drinks for a dateA straight friend asks, "If a date consists of two guys or two girls dining, who pays?"

In the gay dating world, it's somewhat unspoken that if you ask, you pay; or, even better, you agree to split all the costs. Otherwise, gay dates are extremely similar to straight dates. And everyone wants to save regardless of sexual orientation, correct? Here are some tips I've learned as a gay man navigating the oft-pricey world of college dating.

1) If you're dining out, research the restaurant first

You're obviously not going to have a candlelit dinner at the dining hall. So make sure you get all the information about your prospective place. Web sites like Metromix and Yelp make it easy to find the basics: the place you're looking for, the neighborhood it's in, the cuisine type and price ranges.

On the same note, research your date's preference – if he or she is a vegetarian, taking them to Stan's Meat Palace could prevent a second date before the possibility arises. College cities and towns often have an array of dining options, some containing fantastic student discounts. For example, 1130 the Restaurant in Phoenix has specials on appetizers from 4-7 p.m. And as college students, we can make meals out of wings and spinach and artichoke dip.

Another idea is to collect a list of restaurants that offer discounts based on the day of the week. You'll have a harder time finding these deals on weekends, but if you get your homework done early, any night can be date night.

2) Don't be afraid to point out your financial status

If you have the dough to dine at five-star restaurant, I suppose there's no reason not to. Still, besides looking a little desperate, you could be pulling out the stops too fast. Hopefully the date in question knows your student status puts you less in lobster land and more in the pizza palace.

If you're intent on impressing someone at a nicer restaurant, Web sites such as Coupon Cabin and Retail Me Not may give you access to a classy yet affordable meal, as does Groupon -- a site where coupons get dispersed if a pre-set number of people buy the deal of the day. But if you're low on cash don't be afraid to ask to split the bill -- preferably, well before the check comes. There's no shame in saving money for another date.

3) Date and dine in your own home or dorm

Maybe the boy you met on Facebook is overzealous. Might be best to meet him in a well-lit, public space. If he passes the sanity test (however you may rate such a test) you could have him over for dinner at your apartment (or a TV dinner in your dorm). You save on parking, tips and also get to control of the menu to make it a delicious and low cost.

You can even do a very, very fancy meal by cooking outside the box. In Chicago, Trotter's to Go allows you access to that four-star restaurant's signature cuisine, at reduced prices compared to the full-on, in-house dining experience. Such "gourmet-to-go" options are popping up everywhere.

4) You don't have to eat
...

Who's to say a date has to involve a full-blown meal? If you want to be thrifty and finish your leftovers at home or use your meal plan, suggest doing a different activity. Living in the Chicago Boystown area, I'm amazed at some of the retailers exclusive to the area. Where else will you find more cupcake shops, record stores, trendy boutiques, and other non-chain establishments? Small business owners know that if the gays are on your side, so is gay income--often free from the trappings of supporting a family. Therefore, these same places will offer specials to the gay community to ensure customer loyalty and create an identity. Take a free stroll through the gayborhood and take advantage of the deals.

5)If old enough to drink, think "specials"

If you're of age, who wouldn't want to be surrounded by bright lights and a dance beat for their first date? It puts you both in a good mood and relaxes conversation; the pitchers of Long Island Iced Tea on special, such as the ones at Roscoe's Tavern & Cafe in Chicago on Thursdays, also assist with that. Not to mention, weekdays make for a quieter and less crowded environment with better drink specials. Metromix is ideal for bar research. Your bar of choice should have a website listing their specials and events, including Happy Hours that feature unbeatable prices on food and beverages.

We've all had dates from hell where even the strongest drink won't make it end faster. However, these thrifty steps will set the scene for you to be yourself and meet someone worthy of subsequent dates.

6) Date via your school's budget

You're a college student. I doubt there's a single school that doesn't have a Student Life Department of some kind that works to ensure campus unity and school spirit. Even if you're not bleeding your school colors, read up on the events your campus sponsors -- very often listed in the school newspaper or that publication's online version. They're usually free, and they're usually exclusive to your school, making them memorable for a first date.

To the gays reading, we are well aware of the consumerism and materialistic nature within our community. I encourage you to be creative when planning a date so both of you can keep your wallets closed, or open judiciously. Reconciling our identities as both gay and college student means being appreciative of our culture and spending smart.

Jake Giles writes HomoSensible, a column dedicated to gay collegiate lifestyle on a budget. It appears on Money College every other Tuesday. Send tips to
MoneyCollege@walletpop.com.

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