ENTERTAINMENT
26/01/2021 11:19 GMT | Updated 07/03/2021 10:13 GMT

First Dates: 29 Things You Probably Never Knew About The Channel 4 Dating Show

We've uncovered the secrets of the nation's most romantic restaurant.

Being set up with a stranger then having your first date filmed and shown to millions on TV is the stuff of nightmares for many of us, but nearly nine years on from its debut, First Dates is still managing to find people to do exactly that. 

The hit Channel 4 show returned for its latest series earlier this year, complete with some new faces and a brand new restaurant, after packing up its London eatery and heading to Manchester.

We’ve uncovered the secrets of the hit dating show to take you behind the scenes of how it is made...

Channel 4
The First Dates team have been playing matchmakers since 2012

1. Until 2021, the First Dates restaurant was located at the Paternoster Chop House in London, which is next to St Paul’s Cathedral. While the restaurant is not open to the public during filming, it is a real restaurant, and you can eat there.

2. The show opened a new Manchester restaurant for the 2021 series, which is The Refinery, located in Spinningfields in the city centre. The restaurant is owned by chain Drake And Morgan. 

3. Contestants are given £25 each towards the cost of their meals, but must pay the rest of their bill themselves, so the scenes you see of them deciding who will pay are real (although there’s obviously no mention of the £50 discount). 

Alphotographic via Getty Images
The Paternoster Chop House is situated in Paternoster Square beside St Paul's Cathedral

4. The cheapest main on the menu at Paternoster Chop House is a cheeseburger at £17, but you have to buy sides separately. A portion of the triple cooked chips will set you back £4.75. The most expensive item on the menu is the 300g fillet steak, priced at £36, and you’ll still need to add sides on top of that. The average starter will set you back a tenner, while the standard dessert price is £7. 

5. The cheapest bottles of wine are priced at £27, cocktails start at £9.50, while a pint will cost you £6.

6. The Manchester restaurant is much cheaper, however, with a cheeseburger only costing £12,95 including sides. The most expensive item on the menu is the sirloin steak at £22.95, including sides. The average starter at The Refinery costs £7, with desserts around £6.

7. On the drinks front, house wines are £22, cocktails are also around £10. If you’re a beer drinker, you’d have to stick to bottled as the bar doesn’t have draught. 

8. The other people in the restaurant aren’t members of the public – they are what are known as “background daters”, and yes, they are on real dates too! Members of the public can apply to be a “background dater” and producers will match you up with someone to enjoy a first date with. 

9. All the cameras in the restaurant are controlled remotely, so there aren’t any camera operators running around trying to capture all the action. 

10. The London restaurant had 42 cameras positioned across the venue. 

11. The first series of the show would see dates filmed each Saturday, which were then edited down into an episode to air the following week, with cameras and equipment having to be installed and removed each week. Following series have seen dates filmed in batches, well in advance of airing on TV. 

Channel 4
The London First Dates restaurant has 42 remote cameras

12. In the initial application form, singletons are asked to describe themselves and their ideal partner and provide five photos of themselves, as well as links to their social media pages.

13. According to former contestant Paul Thompson, contestants then have a phone interview, and if successful, they are invited to London to meet producers for a recorded interview.  

14. If a diner is then selected to appear on the show, they will travel to London once again to film the profile interviews that feature on the show, before going on the eventual date. 

Channel 4
Contestants film their interview if they make it through two auditions

15. Even though the 2021 series has relocated to Manchester, a number of interviews with diners and staff were filmed in London. 

16. You might have already suspected this, but the staff you see on TV do not work at the restaurant when it is open to the public.

17. When First Dates began, maître d’hôtel Fred Siriex was general manager at the exclusive Galvin at Windows restaurant at the London Hilton Hotel on Park Lane, but left after 14 years in 2019.

Channel 4
Fred Sirieix is the show's maître d’hôtel

18. Fred didn’t immediately say yes when first approached to appear on the show, with First Dates producer Molly Sayers saying: “He gave me the runaround and I had to work quite hard to get him interested in the premise.”

19. Bartender Merlin Griffiths actually owns his own pub and restaurant, the Priory Tavern, in Kilburn in London. It has a 4.3 star review on Google. 

Channel 4
Merlin Griffiths owns his own pub away from the show

20. Waiter CiCi Coleman is actually an actor, with her credits including Red Butterfly and Essex Vendetta. She studied for her degree at the New York Film Academy and performed in three off-Broadway plays at The Players Club in New York. She was working in hospitality when recruited for the show. 

Channel 4
CiCi Coleman is one of the show's waiters

21. Fellow waiter Laura Tott was a member of the Royal Navy and now works as a paramedic when she is not filming the Channel 4 show. 

22. Laura recently revealed on Instagram that she was not invited to join the First Dates team when it relocated to Manchester as bosses wanted to introduce some new local faces. “This doesn’t mean it’s over and I’m still very much part of the First Dates family and hopefully I’ll be back again real soon,” she wrote. 

23. When not working in the First Dates restaurant, Austin Ventour is a supervisor at gaming bar and cultural space Platform in east London. He also DJs and has dabbled in modelling. 

24. Grant Urquhart had previously worked as a waiter in York before moving down to London to study at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts. He joined the show after a successful audition in 2018. He is now looking to work on the other side of the camera in TV production, and is listed as a runner on recruitment website The Talent Manager

Channel 4
Grant wants to work behind the cameras as well as appearing in front of them

25. Among the new faces in the Manchester restaurant include waiters Daniella and David and bartender Fiona. Both Daniella and David worked in the service industry prior to joining the First Dates team, while David is also working on launching his own fashion brand. Meanwhile, Fiona still works in advertising. 

26. The show had to navigate a number of changes due to the Covid-19 pandemic while filming the most recent series – but you wouldn’t be able to tell from the finished product, with every aspect of what’s on screen appearing as it usually would.

Channel 4
The First Dates Manchester team (L-R): Fiona, Grant, Daniella, Fred, David, CiCi and Merlin

27. To be able to achieve this there were a number of measures introduced including rigorous testing, self-isolation and a bubble system for all kitchen staff, editorial staff, crew members and daters. No one was allowed in the restaurant without a negative Covid test result.  

28. The team used rapid testing, meaning they could test everyone as close to their point of entry into the restaurant as possible, producer Sarah Fink told the BBC. The daters each had a room in a hotel where a testing station was set up.

29. Bosses initially discussed producing a Zoom-version of First Dates with Channel 4, but eventually decided against it as it “just didn’t feel like necessarily the right way to go,” Fink added to the BBC.

First Dates airs on Tuesdays at 10pm on Channel 4.