Candlelit tables. A friendly bartender who can salvage even the most awkward conversation. A setting that makes it easy to peace after a glass of wine, or linger into the late-night hours. The bar date is classic for a reason — well, reasons. I know that in my years of being single, it’s been the one I’ve most frequently chosen.

But now, things are different. I’m growing my own business, which means juggling lots of projects and long days. I’ve got a few half-marathons and surf getaways on my calendar for the new year, and I don’t want gym time to slide off my calendar. But I also want to date and get to know new people. So I road-tested three non-bar options that could fit into limited pockets of time during my week.

Date #1: Breakfast at a cute neighborhood coffee shop

Why: I’ve always felt breakfast was underrated as a way to connect. The food is delicious (shoutout to the biscuits and gravy!), the service is fast, and it’s easy to squeeze in before whatever else you have on your agenda.

Who: John, a travel lover who moved from SoCal to NYC a month ago. We bonded when I realized one of his profile pics was taken in Croatia.

We were the only ones in the place, which made me self-conscious of just how much the baristas may have been listening to us. The food took forever to come, and the conversation was stilted, to say the least. We both talked about our to-do lists and — cringe — our favorite productivity apps. By the time our eggs came, I was ready to go. But as we ate, the conversation loosened up so much that we started sharing dating horror stories. It seems that something about sharing a meal as opposed to just a drink can break the ice. At the end of the date, we said a clear “goodbye” instead of “see you soon,” but I imagine it would be the same result had we met at a bar.


Date #2: A cycling class

Why: I love working out, but it’s often the first thing to fall off my schedule during a super busy week.

Who: Kevin, a writer and triathlete-in-training

A new cycling studio opened in my neighborhood, and not only was it offering a free class but it also touted a weekly happy hour, when riders could grab drinks and mingle. When I suggested trying it, I also suggested Kevin and I book bikes at opposite ends of the studio — so was it truly a date? We said a quick “hi,” riffed on a casual conversation we’d had over text earlier that day, and exchanged a hug before heading to our respective spots. I did work really hard during the class, and I felt pretty psyched when I topped him on the leaderboard during a race. Even though I’d packed a cute sweatshirt for after class, it felt pretty freeing not to have to worry about makeup or the “right” outfit. Only five or so people stayed after class for beers, so Kevin and I had an interrupted half hour to talk. Overall, I liked the vibe and felt it was a perfect pre-date with just enough interaction to make me confident we’ll enjoy going on a proper date in the future. Of course, since we’re both busy, that second date hasn’t yet materialized, but we are still sending flirty texts — and likely/hopefully will end up crossing paths at the spin studio again.

Date #3: A walk and coffee on the beach

Why: I was traveling in California for work and staying at a hotel right on the beach.

Who: Dev, a software developer with some amazing Instagram sunset shots

I suggested we meet at a coffee shop, grab drinks, and head on our walk. I know “walks on the beach” are so cliché, but they’re also amazing. Plus, when you’re temporarily in a beachside town, why not take advantage? What I discovered as I sipped my latte is the great thing about walking is you don’t have to worry about eye contact. And when you’re on a beach, as opposed to, say, the sidewalk, you also don’t need to worry about bumping into other people or how much room you’re both taking up by walking as a “couple.” I suspect the location made the conversation flow naturally — we talked about top vacation spots, surfing, and favorite filters for photos. By the end of the walk, I felt like we had known each other for awhile, and the early morning date put me in a great mood for the endless day of meetings that followed. I had made the fact I was just a visitor clear when Dev and I were planning to meet up, but I also mentioned I come out to California a few times a year. Because of this, the date had a friends-first vibe, but we did follow each other on Instagram later that day, and I’ll definitely reach out the next time I’m in town.

So will I ever go back to a bar for a date? Of course! But for me, learning that I could fit dates into the things I already do in my life was pretty revelatory. I also realized that you don’t need to give up a whole evening to figure out if you click with someone. Meeting someone in a casual, even sweaty, session (hi, gym class!) is an easy way to suss out whether or not you can hold a conversation — without the cost of a bar tab.