Should you propose before or after dinner?

There are endless ways to ask the love of your life to marry you, but there’s a reason why the dinner proposal has remained such a classic after all these years.

It’s a romantic public gesture that still feels intimate, it’s special without being over-the-top, and it just feels celebratory.

Once you’ve made the decision to pop the question over dinner, though, there’s a lot to think about.

Getting the dinner proposal just right means nailing down all of the details. First things first: make sure a proposal like this one feels right for your partner and your relationship.

Don’t just pick this method because it’s a popular one that you’ve seen in movies. Is your significant other the kind of person who doesn’t mind public displays of affection?

If so, then a dinner proposal should be fine with them—but if they’re private, they might not be as into it.

If you’re really unsure, ask one of their close friends or family members that you can trust for their thoughts.

Once you’re confident that your S.O. will feel comfortable with a dinner proposal, there are a few more questions to take into consideration. Here’s your guide to planning a great dinner proposal.

Should You Propose Before or After Dinner?

Perfecting the timing of your proposal is really important here, and you might feel totally lost on whether you should propose before you start eating or wait until the end of your meal. There’s really no right or wrong answer—there are just pros and cons to both, and what you choose to do ultimately depends on how you think your partner will react and how you want the rest of the night to go. Keep these pros and cons in mind when trying to make a decision.

Pros and Cons of Proposing Before Dinner

Want to get the big moment done as soon as possible? Proposing shortly after your arrival is the way to go then, but there are a few drawbacks to consider.

  • Pro: Proposing before dinner means the rest of the meal is a celebration. Assuming everything goes according to plan and your partner says yes, a proposal before dinner means that the celebration after is obvious: a great meal and a nice dessert. This can be a really lovely way to celebrate your new engagement, especially if you chose a restaurant that has a special sentimental meaning. This also gives you the opportunity to work with the restaurant to bring out any special dishes or to have live music.
  • Con: Your celebration is less intimate. Celebrating at your table can be nice, but if you or your partner wanted something more intimate where it’s just the two of you, that’s not going to happen this way. You’ll have to wait until the meal is over and you leave the restaurant to be alone, and you might both feel antsy. Plus, you’ll also both be eating your meal surrounded by people who just watched the proposal, which might mean you’ll spend more time talking to strangers than talking to each other.
  • Pro: You have less time to feel nervous about popping the question. If you’re feeling super anxious and nervous about asking your partner to marry you, then getting it over with, for lack of a better expression, might be the best way to go. You won’t have to anxiously await the perfect moment, and you’ll feel better getting it out of the way.
  • Con: You won’t be very focused on the food you’re about to eat. Once the proposal happens, you’ll both be so excited and giddy that you probably won’t spend a lot of time thinking about the food you’re paying to eat. In fact, you might be so caught up in the moment that you barely notice what you’re eating or barely eat at all. That makes it kind of pointless to do the proposal over a meal.
  • Pro: You have the opportunity to invite family and friends to join in. Proposing before dinner means you can always ask a few close friends and family members to surprise your partner by joining you both for a little celebratory dinner party. This can be a really nice way to enjoy your first few hours engaged.
  • Con: If they say no, things can get awkward fast. If things don’t go your way and your partner rejects the proposal, then you’ll both have to immediately get up and leave the restaurant before you even ordered anything…or maybe while you’re waiting for your meal to arrive.
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Pros and Cons of Proposing After Dinner

Whether you want to propose at the end of the night, or right before dessert, there are a few reasons why this might be the way to go:

