that's another.

        I'm not going to touch the dynamics of the possibility of Mr. Masterful Knows Best. No, no, not me!

    2. "Should I just go and order something as basic as possible and do my best to like it (assuming the restaurant is as bad as it seems to be?)"

      Yes. It sounds like this is a first date and, IMHO, being taken to dinner is like being given a gift. A gift which must be accepted with an appropriate level of gratitude even if it is not 100% to your liking. This person apparently thinks he has come up with a great suggestion (and he may have put a lot of thought into choosing what he believes to be just the right place) and suggesting another restaurant may be slightly hurtful or come off as rude.
      I suggest the following:
      Order the simplest thing on the menu (maybe even create a post asking hounds who have been there to name the dish that was "the best of the worst").
      If it is truly bad, try to smile and cover your disappointment.
      If he notices you are not eating your food and asks about it. Simply reply "I had a big lunch". You may actually want to eat a big lunch in case dinner is bad.
      If you continue to date, you choose the place next time.
      If there are more dates and he suggests the bad restaurant again, you can reply " that place wasn't my favorite" and suggest soemthing else.

      Good luck- It is an awkward situation.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Honey Bee

        Note - unless I know it will be a really great meal, I usually "pre-eat" just in case...

        1. re: Honey Bee

          Agreed. But I find mediocre food tastes better when you're really hungry! I also think that something basic like a poorly made chicken cesar (or other salad with protein) can be a lot more edible than bad sushi. If you really can't eat it, I would forgo the comment about knowing better places in the area - you could even say, "they mush be having an off night" or "I ate something for lunch which didn't agree with me" - or try to find something positive to focus on.

        2. I absolutely would not recommend another restaurant...Go to this one, and if you go out again, then you suggest the restaurant...

          1. If you like this guy, go. When you get there, ask him what dishes are his favorites (since it's 'a great place'). Select the one that sounds best to you. If you don't like it, be honest and say so as nicely as possible. Just in case this actually turns into a relationship, you don't want to start it out being dishonest.

            2 Replies
            1. re: mojoeater

              Good call - it depends on how much you like him. The sushi experience seems to have been a first date never-before-seen kind of person, but if you will be "acquainting" with this one again, best not to be dishonest.

              1. re: laurendlewis

                And hey - he might actually know the best food there and you might like it!

            2. I have a sidestepping idea- why not be a little busier and see if you could just meet for dessert and drinks- it's pretty hard to screw up dessert- you can always just get sorbet or ice cream or something like that. I almost always used to prefer my first dates to be just a little on the shorter side...you know, to leave each side wanting a little more :)

              1. *Would it be tacky to suggest a different restaurant?*

                yes, it would. he's being gracious and inviting you to dinner. you obviously like him enough to want to go. once there, ask him what he recommends and make the best of it. you may be pleasantly surprised! if you enjoy his company and want a second date, you can offer to treat next time.

                1. What is your priority: the guy or the food? If it is the guy, then suck it up and go to this place with the idea that you can visit good restaurants together if you hit it off. If it is the food, then cancel the date and go eat exactly where you want to!

                  1. Jumping on the bandwagon on this one: go and try to find something you like and (chowhound sacrelige alert!) try not to think/worry about the food for the night. If the date goes well but the food is awful, you'll end up with a great story about how he took his chowlady to some horrible restaurant on the first date.

                    Also, don't worry about concealing the reaction...if the food is that bad, then there it is. As mojoeater so wisely pointed out, just be honest and things will go as they should. Good luck!!!

                    1. The last thing you want to do is get caught in a lie...especially on the first date.
                      "Oh, I'm allergic to seafood, let's go to ... instead."
                      Three months down the road, when you order the shrimp scampi, there are going to be issues.

                      You've been invited on a date by someone you (presumably) like. Suck it up, go have a meal wherever he wants. Enjoy the company, enjoy your night. If you don't like the food, smile anyway. Next time you go out, you suggest the restaurant you want to go to.

                      Maybe a couple years down the road you guys can laugh about your first date when you tell him you really don't like the place. And who knows...you may be surprised and find something decent to eat.

                      1. I would have said something like "Oohh... I've heard mixed reviews of that place -- I'd love to have dinner with you though -- how about place X (someplace similiar food/price range) -- I hear they make a great Y." Because if he is nervy enough that an alternate restaurant suggestion is going to offend him, I wouldn't want to be dating him anyways. YMMV, of course.

                        What you shouldn't do is anything that is un-true to yourself -- and that includes pretending to like bad food. You date people to get to know them (well, usually), and part of getting to know people is to learn stuff like "Oh wow, she really knows and cares a lot about food."

