The Ultimate First Date Checklist

You’ve done the hard part! The first date is lined up, you’ve got a plan, and now you just have to get ready. But, what all do you have to do to get ready? What has to happen to make sure the first date goes well? What if you forget something?

Take a breath; we’ve got you covered! Below you’re going to find the ultimate first date checklist. We’re going to cover literally everything you need to do to ensure that you’re ready for your first date and that it goes off without a hitch.

We’ll cover:

How You Look on a First Date

It’s no secret that everyone wants to look their best on a first date. For those using online dating or on a blind date, this is going to be the first time you see this person in person. You know that they’re going to form an opinion of you from the second they see you across that Chili’s parking lot or from outside that coffee shop window. Here’s what you need to make sure you do before your first date in regards to your appearance.

Beautiful Black Woman Getting Ready for a First Date

1. Clip and Clean Your Fingernails

You’re going to be close enough to another human where they will be able to see your hands and your fingernails. You might not know it, but a lot of people will judge how well you take care of yourself based on your fingernails.

No, they don’t have to be manicured and styled, but if they look like a dog chewed them all off, are freakishly overgrown, or are dirty, you’re going to put off the wrong impression. Take two minutes before your first date and clip your fingernails. If you’re wearing flip flops or open toed shoes, this goes for your toenails too.

2. Brush Your Teeth, Floss, and Get Some Breath Mints

There is nothing that is going to turn your first date off more than dirty teeth or bad breath. Even if you don’t have the prettiest teeth in the world, you can at least make sure they are as clean as they can be and that your breath is not kicking. Additionally, if you drink coffee or eat food on your date, your breath could take a turn for the worse. Bring some breath mints with you in your pocket.

3. Get a Hair Cut or Style Your Hair

You’re going to notice a trend with our first date tips here. We don’t think you have to go out and spend a bunch of money getting yourself ready, but you do have to make an effort. When it comes to your hair, you don’t have to go out and spend a ton of money getting it professionally style. But, if it is overgrown and looks all shaggy, get it trimmed.

Additionally, make sure that you wash your hair. No one wants to go out with someone who might have a bird’s nest or snacks living or stored in their hair. We’re talking about just a few minutes to make sure your hair looks clean and smells clean.

4. Wash and Iron Your Clothes

This is a personal pet peeve of a lot of the staff here and one that sparked a big discussion when we were writing this guide. Dressing nicely for a first date is awesome. But, if you wear nice clothes that are dirty or wrinkled, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

Take just a few minutes and iron your clothes if they are wrinkled. If they’re dirty, wash them. We’re not asking for a lot here, but we are asking that you do some basic things to make sure you look like someone worth going out with.

5. Put on Deodorant and A LITTLE Perfume or Cologne

It’s imperative that you smell good on your date but not so overpoweringly good that it comes across as weird. What do we mean? It’s simple. Step one—put on deodorant right before the date. Make sure you don’t get it on your clothes, but make sure you put it on.

Step two—if you want to, put on some cologne or perfume. Here’s the key, though. Less is more. Use it sparingly. If it’s overwhelming, it will not come across as attractive. Additionally, you run the risk of your date being allergic to your scent, which is certainly not a plus.

The Logistics of the First Date

Now that you know how to look the part on a first date, we want to talk about first date planning. This section is geared towards those of you who are in charge of planning the date. But, if you are along for the ride, it’s still a good read. Our goal is to make sure that you don’t miss anything and can relax a bit more knowing that you have the entire first date and any contingencies planned for.

6. Have Two Money Sources Ready

Sometimes it’s not clear who is going to be paying on a first date. For that reason, this tip goes out to everyone that’s going to be on the date. Make sure you have two different sources of money available for the first date.

That way, you can pay for the date if you’re planning on it or if you weren’t planning on it but end up splitting the check. Showing up with no money on a date is just silly because you never know what could happen.

Why two sources of money on a first date? Well, if you’ve been using banking for a while, you know that things are not always reliable. What happens if you go to use your debit or credit card and your bank freezes it? You’ll want to have cash or a different card from a different bank so that you don’t look like someone with financial problems on the first date.

