Impeccable Table Manners

Emma and Gervase

I once knew someone who approached dating with the mantra “What would Madonna do?” It served her quite well for a while. Madonna wouldn’t go for second best (baby), Madonna wouldn’t let them bore her to death, Madonna would make sure the conversation was at the very least 70% about her, Madonna would not get hysterical about splitting the bill. Adopting the virtues or channelling the spirit of someone you admire when on the lonely treadmill of dating can be quite empowering, until you realise the ultimate truth: Madonna would not, under any circumstances, be sitting in the Royal Oak on Columbia Road, waiting for a 7.5 who’s “running a bit late because of the buses”, nursing a flat gin and tonic (Gordon’s as well, your cup runneth over). No, she’s in Hollywood, or unpacking her Ocado delivery in Marylebone, adopting someone, ordering her next toy boy off the internet.

Goodness knows which celebrity mottos have driven Emma, a 27-year-old social enterprise events coordinator (¯\_(ツ)_/¯) and Gervase, 28, civil servant, together, but let’s hope it’s more early-era ABBA than latter stages of All Saints when someone says the word “jacket”.


Read what happened on the date before we pull up a chair and stare at them both really intensely until they squirm.



“A good time with a nice guy” sounds like an advert in the back of Boyz. “A good time with a nice guy” has a veneer-perfect smile and his Aussiebum briefs pulled right up his… anyway, never mind. I doubt this is where Emma is going with this one. “A fancy meal” – almost a surefire sign you’re going to be sent to make romantic overtures at the worst table in Islington Wagamama.


Values. I have got to the grand old age of 41 without knowing what my values actually are, so congratulations to Gervase for working this out already, at 13 years my junior. Although, somehow, I’m not sure this is something to celebrate. What should my values be? Do I really not have any? Are they just bland statements of things I vaguely believe in? Let me try come up with a few values:

– Crisps are acceptable in an emergency only.
– Don’t ever patronise – it means “talk down to”, in case you were wondering.
– I believe wifi passwords should be all lower-case with NO numbers or stupid symbols.



WHAT was he reading, though? I guess in every perfect romcom – which this answer would suggest we’re heading for – it would be her favourite book, or something classic and beautiful. Or perhaps, because it’s 2017, something powerful and political. But I would have way more respect for Gervase if it were something like The Carpetbaggers by Harold Robbins, or a book about emojis, or the latest Andy McNab.

“Pretty cute.” We’ll take it. Let’s stop things here. Just get married so we can all go home.



Oh good. A bike. My favourite. Cockblocker-in-chief, not just a third wheel, but an extra two, leaving tyre marks all over your wretched body as it speeds off into the night, carrying our last hope of a first-date shag with it.

At least she wasn’t doing dry January. But with a bike outside, waiting – that’s assuming she left it outside and didn’t have it on a seat next to her, suggestively feeding it oil and cooing into its spokes – she may as well have been.




Sounds wild.


This is nice. I love those excruciating brief exchanges with the waiter when you very, very obviously haven’t so much as glanced at the menu and yet they’re over to your table every verse-end asking if you’re ready.

“Or would you like a few more minutes?” they say, not meaning it at ALL, because the longer you take to order, the longer you’ll take to eat it which means they’ll be very pointedly polishing glasses and dropping cutlery all around you at the end of the night to get you to leave.


It’s not often the waiters get a cameo in the column but when they do it’s usually because they’ve quite actively tried to build up their part. I’ve recently read quite a few listicles and explainers about what you should NEVER say or do to a waiter – there is obviously a trend of being rude to them or something, because I don’t remember these handy guides being a thing when I was a waiter. You can tell a lot about someone by how they treat staff in any service environment, really, although restaurants are certainly the most revealing.

Be polite, be respectful, appreciate they have a lot of work to do, that it’s unlikely they’re going to be very well paid, don’t use it as an opportunity to see what it might be like to be a junior member of the Royal Family, be calm and reasonable if you need to complain about the food and, generally, mind your Ps and Qs. All solid advice.

HOWEVER, let’s not forget that occasionally waiters can be the biggest wankers on Earth, often for no reason, and it works both ways. If anything, a rude waiter can be a bonding experience on a date, as it will give you something to talk about in the pub after when you’re wondering whether you should kiss them or not. So just endure the server’s barbs and eye rolls and bitch about them later. Needlessly sassing a waiter is usually a boner-killer; no good can come of it.



I’m always amazed by how excited people get at someone pouring wine for them. If it’s white, they’re pouring chilled into tepid and killing the joy. If it’s red, they’re pouring fresh wine into that claggy, horrible soup-like residue that’s already in the glass. And if it’s rosé, everyone’s gay so it doesn’t matter.

Please don’t pour my wine. I don’t like it. And that also goes for waiters. Posh restaurants that insist on squirrelling away the bottle and then reappearing with it when my wine falls below a certain level are my WORST nightmare.


Oh whatever.



Look, we may well be painting our ears shut and clutching our stomachs in boredom at the thought of conversations like this but do you know how BRILLIANT, and UNEXPECTED, and INVIGORATING it is to meet someone interested in what you have to say? It hardly ever happens on dates, especially in London, that great big casserole of ME ME ME where all anyone can talk about is the cost of travel, pubs that have shut down, how much they hate luxury apartment developments (that they actually secretly want to live in), East Dulwich, bad drugs and popups.

