Nothing ever goes wrong on a first date, right? Nobody ever takes a girl to “Bob’s House of Barbecued Beef” only to find out that she’s a vegan, or takes someone to a concert only to discover that the opening act is the ex that they broke up with who is now doing a live version of their “special” mix of songs. Well, guess what? These things do happen, and if you’re not ready, it can be the end of a date before it even starts.
If you prepare for a date with a few good backup plans, your date will probably never even know just how horribly your initial plan went. That’s a great thing, because nothing impresses a potential friend, soul mate, or part-time lover like confidence. The trick is to have not one but two or three backup plans ready, and each one should be relatively close by and not require advance tickets or reservations.
1. The Backup Restaurant
Anyone who’s ever watched Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares knows that restaurants are chaotic places where anything that can go wrong will go wrong. For you, that means they could be closed when you get there, they could lose your reservation, they could have a sewage leak, or they could have the drunken Park Falls Women’s Bowling League hitting on you and your date the minute you walk through the door.
Rather than changing the whole date, a simple change of venue will suffice. Keep in mind a good restaurant or two nearby, preferably ones with similar cuisine and ambience.
2. The Backup Movie or Play
Like the restaurant, things go wrong in the theater, too. Movies sell out, stage actors get sick, and so on. It’s good to keep in mind that plays tend to sell out more frequently than movies, so you might want to use a movie as a backup for a play. Knowing the local show times and venues of just about anything you and your date might want to see is a good idea if your date is a movie or play.
This is usually more of a daytime date, since museums often close early, but museums are a great way to convince a date that you care about more than beer, sex, and sports. Unless, of course, all they care about is beer, sex, and sports, in which case maybe the museum isn’t a good idea—unless it happens to be the Museum of Beer, Sex, and Sports.
You just can’t beat a bowling alley for spontaneous fun. It’s athletic, the gear is provided by the alley, no reservation is required, nobody is really very good at it, and there’s a very good chance that drinking will be involved. What’s not to like? Best of all, there is plenty of opportunity to compliment your date on their ball-handling skills.
Pool is similar to bowling except it tends to happen in a bit more seedy places, and there is at least some possibility that your date might be really good at it and make you look foolish. Pool is even more spontaneous than bowling because you don’t need to contend with league nights or stop to change your shoes. The real bonus for pool, though, is that it gives you plenty of opportunity to watch your date bending over a table.
In some clubs this is far from a backup date—they might have a waiting list that goes back months. Still, there are some clubs that might have room for walk-ups, particularly mid-week. This is not a date for someone who lacks confidence, however, because there will be a room full of people there for the specific purpose of hooking up, and every time you go to the bathroom you might have to come back and shoo away the suitors from your date like scaring away crows from your garden.
7. Botanic Gardens and Arboretums
This is another daytime date, but walking through a quiet garden is a great way to get to know somebody and also show that you have some appreciation for natural beauty. Most gardens or arboretums will have some kind of shows or programs to help keep your interest, too.
8. Miniature Golf
It’s usually not practical to go and play 18 holes of golf on the spur of the moment unless your date is a PGA or LPGA pro who just happens to have their clubs in the trunk. Mini golf, however, is relatively quick and fun and, like bowling and pool, the equipment you need to play will be provided.
It is also a great equalizer, because even Tiger Woods might struggle to bank a shot off the alligator’s head, through the clown’s mouth, and out the gnome’s butt to get a hole in one, but sometimes beginner’s luck will allow you to do just that.
This date can be a little iffy, but it is high risk, high reward. The good news is that casinos are pretty much always open, they have a fun and exciting atmosphere, and you can usually get your drinks free there.
The bad news is that if it’s your idea, your date is going to probably be expecting you to front some gambling cash. Another problem is that if your date happens to have a gambling problem, things could get very ugly very fast. On the bright side, at least you’ll find out how bad their problem is before you co-sign a loan for them.
10. Fairs and Festivals
Every town seems to have more than its fair share of festivals and fairs, and chances are, if you’re dating on a weekend or holiday, there will be one going on somewhere nearby. And while maybe the “Founding Fathers of East Podunk Canned Potato and Legume Festival” may not be the sort of non-stop thrill ride you were seeking for your first date, it is virtually guaranteed to give you some laughs and some conversation material for dinner or coffee afterward or on your next date.
11. Amusement Parks
Speaking of thrill rides, when was the last time you went to an amusement park? They’re really still just as fun as they were when you were a kid, and giving your date some childish thrills is a great way to break the ice. You don’t really know someone until you’ve held onto each other while screaming in terror at the apex of a 500-foot drop in a rickety old roller coaster on a track that is clearly missing some bolts. Even if you skip the more terrifying rides and just munch some cotton candy and people watch, it can be a fun time.
12. Sporting Event
You might not be able to get playoff tickets at the last minute when the concert you were going to see gets cancelled because of the lead singer’s Red Bull overdose, but you should have a pretty good chance of getting into a local minor league, college, or high school game—there is always something in season. If your date is a sports fan, this is the ultimate “audible” that could easily become a scoring play. If your date can’t stand sports, however, this one won’t even get you to first base.
13. Dance Lessons
An upscale, professional ballroom dance studio will most likely not happen to be open and taking walk-ins the minute your other plans fall through, but there are many more informal studios and dance clubs that have regular lessons. The cool thing about this is that even people who know how to dance are usually happy to try to learn a new step or two, and those who have two left feet should be happy to get whatever coaching they can.
More importantly, when two people teach their bodies to move as one on the dance floor, who knows what else they might want their bodies to do together in the near future?
14. Cruises and Tours
Sometimes it’s really fun to see your town as a tourist, and a first date is a great opportunity to do that. Even if you’ve lived in your current city your whole life, have you ever taken an architecture tour or a boat ride down the river? Have you taken the special Halloween tour of supposedly haunted houses and graveyards? There are more of these type of things going on than you realize and most will accept walk-ups.
Okay, so you’re not 14 anymore, but arcades are just fun. And nowadays most arcades have those silly ticket games where you can prove your devotion to your new love by spending $142 to win enough tickets to get her that fuzzy pencil-topper troll she had her eye on. True, you’ll get some strange looks from the nine-year-olds when you jostle them to keep them from beating your high score on “House of the Dead 4,” but fun is fun.