If you say you’ll just bring cash, what happens if the date ends up a little more expensive than you had planned for? You are going to want to have a backup plan. Even if you never use it, just knowing that you are covered will be a load off. You know that nervousness that comes when the waiter or bartended walks off with your card to pay the bill? Yea, you can get rid of that if you have a backup source just in case.

7. Have a Plan of Where You’re Going

Don’t just plan to “hang out” on a first date. Have a plan about where you are going, when you are going, and any other details that need to be covered to make for a great date. If you’ve read any of our other articles, you know that we say first dates are not about impressing the other person, but they’re about finding out if there is compatibility. That being said, you should still do your job of adequately planning the date if you’re the one making the plans.

8. Scout Out the Location

If you’re going somewhere on your first date that you’ve never been before, you’re going to want to scout out the location beforehand if you can. This doesn’t mean that you have to go have drinks at the bar or get coffee from the coffee shop, but at least drive by and peek in the window.

Make sure that where you are going is what you want it to be. Imagine planning a date at what you think is a nice bar thanks to pictures online and showing up and it’s a garbage dump, crap-hole. Yea, not going to make for a great first date.

9. Have a Backup Plan

No matter how good your plan is for a first date, things can go the wrong direction. Maybe you show up, and the bar is closed? Maybe you show up, and your date’s ex is sitting at the coffee shop? There are a lot of different things that can happen where you’ll need to call an audible.

You don’t have to have an entire second first date set up, but you should at least have an idea of some other things you could do in the same area. For example, if you’re going for coffee, at least know about another coffee shop or restaurant that serves coffee in the area.

If you have to use your backup plan, it will impress your date to see that you even have one. And, if things don’t go quite smoothly with the second plan, they will be understanding as long as they aren’t a terrible person who you don’t want to be going out with anyways.

Just make sure you at least have some sort of plan in case your first plan doesn’t work out. You don’t want to be standing there outside a bar staring at your phone trying to figure out something to do with this person you just met that you want to like you.

10. Have a Transition Plan

A transition plan on a first date is probably something you’ve never heard of before. It might sound like a backup plan, but it’s actually quite different. A transition plan on a first date is something you use when things are going well. You need to have a plan for something secondary that you can do if you both want to keep hanging out for longer but don’t want to stay at the first location.

This happens a lot. Let’s say you go out and grab dinner with someone for a first date. You get done with dinner, and it’s clear you both want to keep hanging out. You can’t really just sit at the restaurant for hours, so you need to have a plan of somewhere to transition.

Again, it doesn’t have to be a completely flushed out plan, but just something that you can have in your back pocket if things go well and you want to keep hanging out.

11. Have a Safety Plan

First dates don’t always go well. First dates can quickly turn into the last date with someone. Usually, this is just from some awkwardness, or because you both don’t click. But in rare instances, there are times that a first date can become unsafe. You need to make sure that you have a safety plan in place to get yourself out of there quickly if need be.

You also need someone who is your check-in buddy as well. If you want more information on this or haven’t read it yet, check out our Online Dating Safety guide right now. Not to sound dramatic, but it could save your life.

12. Have a Travel Plan

Speaking of safety, you need to make sure you have a plan for how you and your date are going to get to the date itself. Are you picking them up or are they picking you up or are you getting their separately?

We’re not necessarily saying there is a right answer here (the article we linked will help with that). But what we are saying is that you need to have a plan well ahead of time, and you need to convey that plan to the person you’re going on a date with.

And don’t automatically assume that they are going to view things the same way as you or that they’re going to have access to the same means of transportation as you.

Last thing on this topic—if you do end up driving and taking your car (picking them up or not), clean your car and get it ready for the date! Here’s a great guide to help on how to get your car ready for a date.

Proper First Date Etiquette

So, we’ve got you dressed for success, and you’ve planned like a champion. All that is left now is to cover what you should and should not be doing on your first date. Below, you’ll find probably the most important tips for your first date that will help to guarantee you success.

