With a menu that’s roughly 42,374 pages, there’s something for everyone at The Cheesecake Factory. (That’s only a bit of an exaggeration; the menu is more than 20 pages long and contains 250 items.)
But as a chain restaurant ― even one beloved by Drake ― does it work as a first-date location or is it too pleb and “family dining” to make the cut?
That’s been the debate on social media since a TikTok video went viral showing a woman refusing to get out of the car when her date takes her to The Cheesecake Factory on a first date.
“This is a chain restaurant. Who takes someone who looks like this to a chain restaurant?” the woman says, speaking directly to the camera while her hapless date stands by.
Some wondered if the video was staged ― the argument ends on a satisfying note, with the man respectfully telling his date he would drive her home if she didn’t want to go.
Shortly after the TikTok video dropped, a list of 28 places where women refuse to go on a first date began circulated online. The Cheesecake Factory made the list, as did Chili’s and Chipotle, but there were also some innocuous places included, like a coffeehouse or a bar.
Julia Bekker, a matchmaker and dating coach, took issue with a bar date being included.
“A bar for just drinks is fine!” Bekker told HuffPost. “Dinner is not mandatory. You don’t even know the person yet, so meeting up for drinks is completely acceptable.” (Her tip? Choose a restaurant bar so you have the option to eat if you are enjoying each other’s company and get hungry.)
Admittedly, both the viral TikTok and the list seem like deliberate rage bait, but the reality is that planning a first date in 2023 is hard, especially as restaurant prices continue to rise faster than the rate of inflation.
“There is so much anxiety for the first date to be perfect,” said Adam Cohen Aslatei, the managing director of Tawkify, a national matchmaking company.
“Many of us overthink the first date,” he said. “We think, how am I going to get them to like me? What type of image do I want to portray? Do I want them to think I am fancy, sexy, ambitious, successful?”
Cohen Aslatei doesn’t think singles should adhere to the viral “no-go location” list ― you want to be authentic on your first date, so if you’re a no-pretense chain food lover, embrace it ― but he does see one drawback to chains.
“They’re family restaurants, so it may be difficult to go on a first date in an environment filled with children, long lines and lots of noise,” he said.
Generally, Bekker advises clients to try to strike a balance between fancy and cheap.
“A cute place with a vibe is really all you need,” she said. “If you have financial concerns, get more creative. Don’t just do coffee. That is boring and feels too much like a job interview. Suggest a walk, mini golf or a picnic.”
How do singles feel about the viral list? Below, men and women share their anxieties and philosophies on picking a date spot ― and whether The Cheesecake Factory ever makes the cut.
(Their responses have been edited lightly for clarity and length.)
‘I’m a “cozy Italian spot” or an “elite taco spot you’ve never heard of” kind of first dater.’
“My anxieties and concerns are more along the lines of ‘Will the woman and I click?’ than anything else. Most men suck at planning a date, so having anything that resembles structure and like you put in some effort takes away most chances of being judged.
“I tend to pick my favorite establishments that aren’t well known, where I’m a regular. I’m not a fancy first-date kinda guy; I’m a ‘cozy Italian spot ‘or an ‘elite taco spot you’ve never heard of’ kind of first dater. Good food trumps all. I’m not concerned with being thought of as lesser because of my picks. Any woman too good for tacos or the authentic no-name Italian spot isn’t a woman I’m interested in being with. That viral list is mostly bullshit. I do avoid chain restaurants, though. I can eat better elsewhere and get a better authentic experience. I need a place where the food is made with love — a good woman appreciates that.” ― Jio, a 34-year-old college enrollment recruiter and entrepreneur from Hoboken, New Jersey
‘I’m not interested in someone who isn’t down to go somewhere like a chain restaurant on a date.’
“As a woman, my first concern about planning the first few dates is safety, especially if I’m meeting the person through a dating app. The first few dates are generally always going to be in very public places unless I know the person or know people who can vouch for the person. My other concern is being stuck if I don’t like the person, which is why I generally stick to drinks, desserts or even walks in the park for the first few dates. If I’m picking the first-date spot, I will gear it toward something my date and I have connected on so I’m not too worried about appearing cheap, unhealthy or not cool enough.
