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Advice from Your Bartender: Having Your Date at the Bar

Two people kissing while sitting at the bar.

Can I buy you a drink?

It’s the catalyst for countless first encounters and a classic way to get to know someone on a first date. The social setting of a bar—plus a little alcohol—lets otherwise nervous daters wind down a little. It’s non-committal, meaning you don’t have to sit all the way through dinner. And having a drink takes around 20 minutes, which is a good amount of time to determine whether or not a spark is there.

Personally, I’m a bar dweller. It makes sense—I like talking with people, as well as being in my professional comfort zone, so sitting at the bar is my spiritual home in a restaurant. That said, I always ask my date if she’d prefer to take a table, because some people feel like they’re on show at the bar. It also depends on the tone of the encounter—are we there for an appetizer and a few beers, or a full dinner?

So how do you know when it’s good to sit at the bar and when you should go for the table? Let’s weigh out the pros and cons of a date at ‘the bar’ not just a bar.

Pro: You’re On the Same Side
For starters, sitting at the bar is a little more informal, which is ideal for a first date. The first date should be about getting to know one another, working out if the two of you would even be friends, before taking it to the next step. And it’s also psychologically more likely to be a successful date. Proxemics are a  nonverbal communication study of human spatial requirements and the effect that certain positions have on one another. (For example, the king sits higher than his subjects because he’s the head honcho, and those below him are more subservient.) In the case of the bar, you’re sitting side-by-side with your date, a setup that proves more fruitful than the classic ‘across the table’ date. At the bar, in terms of proxemics, you’re facing the same direction, working together toward the same goal. A table not only creates a physical barrier between the two of you, but also creates more of a feeling like you’re interviewing for the position of boyfriend or girlfriend.

(Pro tip: If the bar has a corner, sit there. Studies have shown that the most successful co-operation proxemics occur at a 120 degree angle.)

Pro: You’ve Got Help
The bar also has another huge advantage—the bartender. Use him or her as an ice breaker. If you arrive first (which I recommend; don’t be late), introduce yourself, and later, your date. The bartender can be used as an expert for pairing your drink with your food, an adjudicator in playful arguments, or (worst case scenario) as security. Good bartenders are trained to read situations, and if you’ve mentioned that you’re on a date, they’ll leave you alone until you need them. Hell, even if your date stands you up, you’ll stil have a sympathetic ear on hand. (And if you’re sitting at my bar, you’ll likely get a drink on the house. Keep your chin up.)

Con: You’re Not As Intimate
Of course, there are some downsides to the bar as your meeting spot. The fact that you have the aforementioned bartender there could leave some feeling like they’re on a three-person date, an understandably uncomfortable situation. Depending on how well your date is going, you may favor a more intimate setting. (Something a bar is seriously lacking.) The bar tends to be the focal point in a big restaurant, which incidentally will also make it harder, should you things start going the wrong way.

Con: It Can Distract from the Date
There are also more distractions sitting at a bar, from flatscreen TVs showing the game (a pet peeve of mine because they create that glazing over in customers’ eyes), servers bustling around behind you, or even other customers being drunk and/or just chatty. Finally, and this is from experience on both sides of the bar, it is far easier to exceed your limit of intoxication when it’s all just sitting there right in front of you, waiting for you to order it. Not that there’s anything wrong with getting drunk (it’s my job to help people get there, after all), but everyone knows that that alcohol lowers your inhibitions and your decision making skills—two things that are pretty nice to have on a date. While some of the best times have been made by bad decisions, you may regret them in the morning when you’re in a stranger’s bed staring at a new ceiling.

So there you have it—deciding to have your date at the bar can work for you, or against you. Use your best judgement and the tips above to determine if it’s right for you. At the end of the day, it’s all about having a good time… and if it doesn’t go to plan, you can always try for a do-over date.

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