Dating in London – which is another subject lots of people like to talk about when actually on dates in London, bafflingly – is usually just two people in haircuts they can’t afford pushing their specs back up their nose and reciting the last issue of Time Out they read at each other. So THIS development makes my heart sing and you can’t take it away from me.


KIND like a stranger on a train who hands you a tissue to blow your nose. Although they’re not actually being kind as such; they just can’t listen to you Dysoning up snot through your throbbing sinuses for a minute longer.
CONSIDERED like the Cryptic in The Times.
INTELLIGENT like a self-checkout machine that somehow knows that Creme Egg you placed in the bag was not dried apricot.


SMART like the dress code at a funeral.
ALTERNATIVE like nobody who claimed they were ever turned out to be.
OPEN-MINDED like your wokest of woke baes with all the best memes.



I’m going to be honest here, Emma, and say the whole date sound light on LOLs, but better to be a bit serious and interesting than three hours of endless fucking bantz bantz bantz bantz bantz with mind-bending jokes and witless negging, like you’re in the audience for a male comedy duo’s test show for the Edinburgh Fringe.

I am dour as hell and it never did me any harm or kept my sheets empty.











OK, well this isn’t the slightly salacious or hopelessly romantic answer I was expecting. Why does it matter you ordered the same thing?

People who go on like this in restaurants do my head in.
“Oh we can’t order the same thing; it will look stupid.”
“Hey, do you mind if I order the same thing as you?”
Know what? I don’t care. Order what you like. Don’t spend an extra 20 minutes desperately scanning the menu for something else you like so that we’re not “matchy matchy”. Who cares? The waiter? They just want you to eat up and get out. And if you’re thinking of getting something different from me so we can both try a little of each other’s THINK AGAIN. Your fork stays on your half of the table – don’t be dangling it over my linguine like a dick over a urinal.

“You can’t order that, I’m having it” – yes this fills me full of hope for our future if you’re already dictating what I can eat on our first date. I can tell this is going to be a very tranquil and easygoing forever.



Maybe he wanted to take her number or something. I don’t know. She could’ve emailed it to him. People still do that, don’t they? Or, I don’t know, found a pen? Do they still make pens?



These are hopeful. I… I feel something. Thing is, these two have ostensibly been very keen and yet they are quite hard to read – almost as difficult to crack as that novella Gervase was pretending to be engrossed in when Emma arrived – so I’m not sure if these pretty good scores mean anything.

Often people mark down when they don’t want to appear too eager, but sometimes they mark up, to somehow disguise their lack of interest. Thank goodness, then, for the last question – possibly the only one most participants answer truthfully and directly.

Emma, after that  9 – a NINE – how are you feeling?



See? That nine was a nothing. There are some people who can’t tell if there’s a spark until they snog, which I find a bit odd because surely it’s the general feeling that there’s this mythical spark that gets you to snog them in the first place, but for Emma true love’s kiss was not waiting for her at the back of Gervase’s meat-free throat.

And Gervase? Would you? Could you?



More: No blog next week.

Photograph: Linda Nylind, Alicia Canter, both for the Guardian

Disclaimer: The comments I make are meant to be playful and humorous and are based on the answers  Guardian chooses to publish, which may have been changed by a journalist to make for better copy – Lord knows they need it sometimes. Anyone participating in the date would usually be made aware of this editing process before taking part. If you are the couple in this date, please do not take this personally. It’s about what you say, not who you are. If you want to give your side of the story,  or send in your original answers, just get in touch and I will happily publish any rebuttal or comments you might have.

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  1. Oh Gervase! I really thought you had a good thing going then. Probably a good thing really considering the bike. Brilliant as always!

  2. Lovely, as ever. Maybe I am in denial, but I still think there’s hope. She thought that he thought that she was ‘too serious’. And so she denied the spark…..But she gave him a 9 because she really likes him, and that’s not embarassing as long as she isn’t unrequitedy fancying him …. could be?

  3. My brother-in-law once told me I ‘wasn’t allowed’ to order the same meal as my husband in a restaurant. Had it not been a family dinner on the last night of an otherwise reasonably pleasant holiday, I think I’d have been well within my rights for him to end up wearing it. Just eat what you like FFS!

  4. Huh. I think he’s way cute. On values: I read that as code for “political views” – someone who isn’t racist, homophobic, a climate change denier etc. That is the most important to me (looks follow).

    1. Have you never done that, though? Liked them in the moment, before separation makes you reconsider and see them in a different light? I have, quite a few times. In fact, I think it was more common for me to really like someone but never want to see them again than it was to have a complete horror of a date.

  5. I had a flatmate who got home from an internet date in under an hour – when he arrived at the cafe she was reading a book called something like “all men are dogs, they just need to be trained”. Being “bookish” is not always positive.

  6. I’ve snogged someone then realised I didn’t like them afterwards. You feel like the worst person in the world. It’s better to end it instead of dragging it out. Hopefully they both find what they are looking for.

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