Having worked in the hospitality industry for over two decades, James isn’t just an expert bartender but he also has firsthand experience being a part of the First Dates experience.
Appearing on the UK version of the series a few years ago, James has made the journey “from dater to waiter” as he told 10 play.
“I know exactly how the daters feel when they walk up to the bar,” he said. “You can be the most confident person, but put them in a situation where they’re going to go on a blind date, you’re a bag of nerves!”
In this age of dating apps and sliding into DMs, the art of blind dates is almost entirely lost. With most people having some idea of who they’re going on a date with, or at least what they look like in their photos, First Dates strips away all of that and pairs two people up to see if sparks will fly.
For James, while his date was a perfect match personality-wise, after going on a second date outside the show, “We just realised we were more like friends. He’s a great guy, just on a physical level we didn’t really connect.”
But the experience made James uniquely perfect to be one of the first faces the daters will be greeted by as they enter the First Dates Australia venue.
After Maître d Giacomo welcomes the daters, they’re often ushered to the bar to order a drink from James. There, he’s in prime position to get all the goss, he can get to know the person in front of him, what they’re hoping to see walk through the door, what their type is and, of course, what their taste in drinks says about them.
“I’m just being a bartender! It’s just a chat at the bar,” he said, laughing. “I’ve heard some amazing stories throughout my career.”
While the matching process really does aim to find the best pairings for dates, sometimes there’s just no accounting for a lack of chemistry. When asked if he’s seen some disasters go down, James laughed.
“Of course some of these dates don’t work out, and they don’t work out WHILE they’re happening!” But he doesn’t hide behind the bar, in fact he’s got the best seats in the house for some a-grade entertainment.
“It’s like watching it on TV but you’re actually in there watching, and you’re able to comment on it!”
The bar staff watch on as they see the flickers of initial sparks, hoping that the laughs filling the restaurant are more of the genuine variety than awkward.
“The daters are so diverse,” James added, “At this moment in time you’ve got every sexuality, gender, non-gender specific, bisexual, pansexual, the whole list of identities coming on the show and I think it’s really gorgeous.
“It’s reflective of what’s going on in the world, what is the norm.”
And as the man behind the bar, James’ advice for ordering the perfect first date drink was simple: “Just choose a drink you enjoy”.
“A lot of people in that situation will mirror the drink of the date they’re meeting, that might not be their drink!”
Watching as people struggle through a Piña Colada they panic-ordered, or gingerly sipping a red wine when they’re more of a rosé type, James said the best way to quash any first date nerves was to just order what’s comfortable to you.
“The right thing to choose on a date is what you usually drink!”
Catch James behind the bar alongside the restaurant crew when First Dates Australia airs 7.30 Thursdays on 10 and 10 play on demand