Photographs: Sarah Lee, Sonja Horsman/The Guardian
Impeccable Table Manners

Patrick and Olivia

This week, we have 35-year-old estate agent Patrick and Olivia, 26, who is a buying assistant. Let’s see those “posing like you’re in an awkward candid snap at a school reunion” bodies in full. If you take it that the answers that appear in the thought bubble are the highlight then… well, you can forgive me for not leaping out of the bed this morning. My partner had to light a fire under it to stir me. Also: why is it a thought bubble now and not a speech bubble like it used to be? Is this to convey that the Guardian now collects the answers through telepathy?

Anyway, this is them:

Photographs: Sarah Lee, Sonja Horsman/The Guardian

Yeah. Well, we’re here now so we might as well plough on. – please always do this, without them we can’t be here – and then I’ll get on with the seasoning.

Patrick on OliviaOlivia on Patrick
What were you hoping for?
A fun evening with someone nice.
A sudden romance or exciting crush.

Patrick’s answer is very “man who writes ‘I never know what to put here’ in his Tinder bio”, while Olivia seems to have sent Darrell Rivers from Malory Towers along to fill in her first question. “An exciting crush”! Crushes aren’t generally exciting, are they? Not for long, anyway. Unless they are quickly requited, crushes soon become dark and gloomy, a raincloud over you. Your heart ,ay flutter when you see them, but theirs is closed off, stone. The coolness and the distance of it stays with you long after you’re out of their company. Well, I assume it’s still like that; I haven’t had a crush on anyone since I was about 19 and closeted. Perhaps in the days of Insta-stalking, subtweeting, and everyone generally being an annoying bastard, perhaps are actually quite a pleasurable hobby.

First impressions?
She looked stylish.

Anna Wintour watch out.

First impressions?
Big business guy. He wanted to order steak for starters and steak for main.

I googled “big business guy” just in case it was a cultural reference I’d missed – I can’t watch all of Netflix, can I? – and saw lots and lots of pictures like this:

Like, oodles of them. The world of very literal stock photography is quite something, believe me. In a former life I worked on a corporate website and image research was the worst part, because all business-related imagery is this bad. All of it.

Anyway, the “big business guy” ordered steak twice – on perusing the menu I can see it will have been steak tartare followed by an “up town steak”, whatever that is. So, not strictly sitting there eating two great big cuts of cow on the bounce. I sometimes worry that my starter is too similar to my may main course – can I start with salmon and then have a different fish for my main course, for example – and then I have a lightning bolt. Who. Cares. In most cases – not applicable in this one, but still – you are paying for this meal, right? You can have what the hell you want. Who are you trying to impress? The waiting staff? Honey, you’re just a table number and a potential tip to them; forgotten before you even hand back the card machine. Worried some random passerby is going to “take to Twitter” to talk about the stranger three tables away who ate food made from the same plant or animal across two courses. Quel scandale! Even the person sitting across from you, or other diners in your party shouldn’t care too much because – newsflash – they don’t have to eat it! They can order their own! It is worth remembering that while a lot of the rules and niceties around etiquette can be useful and perhaps even comforting, some of them are there to keep you in your place and expose anyone who doesn’t belong or to make life difficult for you. Eat what you like. Have steak over three courses. No steak on the dessert menu? Ask for a kilo of steak haché to be dumped atop your flourless brownie.

(It appears, on further reading, they were sharing food so perhaps Olivia was not a very steak kind of person. In which case, DON’T SHARE. BYE.)

What did you talk about?
Living in London/Brighton, bad housemates, our jobs, travel stories, why we like cycling, and how good at her job Crystal the server was.
He was a great conversationalist. We spoke about everything from bikes and terrible flatmates to Naples and negronis (he had his first that evening).

Glad to see Crystal getting a shout-out.
Bad flatmates = ✅
Bikes/cycling = ✅
Negronis = I thought they were only a summer thing. Maybe this date was August or something. I hope so. Because I don’t think I could cope with year-round evangelism over one of the world’s worst cocktails. Synovial fluid, condensation from a window of a packed waiting room in a GP surgery, and a large helping of an under-liked out-of-focus Insta pic uploaded at 3:56am, poured into a glass and served up to those people who always stuck behind in the queue for Wagamama. Your drink, sir.

Any awkward moments?
When I dropped guacamole in my drink – I don’t think she noticed, though.
There was some great live music, but there was a period where we couldn’t hear what the other was saying without leaning in quite intimately. I think I’m an awkward queen, though.

Big business guy. Awkward queen. Olivia is half-meme through her paternal bloodline.

Good table manners?
He was up for sharing food, which I rate. But he got up to go to the loo while I was still eating.

Brushing aside the sharing thing because we’ve done this too many times, I am intrigued by Olivia having a problem with Patrick going to the bathroom – I hate saying “loo” it’s so twee and I always imagine a “loo” as a grotty downstairs lav with a bright orange toilet, a crumpled towel on the rail and a toilet brush that contains potentially Earth-destroying bacteria. What’s the problem? When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. See what I mean about these strange rules that people have? Would she rather Patrick had sat there, bladder pulsating, belly swelling in huge discomfort, while she sat chewing her food to macrobiotic specifications?