13. Don’t Forget Your Manners

No matter who you are going out with and how they choose to act on a first date, you should be on your best behavior and bring your manners. This means chewing with your mouth closed, not talking with food in your mouth, putting your napkin in your lap if you’re eating, not swearing like a sailor, and anything else that you’ve ever been taught is polite to do.

It doesn’t take a lot of effort, but it does take some effort. Just imagine that your mom or grandma is sitting at the table next to you and act accordingly. Also, please don’t actually bring your mom or grandma on the date; that would just be weird.

14. Have Some Conversation Topics In Mind

If you’re not the best at making conversation, it might help to have some topics in mind to talk about on your first date. You don’t need to have a full list of things, but at least a few questions or things you’re interested to get to know about your date will go a long way. If you’d like to learn more about keeping the conversation going on a date, check out our guide on how to prevent awkward silences on a first date.

15. Don’t Get Drunk

The whole purpose of a first date is to get to know the person you are going out with and for them to get to know you. If you’re drunk, you’ll have a hard time getting to know them, and they will be getting to know the drunk you. Additionally, it’s not a great look. No one wants to go out with the person that cant’ keep their alcohol under control on a first date.

But, what is more important than all of that is that getting drunk on a first date is unsafe. You are going out with someone that you don’t really know. Whether you are the guy or the girl, you are going to want to be in control of your surroundings on a first date in case things don’t go as plan. Hopefully, the person you go out with is awesome, but if they end up being a creeper or dangerous, you don’t want to be drunk and unable to do what is necessary to protect yourself.

16. Be On Time

Seriously, show up on time for your first date. The best practice is to plan on being 15 minutes early to your date. That way if something happens like traffic or car trouble on your way there, you aren’t going to be late. Being on time shows respect and that you value your date’s time. Showing up late sets a bad tone for the date from the second you show up. If you don’t want to be “playing from behind” then you need to be there on time.

17. Listen

Most people just want someone on a first date who is capable of listening to them. People get nervous and love to talk to fill the silence. Also, people love to talk about themselves, and will often talk someone’s ears off on a first date.

Take a breath, take a break, and listen. Listen to what they have to say. Get to know them. Respond to what they actually say. Don’t just say the pre-programmed thoughts you have in your mind. You will be shocked at how much more success you have on first dates if you just take the time to listen to your date.

The Wrap Up

It may seem like a lot that you have to do on a first date, but most of it should be common sense. If you just put forth a little bit of effort, you’re going to be light years ahead of the rest of the world which means you’ll have a lot of success.

If you’d like to read some more information on first dates, we do have some additional resources for you. First, we have our guide to meeting an online date for the first time. We’ve also got an entire section of the site that is dedicated to first date advice. These are both great resources to help you lose the nervousness and get prepared to have the best first date possible.

Matt Seymour

Written By: Matthew J. Seymour, MSF

Matthew J. Seymour is a dating industry expert with over a decade of experience coaching singles, reviewing dating apps, and analyzing trends within the industry. Matt is a published author with his most recent work “Get More Dates: How to Master Online Dating Apps” that hit shelves in 2023. With a Masters of Science in Finance (MSF) degree from the University of Florida and extensive knowledge of the innerworkings of the online dating industry, Matt frequently serves in an advisory role to some of the largest dating apps on the market. In Matt’s current role with Healthy Framework, he leads the interview team that regularly interviews key dating industry leaders, and leverages his financial knowledge and dating app experience to review and share what singles need to know to get the most out of dating online.

Grady Shumway, LCSW

Reviewed By: Grady Shumway, LCSW

Grady Shumway, LCSW is a licensed social worker with specialized training in the mental health areas of depression, anxiety, trauma, psychotic disorders, and various other diagnoses. Trained in cognitive behavioral interventions, motivational interviewing, and moral recognition therapy, and holding a Masters of Social Work from Arizona State University, Grady has extensive experience working with individuals and families through various life challenges. At Healthy Framework, Grady serves as a mental health and counseling expert assisting the editorial team in ensuring that dating advice articles, dating app recommendations, and other resources are inline with best practices and provide information in the most helpful manner possible to readers.