Make your plans for a disaster-proof Valentine’s Day

Avoid placing in next year’s Worst Date Contest with these fun, affordable outings

Now that you’ve digested a heaping helping of what not to do from SN&R’s Worst Date Contest winners, let’s focus on ensuring a fun night out.

Perhaps the most helpful dating advice ever conceived is commonly attributed to Miss Manners herself, Judith Martin. The etiquette advice columnist engineered this simple date-planning formula: “There are three possible parts to a date, of which at least two must be offered: entertainment, food, and affection. It is customary to begin a series of dates with a great deal of entertainment, a moderate amount of food, and the merest suggestion of affection. As the amount of affection increases, the entertainment can be reduced proportionately. When the affection is the entertainment, we no longer call it dating. Under no circumstances can the food be omitted.”

With this in mind, we offer a selection of our favorite food-based dates for a variety of budgets. Most include an entertainment option. We’ll leave the affection up to you.

Beer and ice cream

The festively lit intersection of Franklin Boulevard and Third Avenue, home of Pangaea Two Brews Cafe and Gunther’s Ice Cream Shop, looks like something out of It’s a Wonderful Life. The location itself is a guaranteed mood booster. This date can be done in any order: grab drinks and grub at Pangaea, and top it with ice-cream sundaes at Gunther’s, or eat dessert first and cross over to the bar if things work out. You can grab bottles at Pangaea’s bottle shop to take home, if things are really working out. Franklin Boulevard and Third Avenue;;

Ethical coffee talk

Insight Coffee Roasters, the new cafe on the grid, offers sustainably sourced coffee beans and organic milks. Even the furniture is made from locally obtained fallen trees. Suggesting a casual meeting here tells a potential love interest you are health conscious, eco-savvy and up to date on the newest neighborhood spots. It’s a great place to compare values and decide if you want to occupy a second date. 1901 Eighth Street, (916) 642-9555,

Outdoor enthusiasm

Park in Fair Oaks Village and dine on nutburgers and nutty tacos at the vegetarian Sun Flower Drive In. (Be sure to say hello to the village chickens roaming around the tables.) Walk or bike down Bridge Street and across the footbridge to access the American River Bike Trail, or hike uphill to take in the river view from Fair Oaks Bluff. 10344 Fair Oaks Boulevard in Fair Oaks, (916) 967-4331,

The other fondue

Fondue is a tried-and-true date experience. Dipping and cooking your food is fun, or at least gives a couple something to do besides stare at each other. Multi-course fondue restaurants can be pretty pricey, so we recommend the affordable and exotic fondue experience at Heat Shabu Baru. Shabu is Japanese fondue—thin meat, tofu and veggies you cook at your table in a hot pot of broth. Rumor has it that Heat’s charismatic owners sometimes try to get customers drunk. Kampai! 2416 18th Street, (916) 930-9888,

Rockin’ ramen

Shoki Ramen House offers savory, inexpensive bowls of nourishing soup. Whether your date is vegan, gluten-free or nearly carnivorous, Shoki’s endlessly customizable menu is sure to please. Shoki is located within a few blocks of Old Ironsides, Fox & Goose, and Ace of Spades, making it the perfect fuel station before a night of live music. 1201 R Street, (916) 441-0011,

Small-plate date

Test your compatibility at the bar inside The Press by choosing options off of the tapas menu together. At three items for $10, you can afford to supplement the inexpensive eats with a selection from The Press’ extensive wine list. 1809 Capitol Avenue, (916) 444-2566,

One milkshake, two straws

Gatsby’s Diner has hearty burgers, cooked on a grill in the center of the restaurant, accompanied by crisp golden fries and rich milkshakes. The whole décor is retro art deco, including the diner’s silver facade, but the menu offers modern options like beet sliders for vegetarians. If you really want to go old school, share a milkshake with two straws. 2598 Alta Arden Expressway, (916) 977-0102.

Two Towers

Take your date to an artsy flick at the Tower Theatre. (Subtitles make you feel smart!) After, head next door for tea and a frosted feat of dessert architecture from the Tower Cafe’s glass showcase. Tarts, mousse and triple-layer cakes are guaranteed to sweeten any evening. 16th Street and Broadway,,

The morning after

You could meet a date for brunch at Awful Annie’s, but it’s more likely you’ll head there together after a successful night out. Both Annie’s locations—in Lincoln and Auburn—are surrounded by small-town streets lined with charming boutiques for leisurely post-brunch walks. You’ll need one to sober up from Annie’s gourmet Bloody Marys. 160 Sacramento Street in Auburn, (530) 888-9857; 490 G Street in Lincoln, (916) 645-9766,