Before we settled down and had children, one of the most memorable nights out with my sweetheart was a picnic dinner at our favorite park in the city. With beers in a cooler, our favorite vegetarian Indian food in recyclable containers, and an old quilt lying on patch of grass, it was quite the memorable occasion. Afterward, we packed up and headed to our favorite art museum, which offered free admission. It was truly a cheap, romantic date for the books!
The lesson is this: The price of romance doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. While some folks may consider the hot new (and likely expensive) restaurant in town the most romantic dinner of all, we feel that with a little preparation and know-how, your very own romantic escapade will run circles around anything else.
If you’re not a romantic by nature, fear not! We give you a heart full of sound tips that will leave your partner remembering this dinner for many years to come, including some ideas that embrace the Texas spirit. And lucky for you both, our state is gorgeous and huge, and for many seasons of the year, it’s lovely to eat outside.
1) Choose Your Location
We’re not here to give out restaurant recommendations. We’re here to provide advice on places to consider for creating your outside-the-box dinner date.
- Go for Adventure – What is the closest outdoor natural attraction to your home? The Texas State Park system has some of the most beautiful and protected areas in our state. Many of them have picnic tables with built-in seating, perfect for your night out.
- An Old Fashioned Picnic – Does your sweetheart have a favorite park? Or is there a park nearby neither of you have visited? Start by finding a beautiful outdoor spot to set the scene.
- Your Own Backyard – For real ease, set up in your own backyard! Skip sitting at the table and chairs and come down to Earth by setting your dinner on a blanket. We guarantee you’ll see your backyard with a new set of eyes.
- Dinner in Bed – Why is breakfast the only meal of the day served in bed? Surprise your sweetie by serving them dinner in the most comfortable place in the house.
2) Get the Supplies
If you are grabbing dinner to go, serving in Styrofoam isn’t very romantic. Gather these items, and you’ll have all the gear you need to put on a thoughtful dinner date.
- A Quilt, Blanket, Tablecloth, or Sheet – If you’re heading into nature, then you must bring something to eat, sit, and recline upon! If you are planning to hold your dinner at a State Park or using a park bench and table, then bring a tablecloth. It’s not romantic eating dinner on a table covered in bird poop.
- Plates, Forks, Napkins, Spoons, and Knives – It sounds like a lot of work, but trust us on this. Romance is in the details, and who really enjoys eating on a flimsy paper plate? Bring a few dinner plates (or large washable plastic plates, if you own them), and pack some real silverware. And to top off the romance, include a few cloth napkins to give your picnic an authentic feel. Don’t forget to bring a few plastic grocery bags to put your dirty dishes in. You can clean them at home.
- Cups, Glasses, and a Wine Opener – No one wants to show up for a romantic picnic with a bottle of wine and no bottle opener. Also, no one really wants to drink wine from a plastic cup, so go the extra mile to bring a few real glasses to create that classy vibe for your date. An easy way to protect your glasses in transit is by wrapping them with those cloth napkins you’re bringing, or the blanket you plan to sit on.
- Bring the Light – A romantic dinner isn’t complete without candles! If you’re having dinner in bed, then we approve of placing real candles around the room. However, since burning down a forest is not romantic, we advise using LED candles if you venture out into nature. A camping lantern is also a great way to provide ambient light, and if it’s too bright, place a thin silk scarf over the lantern to mute the light and create a glow.
- Pack the Bug Spray – This is Texas after all, and our big state brings big insects. Just be prepared if it’s mosquito season.
3) Create the Menu
Now for the fun part – deciding what you’ll have for dinner! If cooking is too much preparation, then don’t be shy to grab something to go from a favorite restaurant. The population of Texas is huge, and with it comes talented cooks and restaurateurs serving delicious food from a variety of global cuisines for affordable prices.
- Go Texas – What’s more Texas than a plate of real Texas BBQ? Pick up a few plates of brisket and sausage, and some sides of cole slaw and potato salad. Don’t forget the extra pickles and BBQ sauce.
- South of the Border – Just saying the words “Tex-Mex” makes us drool. Fajitas are affordable and easy to pick up from your favorite Tex-Mex spot. And most dishes typically include the beans, rice sour cream, tortillas, and assorted condiments, so there’s no second-guessing whether the meal is complete. If fajitas aren’t your thing, consider grabbing some tacos – they’re not too messy and will be easy to serve.
- Food Trucks – Food trucks host some of the most interesting meals on wheels. Hop onto Twitter or search online for food trucks in your area to learn where folks will be roaming that night. From Cajun-Asian fusion to juicy burgers and so much in between, some really creative chefs have turned their backs on brick-and-mortar restaurants to go out on the town.
- A Buffet of Freshness – Pop into your closest grocery story store selling prepared food. Choose from a variety of items like pasta salads, garden salads, house-made sushi, and more.
- Head to Southeast Asia – If you live near a large metropolitan city in, Texas then you really should be aware of affordable dining choices from this region of the world. From Indian curries to Vietnamese rice dishes, there are plenty of options available for your romantic evening.
- A Cheese Plate – Make it super-simple by gathering crackers, some nice cheeses from Texas, fresh fruit, and a bit of salami. Dinner is done!
4) The Icing on the Cake
You’ve got everything ready for your romantic dinner, but now what?
- Dessert – Whether it’s Cake, cheesecake, brownies, or a simple block of chocolate, don’t forget to bring your partner’s favorite sweet treat to finish off the night.
- Coffee – Truly wow your partner and pack a thermos of coffee! Warm up the evening with a cup of joe as the two of you reflect upon the loveliness of the evening, before packing up to go.
- “Say Cheese!” – Don’t forget to take a selfie to remember the moment!