clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

How to Actually Decide on a Restaurant

Eliminate the tyranny of choice by offering a more manageable decision

Two hands holding glasses filled with red wine toast at the center of a table Milosbeo/Shutterstock

This post originally appeared in the July 15, 2019 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.


“Picking the perfect venue for a date is tricky,” was the sentence that kicked off An Eater’s Guide to Manhattan Date Spots — an exhaustive guide we published in 2017 that helped those who date in-and-around New York manage the endless options for a perfect venue. It’s a helpful, thorough guide, but wow do I hate that opener looking back at it now; what I really should have said is that picking the perfect venue for a date is next to impossible.

As someone who works for a food publication and is inundated with options for restaurants and bars, it’s one of the occupational hazards in my life: I’m always expected to decide where to go on a date. The “where should we go?” question (replete with the “can you just decide?” subtext) makes the should-be-simple choice of where to go for a first-date drink with a musician, after-work dinner with a video producer, or weekend lunch with a bozo feel hopeless. I used to make the other person decide even though they’d urge me to, but now I simply present a bulleted list of three options and say “You pick!” The move is: Whittle down the options and let your date decide from there.

The whittle-down is key to easing the pressure for everybody: the person who has to make the final decision knows that whatever they choose, the first person will be happy — as they’re working off their list. Meanwhile, for the person who’s been tasked with making a daunting decision despite the fact that your date is 1) a total stranger and 2) someone whose taste preferences you are not yet (and maybe never will be) privy to, they are now relieved of decision paralysis. Everybody wins! Even if this ends terribly!!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to spend way too much time whittling it down to three options, taking into consideration endless factors like neighborhood (don’t be a dick and pick three options that are only convenient for you to get to), price, cuisine, and the ever-elusive vibe. Your best bet is to have the three options vary a little, i.e. don’t just offer up three wine bars that offer charcuterie boards. Maybe suggest a semi-fancy cocktail bar that doesn’t sell food but is near a casual dinner option if the date ends up going well; a wine bar with live music and yes, charcuterie and cheese plates; and perhaps the taproom attached to a local brewery, or any other place you think might work well. Tailor-make the hell out of the list. Because once you’ve sent the options off for your date to pick, your job is done.

The key to the whittle-down is that you need to be truly ready for any of the options your date chooses. This should not been seen as a test for your poor date whereby you cancel if they pick the divey bar with bad lighting that you suggested.

And hear me out: this strat totally works no matter what stage of the relationship you’re in. Say your girlfriend or husband or partner of 13 years is incredibly indecisive to the point of hair pulling. Eliminate the tyranny of choice by offering a slightly more manageable choice. Just present them with three options and say: “You pick!”

P.S.: For some LOLs about “first date food” rules, check out this satirical look at the “best” and “worst” foods to eat on a date.

Sign up for the Sign up for the Eater newsletter

The freshest news from the food world every day