Going to the loo is never as simple as it sounds. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, maybe one day you will. For example, there is a trend now for theatre shows to run without an interval, and to say that anyone who has to leave the auditorium won’t be readmitted. This is to avoid disrupting the show for both the actors on stage and the rest of the audience. And this is fine to most people – only an hour and a half, they think, I can manage that. But what if you… can’t? What if you have a condition that means you might have to go to the toilet at any time? There are quite a lot of them. What if you need special facilities, and your one accessible loo, probably isn’t available before the show starts, either too busy or – as often happens in restaurants and pubs but not usually theatres I must admit – is closed. “Sorry for the inconvenience.” Rightio. What if you’re a woman queuing the usual 7 miles for the three cubicles that the men who planned the building have deigned to offer you? Do you get there earlier? Do you not drink anything for two hours before? Or do you simply… not go? I have IBS. I can’t go anywhere that has that rule. I made it through Fleabag, but I was “careful” about what I ate (still no guarantee) and tried not to get too anxious about it. Tried. But other times, on hearing those words “no interval, no readmittance” – sometimes too late, because (yes my own fault) I didn’t check when I booked – then I panic. I don’t become hysterical, or cause a scene, but I sit, outwardly calm, inwardly panicking. I don’t enjoy the show that much, I can’t concentrate, I think about how much I have eaten and drank that day, imagining it all waiting to surprise me, ruin the night for me, make me leave the auditorium as the audience shouts “Shame!” or “Enjoy your shit, mate!”

If you can go 90 minutes without taking a leak, then congrats, but if you’re in charge of an event, or a show, or anything like that, you need to sort your toilets out and make them accessible in every sense of the word. Have the interval, anyone not needing the loo will be glad of the gin and tonic. Otherwise… they just won’t go. Simple as that. And eventually this will become your problem.

This affects millions of people, and we have a real issue with public toilets in the UK. People policing who can use them, or trudging up to the eighth floor of a department store to use the one destroyed cubicle, the lack of availability, the guilt and shaming, the absolve STATE of most of them, “toilets for customers only”. Time to fix this, I think.

Best thing about Olivia?
She’s fun, and she introduced me to negronis.

Would you introduce him to your friends?
Not as a love interest.

“A love interest.” Hahaha.

What do you think she made of you?
I think we got on well, and she said I was a sweetie at the end of the night, so I’ll take that.

I think calling someone a “sweetie” at the end of the night is an absolute guarantee it’s the last thing you’ll ever hear them say. It’s a participation prize, but it’s not the trophy.

What do you think he made of you?
He probably thought I was a weirdo.


And… did you kiss?
We didn’t kiss. A peck on the cheek when we said goodbye.
A friendly peck.

As loaded with sexual intent as having a budgie mistake your lips for an unopened box of Trill, by the sound of it.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
I would have probably put the band in another room. It was quite hard to chat with someone playing the drums 6ft away. They were very good, though.

I think, on reading this date, you’d have been better off sitting in another room? With… someone else? Someone who doesn’t mind you going to the toilet, maybe?

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
I would probably have made the date a different night so we could have gone on somewhere. It’s difficult to know after one dinner.

It is a shame, I guess, that Olivia’s lasting impression of Patrick is that he’s a double steak-ordering Negroni virgin with a toilet obsession – but that’s what these dates are, a snapshot of the ridiculous.

Marks out of 10?
6 as a love interest. The night was a high 9.

Did Olivia win the rights to use the phrase “a love interest” in a copyright raffle or something? Does she get a fee every time it appears in print?

Would you meet again?
I’d be happy to if our paths crossed.

Hmmm. Best of luck with that, sweetie.

Would you meet again?
We didn’t swap numbers.

Hope a love interest – there’s another mention, buy yourself a steak with the money – comes your way soon, Olivia.


Patrick and Olivia ate at the Curtain, London EC2. Fancy a blind date? Email If you’re looking to meet someone like minded, visit

NOTE: The comments I make are based on the answers given by the participants. The Guardian chooses what to publish and usually edits answers to make the column work better on the page, but get in touch if you want to give me your side of the story; I’ll happily publish whatever you say. See you in the queue for the loo.

AND FINALLY: For Diahann Carroll. A true ?.


  1. Going to the loo.. last night I saw a bit of the Graham Norton show, with Helen Mirren and RuPaul. And they were discussing the funny/mean things that queens can say. Graham related that among his friends they had a jokey thing, when someone returns from the loo, you turn to a 3rd person and loudly say, “Now tell it to her FACE.” Which got a genuine laugh from me but.. it’s too mean to use. Because even if you make clear it was a joke, there’s no way the person isn’t going to have a tiny suspicion that they really WERE being gossiped about.

    Great funny write up as usual, a weekend highlight for me. And love the gif selection. RIP Diahann.

  2. I thought he was cute though a bit boring in the responses – like you said he probably writes “ I don’t know what to write…” ?
    I have to agree with Olivia re. Going to the toilet in the middle of eating. A first date is like an interview – you wouldn’t leave to the toilet unless there was an specific biobreak or you have declared a pthology such as IBD or an UTI. Most people should be able to hold it for the length of two courses – waiting until the desert or the bill are natural breaks and you can go then.
    “Love interest” – yuk

  3. Fantastic, I always enjoy your bashing of Negronis! Your writing is wonderful, and your unexpected detours are so intelligent and well-observed. Thank you for providing a lovely Sunday ritual.

  4. This is perfect! Nearly spilled my tea reading your responses!

    Also, totally agree with you on the loo thing. I have IBS too and sometimes the fear of not being able to go just brings it all up again. Viva la toilet revolution!

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