                        Now..... I have gone out to restaurants where I knew I would hate the food, because I liked the guy I was with that much. And usually I ended up saying something like "Yeah, I don't really like the Y -- but bad food is good price for your company," and smiling.

                        edit: Caveat --- this assumes the invitation is not to someplace horribly expensive.

                        1. Suggest a new place. Make up a lie about already going there recently and having a bad experience than gently suggest a place you have been wanting check out.

                          1. Plus as I'm sure we've all experienced, some people actually do think that crappy food is great. . . . we can't all be blessed with good taste buds. If that ends up being the case, you might want to rethink the guy!

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: laurendlewis

                              "everyone thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor, but we can't possibly all have good taste and a sense of humor..."

                              1. re: laurendlewis

                                I'll have to agree with this one because this used to be me when I was dating... my parents rarely went out to eat, and when we did, it was some type of Asian food. When I finally could afford to eat out (like eat the cheapest), I was known for saying, "Denny's is my favorite restaurant!" My husband (my date then) still teases me about it! This place has got to be better than Denny's, right?!

                              2. Daddy Jfood reporting for duty.

                                With little jfoods in the dating game, jfood will give the same advice to you as he would to little jfood. The first date is an experience like none other. Each are a little nervous, each wondering what will happen, each wondering if this is a good match. The Last thing you want to do is throw an already imbalance equilibrium off the cliff.

                                If you upset that delicateness before you even meet then you immediately be characterized as "that b*tch". Go with the flow and see if you like the guy. Who knows you may like him so much and him liking you that halfway through the meal he may say, "this place is horrible, let's get some ice cream." Touchdown.

                                Mrs jfood tells me all sorts of horror stories that made the first date the last and only date. Likewise jfood tells her of the OMG's jfood went through.

                                Who knows, the guy may show up dressed like Travolta in Saturday Night Fever; he may have doused himself in cologne before the date or may have forgotten to shower all together. Who knows what goes through the minds on single guys/gals on the "first date."

                                So why create a pre-date imbalance. Eat enough that your stomach does not gurgle, but not so much that you could not eat something, just in case the chef hit one or the conversation is such that you have nothing else to do (hopefully not).

                                So just gotta suck it up, see if there is chemistry and hopefully in a date or two you discuss the resto versus one of the couple choosing it.

                                Have fun and enjoy.

                                1. Just go. You'll find something to order and you'll survive.

                                  If there is a second date, you can suggest the place. And if you end up with the guy, you can remind him for years to come about the crappy place he took you on your first date. Hopefully he will have learned a thing or two about food by then!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: valerie

                                    Lets not lose track of the fact that the OP hasn't been to the restaurant yet, so she (and we, by extension) don't _know_ that the restaurant is bad. It may yet turn out that this guy knows from food and knows things about this place that others don't. Maybe not...but we don't know yet :)

                                  2. I'm not sure why, but my first instinct upon reading your post was for you to try to share things with the date, meaning try to share an appetizer, agree to try each other's entrees, split dessert, etc. That way you are both trying everything and the likelihood that you'll be on the same page about the place will go up. It also gives you something to talk about: "Ooh, these frog toes are overcooked." "Really, I like mine well done." Sharing also means that you being generous toward one another, but you don't have to eat too much food if you don't like it since he's helping you clean the plate.

                                    I don't envy you, but I also think there is a chance for some first date solidarity if you both find the place underwhelming... A "story" for your first date about how you ate something entirely bizarre or poorly made.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: slowfoodgrrl

                                      Sharing food, aside from a shareable app or dessert, is a little weird for a first date unless you are hitting it off big time. For me it's too much of a 'lady & the tramp' spaghetti thing.

                                      1. re: laurendlewis

                                        Yeah. If I was on a first date and he asked for a bite of my dish, I'd be pretty turned off.

                                    2. Oy, tough one. Not many people honestly believe they have terrible taste. I get nervous around anyone who wears the label "foodie" proudly, and not in a Jim-Leff-hates-foodies kind of way, more the sense that you should prove it by showing it, not crowing about it. I also like to recall that once upon a time I drank white zinfandel and thought it was pretty cool, among other youthful embarrassments.

                                      Everybody has to start somewhere, and exploring restaurants together is one of the better romantic pursuits I can think of. So I guess I like the strategy of not puncturing the famously fragile male ego with a better suggestion at first, eating ahead of time and claiming a forced late business lunch or somesuch, and working around to the notion of choosing the next place.

