What's the perfect spot for a first date? One that's casual enough to calm first-date jitters; accessible for a wide range of zip codes, schedules, and budgets – and fast enough to make quick exits easy?
For today's singles – especially women – the answer is Starbucks.
That's according to mobile dating app Clover, which found that Starbucks is the most popular first date venue, according to data the company analyzed from 200,000 of its users.
According to Clover, 52 percent of women and 31 percent of men prefer to meet at a coffee shop on a first date.
After Starbucks, the most popular first date spots included Chipotle, Panera Bread, and Cheesecake Factory.
"We were surprised to see most people choosing to meet at coffee shops and casual restaurants for their first date,” Isaac Raichyk, Clover's CEO, told Refinery 29. “We expected fine dining, bars and nightclubs to rank much higher, but clearly people want to meet in a relaxed environment."
It's not the first time singles have, well, singled out coffee shops as a perfect first date spot. According to a 2013 Match.com article, 81 percent of singles said coffeehouses were foolproof first date spots. And in 2006, more than 50 percent of singles surveyed said coffeehouses were the ideal meeting place for first dates, according to a StrategyOne survey sponsored by Starbucks.
What does the shift away from the more traditional dinner-and-a-movie and toward the relatively quick, easy, and cheap coffeehouse date reveal about changes in American dating culture?
"People are moving to a more casual way of doing things," says Paul Hollander, a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, in a phone interview. Venues like coffeehouses "allow people to meet in very quick and superficial ways," he says, adding, "It's part of a larger trend toward a more superficial kind of dating."
But in an era of online dating, where singles are sometimes confronted with an overwhelming array of options, coffeehouses are simply a pragmatic way to sift through mates, says Beverly Thompson, assistant professor of sociology at Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y.
"In the era of online dating, and especially, the dating apps on cell phones based on location, timing, and convenience, we can see that people may be more inclined to quickly sort through an array of potential dates, without investing too much time or energy in establishing a more conventional relationship," she says.
What's more, a coffeehouse like Starbucks provides a relatively low-risk meeting spot."First dates are risk-taking endeavors," she says. "In order to minimize risk, one may be inclined to make the date itself less risky and time-intensive, compared to the "old-fashioned" dinner and movie date, for a quicker and more casual date location, such as a coffee shop or chain restaurant. In this way, one is only committing for the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee, which can be accelerated or slowed down, according to the interest one has in one's date."
In fact, according to the 2006 Starbucks-sponsored StrategyOne survey, singles rate a comfortable atmosphere (85 percent), a casual setting (78 percent) and a safe environment (75 percent) as the most important criteria when selecting a venue for a first date. Many (42 percent) prefer to keep the encounter brief, and almost one-third (32 percent) look for a place that makes it easy to end the date quickly.
Coffeehouse dates are also representative of today's "non-committal culture of dating," adds Prof. Thompson. "Online dating culture contributes to the idea of window shopping for a – perhaps very temporary – companion, and having a short introductory date at a coffee shop speaks to this non-committal culture of dating," she says. "One can always take their coffee to-go if the company is not quite right."
But while many are considering Starbucks the new frontier of first dates, Lori Brown, professor of sociology at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., says things haven't actually changed much."This generation appears to be struggling a bit with face-to-face interactions as they spend so much time online," she says. "A coffee shop is a public, inviting, and comfortable place... But remember, this is just the fitness center, roller rink, college library, or town square of the past. Nothing new about finding a place to meet others."