  • Pro: You’ll get to focus on your meal first. Waiting until after dinner or after dessert to pop the question means you both get to eat and have a special meal before the big moment. It just gives you two a chance to have more of a quiet dinner, where no one is looking at you, which might be nice since that’s what you’re paying for.
  • Con: You might have trouble hiding your nervousness. Chances are good that you’re going to feel some sort of anxiety about proposing, especially in a public setting. If you propose later in the night, you’ll spend at least an hour or more trying to hide those emotions. Your partner might end up thinking something is wrong, which makes the mood kind of awkward, or you might not be able to enjoy yourself at all.
  • Pro: You get to have a more intimate celebration. Probably the biggest advantage of proposing at the end of dinner is that you both get to celebrate on your own when it’s all said and done. You can go somewhere and be alone, or you can plan something for after the engagement, like a small party. It gives you more options than just eating afterward.
  • Con: The end of the meal might feel a bit abrupt. A proposal after dinner might mean skipping dessert or just trying to rush out as soon as possible, which can leave the end of the evening feeling hectic. And if you don’t have anything planned afterward, this can also be a negative.
  • Pro: If they say no, you can both leave right away. If your partner ends up saying no, a proposal at the end of the meal means all you have to do is flag down your waiter, pay the bill, and go. It’s a swift exit, which will be exactly what both of you want.
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How to Pick the Perfect Restaurant

The restaurant you’re in definitely matters when it comes to this type of proposal. You want the moment to feel meaningful and go smoothly. The most obvious solution is to choose a sentimental restaurant that means something to both of you. This could be the place you had your first date, or it could be somewhere you go regularly that you both love. A restaurant that holds a special place in both of your hearts will feel like a natural spot for a proposal.

If that’s not really an option, then try selecting a restaurant with some sort of special feature—maybe it has a beautiful view of the landscape around you, maybe it’s a very fancy, upscale place that will serve you an elegant five-course meal, or maybe they have romantic live music playing. These sort of features give the spot a little bit of an edge and make it feel more like the right fit.

It’s also a good idea to make sure the restaurant will work with your engagement plans. Before you go in, speak to a manager to let them know what you’re planning and see how receptive they are to making the proposal perfect. Are they willing to hide the ring somewhere for you? Can they help you arrange a serenade if needed? Keeping the waitstaff informed can help the meal run more smoothly for you.

Where to Put the Ring

You have the perfect restaurant selection and you’ve figured out the timing. Now you need to decide exactly how you’re going to propose. Here are a few ideas:

  • Personalize the menu. It will take a little work, but could be worth it: make your own special menu that basically asks them to marry you instead of just listing the food. This is also a more private way to pop the question because no one around you will know what’s going on.
  • Get the waiter involved. Ask the waiter to bring the ring out with their meal or have them arrange some sort of serenade.
  • Write them a note. Write “Will you marry me?” on a napkin and slide it across the table or slip the note into their menu. Again, this is a bit more private.
  • Simply ask at the table. The way you ask definitely does not have to be incredibly elaborate. Keep things simple and get down on one knee at the table.
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Tips For a Smooth Proposal

There are a few more things to keep in mind to make the experience as great as possible for both of you.

  • Fill the restaurant in. Telling the restaurant your plan when you make the reservation is extremely helpful. They’ll probably be willing to give you a really nice table or work with you to plan the best proposal. If they don’t know, it could make things more difficult or stressful—if they know, they’ll help to make sure things run smoothly.
  • Bring tissues. There’s a good chance you or your partner, or both of you, will start tearing up after you ask. Tissues are always a good idea!
  • Wear something nice, and make sure they do too. What you wear ultimately depends on where you’re going, but a good rule of thumb is to dress like something special is about to happen. This means avoiding jeans and sneakers. And give your partner a heads up by letting them know the restaurant is a little fancy or making up a dress code.
  • Don’t put the ring in the food. It sounds fun, but planting the ring inside a chocolate cake or something else is messy and nerve-wracking. The last thing you want is for them to choke!
  • Make arrangements for photos. This is part of working with the restaurant beforehand. Figure out a nice place to have your photos taken right afterward the proposal instead of asking a stranger. It’s also a great idea to ask a manager or member of the waitstaff to get photos and/or video of the actual moment of the proposal.
  • Have something intimate planned for later on. Since your proposal is public, you might want to plan something for just the two of you for after the meal. Maybe that means just going back to your home where you have a nice bottle of wine waiting, or maybe it means a small party with close friends and family members. It’s nice to keep the night going in some way.
  • Be emotionally prepared for rejection. The tough thing about prosing in public is that a “no” can be especially hard to deal with. Everyone is looking at you guys and that can definitely make things extra awkward. Make peace with the fact that it’s a possibility, and if you don’t think you can handle that, maybe skip the public proposal.