                                      If he really has promising instincts (if not yet well-developed taste), you'll soon be given the steering wheel. If he insists on continuing to take you to awful places, maybe that's a leading indicator of long-term incompatibility anyway. Better to figure that out sooner than later. Life's too short to eat at The Cheesecake Factory.

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                                        Excellent advice. And once upon a time I drank white zin because it perfectly matched the color of my dining room walls!

                                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                                          If he offers you a glass of white zin, turn and walk away.

                                          1. re: laurendlewis

                                            I hope you're joking, and I'll tell you why.
                                            When I met Mr. B, the only wine he knew was white zin. His meals consisted of processed, packaged foods. Dinners out were fast food.
                                            I've gradually introduced him to a world of different things. He now knows the difference between a merlot, pinot noir and cabernet. He has learned to appreciate ethnic cuisines both at home and in restaurants. I've cooked so many things that he has never had in his life, and never knew were so good.
                                            My point is, even if the guy has bad (or no) taste, it is very possible to be compatible and for the OP to slowly teach him to appreciate other things. It can be done, and I see no need to be so harsh as to write a person off because of their food tastes.

                                            1. re: QueenB

                                              Hear hear. Of course, I still suspect one guy didn't become a boyfriend because he looked down on my white grenache (awesome koolaid of wines! and such a pretty colour).

                                        2. "Can't conceal my 'yuck' reaction"...

                                          So play it VERY SAFE. How bad can a plate of spaghetti be?

                                          What you're really looking for is a way to be honest, but still spare your friend's feelings. And I can't give you that, but I CAN suggest perhaps the least offensive way to fudge on your temptation to slam the place.

                                          When asked "wasn't it wonderful?", make that waggly-fingered "so-so" gesture and say "maybe I didn't choose the right thing, but the wine was wonderful and the having a special evening with you was really special!"

                                          1. Timeframe, February 1980. Jfood a grad student in chicago calls the future mrs jfood and asks for a date while jfood's spring break. Happy happy she says yes. Now mrs jfood is a real looker and jfood is an ultra-poor, in debt, grad student, so basically jfood can afford a movie, maybe popcorn.

                                            Jfood picks her up and they go back to Momma Jfood's house to pick a movie. Well jfood looks at the lovely mrs jfood and does some quick calculations and figures she's hungry. Drats, no money to take her out. We get to momma jfood's house and look in the fridge. Hmmm, some turkey and some bread. Okeedokee, jfood offers a turkey sandwich and all the plates are in the dishwasher. So there the future jfoods standing in the kitchen eating two turkey sandwiches over the sink.

                                            Do not even remember the movie or if we had popcorn. but three months later we're engaged, three months after that we're married.

                                            And that was 27 years ago.

                                            So the food will not matter if the chemistry is right. Go to the resto, enjoy the company and if possible enjoy the food.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: jfood

                                              Love that love story, jfood. Great.

                                              And your last 2 sentences sum up my reaction to the OPs question also.

                                              eeee, hope you and your date have fun.

                                              1. re: jfood

                                                I was a grad student in Chicago in 1980 and one of my favorite dives was Ribs N Bibs. Know it? I agree-- go on the date and enjoy yourself. If you determine ahead of time that he does not know the restaurant or care to try it if you have a better suggestion, then you can go somewhere else. But, you have to inquire about how he came up with this selection very delicately so as not to hurt his feelings if it turns out he's really into it. I think that the person's company is more important than the restaurant. Good luck. Let us know what happens.

                                                1. re: jfood

                                                  Aww, I love that!

                                                  On my first day with my boyfriend, we went out for pho, my choice. A few weeks later, we went out for pho, again my choice. The third time I suggested pho, he confessed he really doesn't like pho, he just wanted to go along with me the other times. I thought that was so sweet! We've been together three years now.

                                                  If I were into a guy, I wouldn't worry too much about what restaurant he wanted to go to on our first date.

                                                2. Dont worry about the food. You're not dating the food but the man. Concentrate on him.

                                                  1. From his point of view, I'd want you to be honest so he guy knows what he's getting into - a date with a person so obsessed with food it seems to cloud her ability to have a good time. (Shudder.)

                                                    But since we're advising you, not him, I will say you need to ask yourself whether a potentially fantastic relationship is worth sacrificing based on the chance - just a chance - that the meal might not knock your socks off. The answer should be pretty clear: Suck it up, go on the date and try to focus on this guy and your connection with him.

                                                    Jeez, it's one meal. You'll eat again.

