The Hottest Place for a First Date Is Actually the Grocery Store

published Feb 14, 2024
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
illustration of four couples on dates inside of a grocery store

In Los Angeles, where I live and swipe, I noticed a budding trend on dating apps. About eight months ago, multiple Hinge profiles mentioned meeting up at a wine bar in, of all places, the grocery store. Several called out Gelson’s by name. (If you’re not familiar with the local grocer, or its rotisserie chickens, it’s like an upscale Publix of the West — pinkies way up.) 

Credit: Hinge courtesy of Mackenzie Filson

So, feeling like the grocery bar date idea encapsulated a playful bit of  “sounds dumb, let’s do it” energy I think is crucial for anyone I date, I decided to steal the prompt for my own experiment: Could the grocery bar be the ultimate first date spot? In total, I went on three grocery store dates in 10 days (please clap, for I am tired!). While I didn’t find a boyfriend (hardly the goal), I picked up a bit more than just my weekly staples on these grocery trips.

Credit: Mackenzie Filson

A grocery store bar’s overhead lighting might be harsh, but it revealed itself to be helpful with “Ponytail,” a recurring figure and the only grocery bar date I’d previously been out with — although our time together was getting sparser and closing in on its eventual ending. I could feel it and, quite frankly, was just hoping to make out with someone familiar and then go home. It can be that simple. (I’m not your traditional romantic. As a child of divorce, I know longevity is not always the ultimate goal in romantic relationships. In fact, it can often be counterintuitive.) 

I premised this grocery date as his “favor” to me and this experiment — a clear selling of myself (and my time) way too short. We hit up the Whole Foods bar, which is properly tucked away from any vestiges of organic eggplants and beeping self-checkout stations. It’s more like an airport sports bar — you can easily forget people are here to complete an actual task while draining your pilsner. Chicken fingers were shared and much was caught up on since the slow-fizzle had started (read: nearly a month had passed since I’d last seen him).

Standing in the overly lit parking garage, I was less surprised when he performed his “I don’t know what I want” song and dance — even though he’d clearly washed his eponymous ponytail for the date (washed ponytail = romantic feelings was my logic). We then chastely hugged and drove away separately. 

Had it been somewhere moody with dim lighting, I’d have been a liquid puddle, but I really was completely fine and very much OK with us not making out due to force of habit. Was this growth? Or did the low stakes of a grocery bar mean I was more OK with us ending the night and whatever-one-calls-this-relationship with … a hug? I needed to investigate further. 

We strolled the frozen aisles after the bar lights went off and then over to another bar where I continued to turn into a heart-eyed bit of putty.

What I’d immediately learn on my date with the man I’ll call “Boy Band Earring,” on account of his lone tiny earring hoop reminiscent of the Backstreet Boys/NSYNC/O-Town era (a high compliment), surprised even me: Nothing is more vulnerable than watching your date search for the grocery store bathroom key. Nothing! 

I was running a few minutes late and spotted him searching for the key while he waited for me. I pretended not to notice, but revealed the truth a beer and a half in when it was my turn to hunt for its hiding spot (my journey was less than cute and quite perilous, although, I hope, super endearing). 

Credit: Mackenzie Filson

From there, Boy Band Earring’s commitment to the grocery bar date bit only made him 8000% more attractive. I even tried weaseling out of my own experiment at first, saying “We just can get one beer here, if you want,” and he very enthusiastically said, “No, I want to get the whole experience.” On this date, that meant digging into poke nachos and wings, hopping around from beer to beer, and chatting up the bartender with me (which always gives me big “Hubba Hubba Awooga,” tongue-rolling-out-of-my-mouth feelings).

We strolled the frozen aisles after the bar lights went off and then over to another bar where I continued to turn into a heart-eyed bit of putty. I asked myself, “Does Gelson’s do weddings?” 

No surprise, Boy Band Earring was the only one I wanted to make out with, and eventually I did just that. Shockingly (or not, depending on how single you are), I never heard from him again. On to the next …

Credit: Mackenzie Filson

One rainy Thursday night, I spot my next first date, “Jackets,” in the produce section walking towards me just as a well-timed spritz of mechanical mist falls all around him. I think to myself, This is either the stupidest idea I’ve ever had, the smartest, or both and also Will we tell our kids about the salad wall mist one day? because I’ve watched way too many Meg Ryan movies. 

It becomes clear that Jackets came to the date two hours after a therapy appointment and he seemed to have a thick cloak of sadness around him. He had some trouble shaking it off at first, but slowly he slackened and revealed we shared a similarly crooked heart as we dug into burgers and beers, and shared (my) fries. He got a fruit cup as his side. Not a complete cause for alarm; the grapes were very good, but they were objectively not fries

We still closed down the grocery bar at a respectable 9:30 p.m. (the lights flickered as a warning, once again). There were moments I chimed in on the conversations happening with the growing group of “regulars” around me, hoping Jackets would follow, but he didn’t. 

Before we left, a new quirk revealed itself under the fluorescent lights: Just like one of his profile photos at a bar, Jackets wore his namesake jacket fully zipped the entire time, as if he was ready to flee at a moment’s notice. Unlike previous versions of me, I didn’t suss out how personal it was that he kept the jacket on, fully zipped. Unlike the date with Boy Band Earring, where it rolled into another crawl to another bar, I said goodbye to Jackets right as the automatic doors squeaked to a close, where we wished each other well before driving home. No harm, no foul.

If you’ve yet to flirt with someone at a grocery bar, I’d still urge you to do so at your earliest convenience.

Grocery bars (including Gelson’s in-store tapas bar and sushi counter, Whole Foods’ taprooms, and Lowes Foods’ beer dens), are now the ultimate antidote to my often-fantastical thinking. I no longer needed to convince anyone to like me. I already liked myself, just by my insisting on a grocery bar date. The date could just be a pleasant night, whether there was kissing at the cart corral or nothing at all.

Been on a grocery store date recently? Tell us about it in the comments below.