“I’m not interested in someone who isn’t down to go somewhere like a chain restaurant on a date. I don’t get the hate; they’re fun. It’s not going to be the best meal of my life, but where else can you get endless breadsticks and salad? I went on a date this year where we went to Olive Garden and Dave & Buster’s in Times Square, which seems pretty silly because I hate Times Square, but it was so fun. I do love going to chain restaurants in NYC occasionally, because it’s such a nice break from the regular hustle and bustle of other NYC restaurants. He knew that. We had talked about it. Don’t get me wrong, I love a Michelin star or Bib [Gourmand] restaurant, but diversity in restaurants and their experiences is important to me.
“And if we can’t have fun getting fast food together, you’re not the one for me. Personally, I stay away from expensive, fancy places for the first few dates. I’d much rather go to a dive bar and get to know each other in a place I feel comfortable in than a stuffy restaurant.” ― Thao, 27, who works in finance in New York City
‘[I’ve gone] to places on that list, and the majority of those dates evolved into fulfilling relationships.’
“I don’t experience anxiety in regard to planning dates. If a woman thinks I am attractive, the place or activity of a date holds little persuasion. I have taken women on first dates ― and subsequent dates ― to many of the places on that list, and the majority of those dates evolved into fulfilling relationships. It’s more about getting to know each other’s personalities and intentions than the place.
“Sure, there have been a few times when women ‘judged’ me for my date plans. But in those situations, I recognized that those women probably didn’t find me attractive enough. So instead of pouting about it and continually harassing her, I simply ended the conversation and went on with my life.
“In general, I think that first dates should require low investment for both parties. Think about it: You don’t know each other beyond a conversation in a social setting and/or a few texts. So why should you spend a lot of money and time getting ready for a date with each other? It is perfectly acceptable to meet for coffee, go to a cheap restaurant or have a drink during a first date. That way if one finds the other to be insufferable, they can leave quickly without emptying their wallets.” ― Ben, a 28-years-old landscaper from Cincinnati, Ohio
‘When dating men, any place that is walking distance to their house is a red flag to me.’
“My biggest concern toward planning dates is tailoring the date to what the other person likes. Are they outdoorsy? Do they prefer to be indoors? Are they active? Would they rather relax? I like to be able to talk to someone enough to get to know what kind of first dates they would enjoy or prefer.
“I am not a fan of loud restaurants or bars; it can sometimes be hard to hear. I am definitely not the type to choose a $300 meal for a first date. But anything under $100 is a cheap and affordable date for me. If I want to date someone, I don’t care about spending money on them. For the viral no-go list, I will say, a generic chain restaurant isn’t going to make me excited because it’s not new to me. And most places on their list I don’t like the food, so I wouldn’t want to go anyway.
“When dating men, any place that is walking distance to their house or any hang-out suggestion that involves staying at home is a red flag to me.” ― Estrella, a 26-year-old who works in energy in the Seattle area
‘I think [chain restaurants] are a net negative for culture at large.’
“I try to do something non-‘fancy’ with a generally relaxed environment. The one thing I do tend to give mind to is a date in a situation with a lot of external stimuli going on. Maybe I look for a bar or restaurant which is more busy. I find lots of stuff going on around us helps let the conversation not be so focused on both people on the date and lets it drift onto what is happening around us, which I believe can tell you a lot about a person and how they process the world.
“I certainly would shy away from dinner at a really fancy place. I do think the expectation of that kind of experience being ‘normal’ is something I want to avoid. I don’t really value those kinds of experiences in general, regardless of price.
“As for that viral list, I don’t ever want to eat at chain restaurants. I don’t want to give those kinds of places my money as I think they are a net negative for culture at large, and if a woman wanted to go to one, that would be a sign that maybe our values don’t align and she doesn’t know what good food is!” ― David, a 38-year-old musician from Los Angeles