                                                    1. i think the atmosphere of the restaurant is more important, you'll be able to find something edible. and i doubt he's going to make a huge deal over whether you like the food, usually only people that really know good food IMHO do that.
                                                      i recently had a similar experience, be sure not to sit in a booth that has a really harsh drop lamp between you. how can you make eye contact staring directly into the sun?
                                                      if you like the guy, and you're comfortable there, the food won't matter so much.

                                                      1. Have been in this scenario many times before. Just smile and say, "Great." The last thing you want to do is come off as high maintenance. There are more important things in life than a bad meal. Just order simply and enjoy yourself. Next time (if there is a next time), you can suggest the place.

                                                        1. He had the good taste to ask you out, maybe his tastes will pan out. Go, eat, drink be merry. Don't "out think" yourself.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: starlady

                                                            As I guy I don't think I'd find any offense if a lady called back and said I've dying to go back to XYZ restaurant and I'd really like to go there with you. If she was that excited about going to this place why would I say no? A happy date is much more fun and now I'd have no question as to wether or not she'll like the restaurant I chose. If on my first date with someone and they wouldn't touch the food it'd likely kill the rest of the date with negative vibes.

                                                            If you're concerned that his choice will make for a bad date, then I'd call and try to swtich. As you suggested try to keep it in the same price range and maybe a restaurant with similiar food so as to avoid HIM not liking the place of your choice.

                                                          2. I hope after all this discussion she responds and lets us know how the date went!!!

                                                            1. It all depends on how you feel about your date. Several months ago, I was invited to have breakfast, not at a local diner/greasy spoon, but a chain restaurant. I thought of calling and suggesting another spot but thought that I would just roll with it to see where this was going. If he was worth a second date, I would take him to a place that I liked.

                                                              There was no second date. He didn't turn out to be a particularly nice person and I'm glad that I won't ever have to go and eat at that chain again. At least I didn't spoil a spot that I liked with the memory of being there with the wrong person.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: Zengarden

                                                                "At least I didn't spoil a spot that I liked with the memory of being there with the wrong person."

                                                                Very interesting.... I'm sure everyone has a story like "oh that's the place I went with ___" or "my boyfriend and I got in a fight at ___" or something like that.....
                                                                I know someone who won't go to a particular coffee shop because she's convinced something else 'bad' will happen after she had a fight with a friend there.

                                                              2. This sword cuts both ways. Years back, I carried on a relationship for waaaaaay too long, simply because the gentleman in question and I were so perfectly matched in our food adventurousness and in our tastes in venues. I truly was putting the food experience and "food-partnership" before the real relationship. In my case, the relationship had no real promise and really was just about the food. It took awhile to extrictate myself -- and it had less to do with the man, than with the restaurants where we were regulars, as I didn't want to give up my usual haunts as a way of avoiding him. It's funny, in hindsight, and I wish I had ended it sooner. But we did have some great meals together.

                                                                Thank heavens I didn't marry him.

                                                                My dear, sweet Hub could eat cold hotdogs straight from the wrapper and gas-station nachos for supper (and I suspect that he wants to, sometimes). He gags at a lot of the stuff I eat. But he's game for the give-n-take, and the relationship is based on things other than food. The Hub tries to expand his food likes, and I stand back and let him for the most part.

                                                                Give the dinner a go, as most have suggested. People are more than what they choose to have for dinner.

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: cayjohan

                                                                  "People are more than what they choose to have for dinner."

                                                                  Agreed. When I met my husband, the only thing he ate for dinner, and I mean 5 times a week, was spaghetti with Kraft parmesan cheese straight out of the green can (if you can call it cheese).

                                                                  He had never eaten sushi, pesto, smoked salmon and about a gazillion other things. Those are now 3 of his favorite foods.

                                                                  While I wouldn't say that he eats anything and everything at this point, he has come a looooong way and he is always game to try (most) new things at least once. I even laugh sometimes when he suggests going WAY out of our way just to get that next excellent meal.

                                                                  1. re: valerie

                                                                    I can beat that. My man was a power lifter back in the day, and used to boil ramen and eggs, then blend them together until he could drink them down. Most efficient way to ingest carbs and protein. Other than hot sauce, he had no spices in his apartment. Now, he's the first to head to the International Foods aisle and experiment. Wish we had decent ethnic grocers in the area.

                                                                    1. re: mojoeater

                                                                      Hi - just wanted to thank everyone who weighed in with advice. I had as little chemistry with the guy as with the restaurant (which was 90 percent empty on a gorgeous night when every other restaurant was packed - even he figured it out eventually. Actually, I liked the restaurant a lot less than my date, but I don't think I'll be returning to either.) we had a good time anyway. if we go out again (platonically) I'll be sure to pick the place!

                                                                      I wish there were Chowhound personals!