I was reading Badger's account of a dating disaster and it occurred to me that most of the discussion, male and female, was missing the point. If you are a man who is searching for a partner, as opposed to a player seeking to score, then the entire subject of "what is the ideal place to take a first date" is fundamentally a category error.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a chain restaurant if that is where you go with your social circle every Friday night. At the same time, there is nothing wrong with going to an elite downtown Italian restaurant if that is simply part of your normal routine. The point is that whatever you do should be a natural part of your life, because you are auditioning her for a role in it.
One of the reasons I felt relaxed about marrying Spacebunny was because she was already well-integrated into my life. On our first date we went to a soccer game, worked out, and then went to one of my favorite restaurants. Sure, the fact that we ended up closing down the place was a good sign, as was her focus on staying in shape, but the more important thing from the long-term perspective was her ability to genuinely enjoy my lifestyle, which for all its occasional flashes of glamor is essentially boring, repetitive, and low-key. Before we got engaged, she had already become a regular of the Friday night gang that met after work to lift weights, then went to the same Mongolian barbeque every week. It was a routine that the two of us continued long after most of the gang got married and went their separate ways.
It's counterproductive to focus on impressing a woman or showing her a good time. If nothing else, the energy required to maintain the charade is going to become exhausting over time. And worse, if it works, you're not going to have any idea if she's actually compatible with the way you truly live. There is no magic key to dating for the obvious reason that all men are not only different, but have different habits and objectives.