When Bob Band was in his mid-20s, he preferred dating older women. But one day he gave a cute 19-year-old a chance, and took her out to his favourite French bistro in Boston. It was an upscale restaurant with white tablecloths and a fine selection of wine.
His date scrutinized the menu, which featured items such as confit de canard, onion soup gratinée and roast leg of lamb, and finally settled on steak au poivre.
She also asked for ketchup.
The server cringed. And Mr. Band, now a 58-year-old business development manager in Brookline, Mass., realized how young and inexperienced his date was.
"I was thinking at that point, 'This is hopeless.' "
There was no second date.
Pickiness, food allergies and, in Mr. Band's case, an unsophisticated palate, have been the deal breakers in many relationships. Such foibles are often exposed on first dates as orders are scrutinized by individuals trying to figure out if the person on the other side of the table has long-term potential. But do those dining habits and preferences truly expose one's personality, or is ending a relationship over a food hang-up just plain petty?
Isabel Ilumin, a matchmaker with dating service It's Just Lunch, sets up Toronto singles on lunch dates and often hears about food-related issues during the individual post-mortems. Even when she thinks two people will be compatible based on their income levels, occupations and hobbies, something as simple as ordering French fries as a starter instead of oysters can send a date off the rails.
"Your personal taste in food is synonymous with your lifestyle," she says. "Whatever it is that you order, it really reveals a part of you."
She adds: "That term 'steak-and-potatoes guy' - some women won't do it. That means the person's not cultured, that person hasn't travelled [and]is just not as open-minded."
Monica Navarro reached those very conclusions when she briefly dated such a guy last summer.
At first, his food quirks were cute, the 30-year-old photographer says from her home in Philadelphia. When he mentioned he'd never had sushi or Indian food, she cut the "all-American white-bread boy" some slack.
But then one morning, while making breakfast, she learned he was actually far more gastronomically inexperienced. She recalls the conversation:
"Would you like some blueberries in your pancakes?"
"I've never had them."
"What do you mean you've never had them?!"
She learned he'd never tried a wide range of produce, including strawberries and broccoli. He had little interest in experimenting with new food.
He was the opposite of her bon vivant self: she'd sneak away with friends to eat grilled octopus while her boyfriend stayed home to eat pork chops marinated in orange juice.
It eventually struck her that he was routine in other parts of his life, "down to how he folds his laundry ... what he wears every day to work." He resisted change and adventure, she says.
In retrospect, she's surprised she didn't cut him loose sooner.
New York-based dating coach Rachel Greenwald, author of Have Him at Hello: Confessions from 1,000 Guys About What Makes Them Fall in Love ... Or Never Call Back, says she's heard all kinds of stories from men and women who haven't gone on second dates with people because of hang-ups about food.
One had the "mirror order rule" - if his date ordered the same thing as him, it meant she was unoriginal and couldn't make up her own mind. Another would allow for his date to make one adjustment to her order (salad with dressing on the side), but any other requirements meant she was high-maintenance.
"I try to tell them how ridiculous it is," she says. "I do counsel these people against taking these food orders as metaphor for life."
Eating habits can be deal-breakers even when they're out of one's control.
Monique Rodriguez, a 26-year-old secretary in New York, recalls a blind date three years ago when the guy asked her if he could pick the restaurant because he had a food allergy.
When they met up at a nice Italian joint, she learned he'd misled her. He didn't just have one allergy, but a laundry list of them: dairy, fish, nuts and gluten. Ms. Rodriguez, who runs the blog iarethefoodsnob.com, couldn't imagine a life without bread and cheese (her two favourite foods). Nor could she imagine one with someone who couldn't eat those things.
"I did think he was nice enough, but the large list of food allergies was a deal-breaker," she says. "So much of what I like to do involves food and writing about food. ... It was sad, and I felt really shallow."
Luckily for Torontonian Kat Osen, the man she started dating two years ago was able to tolerate her food-related quirks well enough to make a long-term commitment to her - they plan to marry in December.
With him and with the men before him, the 31-year-old teacher and dancer had avoided restaurants for first and second dates so they'd get to know her first before judging her on her picky eating.
When Ms. Osen eats salsa, she strains it because she hates the way the tomatoes, peppers and onions feel in her mouth. "The texture makes me nauseous," she says.
She refuses to eat most meat and fish (especially bottom-feeders), can't stand eggplant, and cringes when she thinks of tapioca or unwashed chickpeas from a can (both remind her of seafood).
Her fiancé is happy to eat whatever she picks off her plate when they go out for a meal, though he knows not to bother taking her to his favourite restaurant - a seafood joint (she encouraged him to have his stag party there, though).
Ms. Osen said she's happy he was able to look past her eating habits, if for no other reason than to prove her mother wrong.
"My mom used to say, 'You're never going to find a husband because you always go to a restaurant and pick through your food,' " she says.