Eat at the bar. Sure, fine, I also mean a plate of wings at your local dive or a burger while you watch the game, but when I say eat at the bar as a step to becoming a man, or, a better man, I mean at nice places. Places you might not get in wearing your favorite sneakers or sans sport coat. Places with mirrors and dusty, expensive bottles of booze where your local watering hole might have a bank of televisions and forty different flavors of vodka.
And to be clear, if there are more than two of you, or, space-dependent, three, you’ll have to experience this some other time. Three at the bar is strained, conversationally in a busy place, and four means you’re starting to cut into the barman’s tips, always something to be avoided.
Sit close to the service bar (that’s where they make the drinks for the servers to take to their tables)- that’s where the bartenders will spend a lot of time on busy nights, which means you can strike up a conversation without distracting them from their job. It’s also where the servers and managers will be checking in. It’s where the action happens on busy nights, and a good bartender making good drinks while picking up on the gossipy tidbits and that the waitstaff can’t help but share amongst themselves is as good a form of entertainment as you’re likely to need.
You’ll see a lot of the food there, you’ll catch a lot of the drinks and usually the bartender will be happy to share what’s worth his time crafting and your time consuming and what’s not.
Start with a drink. Not a glass of wine and not a glass of beer. Get a cocktail. Something clear. Something stirred down and served up. While you’re working your way through that, get a recommendation on what to eat from the bartender. Theirs is a skill position and they make their money with that so they aren’t afraid to undersell the overpriced dishes in favor of what will best compliment the drink they just poured you. I would, in fact, follow their recommendations down the length of the menu and let them time the meal for you. Get an Irish Coffee with dessert.
Taking a date to the bar for dinner is an oft-overlooked way to give yourself an advantage. The bartender, if he’s any self worth about his profession, will only help ease the tension, break up the awkward silence, get you drinking well and eating all the right food. The people watching is a good distraction that, at the bar doesn’t make you look like you’re trying to get out of there, and you can always resort to talking about whatever is being ordered all around you. In short, there’s no better wingman than the right bartender. Tip him accordingly at the end of the night.
Life happens at the bar. If you want to sit and catch up with an old friend, the bar is the place to keep the conversation lively and the drinks coming, and you won’t feel rushed out of your seat so the waiter can squeeze two more guests at the end of dinner service. If you’re meeting someone for the first time, it’s easier to bow out of a poor connection at the bar. If you’re nervous, if you’re not comfortable with fine(r) dining, if you’re a bit of an introvert, sit at the bar. Trust me.