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The Psychology of the “Foodie Call”

When do women date men for free meals?

According to traditional dating etiquette, when a man meets a woman he finds attractive, he invites her out for dinner and entertainment at his expense. It's understood that by accepting the date, the woman is signaling her romantic interest in the man.

In the 21st century, however, dating has gotten far more complicated. This is especially true for those who still cling to traditional notions of dating dynamics, as they become targets for scammers who want to game the system. One example of this is what's known as the “foodie call.”

According to psychologists Brian Collisson, Jennifer Howell, and Trista Harig, a foodie call occurs when someone accepts a dinner date even though they aren’t romantically interested in the suitor, just to get a free meal. Although the idea of the foodie call has been discussed in the popular media for a while now, these researchers are the first to scientifically investigate this phenomenon.

Collisson and colleagues point out that the perpetrator of the foodie call can be either a man or woman, and it can happen in same-sex as well as opposite-sex contexts. However, it’s usually described as the case of a woman receiving a dinner date offer from a man, and feigning romantic interest just to get a free meal at a nice restaurant. For this reason, the researchers only surveyed women who self-identified as heterosexual.

In this study, the researchers tested a hypothesis about the characteristics of someone who would engage in a foodie call. Specifically, they predicted that such persons would score high on a constellation of personality traits known as the “dark triad.” Namely, these are:

  • Machiavellianism. These people manipulate and deceive others for their own benefit.
  • Psychopathy. These people lack empathy for the plight of others and feel no remorse for their own harmful actions.
  • Narcissism. Narcissists have an inflated sense of self-importance and entitlement. Furthermore, while they’re socially adept, they have little interest in building deep relationships with others.

All three of these “dark triad” characteristics seem to be important personal components for those who would regularly engage in foodie calls.

Over 1,000 women completed questionnaires that assessed the following:

  • Foodie call frequency. First, they were asked if they’d ever engaged in a foodie call. If they answered positively, they were then asked to estimate how many times they’d done so. Finally, they rated the social acceptability of foodie calls.
  • Dark Triad. The respondents answered questions from commonly used scales designed to assess the degree of Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism.
  • Gender role beliefs. The items in this questionnaire assessed the respondents’ endorsement of traditional gender roles. Among these, of course, was the belief that it’s the man’s duty to pay all expenses on a date.

Across the two samples included in this study, between a quarter and a third of the respondents admitted to having engaged in at least one foodie call. And not surprisingly, those who'd done so also viewed them as socially acceptable.

It also comes as no surprise that women who engage in foodie calls scored high on all three facets of the dark triad. Furthermore, it was the combination of all three traits, and not any one of them in particular, that best predicted foodie-call behavior. This makes sense, given that a foodie call involves deceiving another person for your own benefit (Machiavellianism), lack of empathy and remorse (psychopathy), and a sense of entitlement (narcissism).

Additionally, women who engaged in foodie calls were more likely to endorse traditional gender roles than those who didn’t engage in the behavior. This finding might seem contradictory at first glance. After all, traditional gender roles give the man the responsibility of paying for dates, but they also give women the responsibility of only accepting dates from men they’re attracted to.

But I suspect two different dynamics explain this result.

First, most women in current society don’t endorse traditional gender roles anymore. Instead, attitudes of gender equality are the norm, especially among the younger generation that makes up most of the modern dating scene. Anecdotal evidence suggests that young daters nowadays are more likely to pay their own way, at least in the beginning. Or else they do inexpensive first dates, such as meeting for a drink at a coffee shop or bar. The formal date where the man pays for an expensive dinner and entertainment may be something their parents did, but it’s not for them.

Second, people who score high on the dark triad will often endorse traditional social values—at least for other people. After all, these are the systems they’re gaming for their own benefit. At the same time, they rationalize their antisocial behaviors by saying there’s nothing wrong with them because other people do them too. In other words, they denigrate those with traditional attitudes as fools who deserve to be taken advantage of. “A sucker is born every minute” is their motto.

It's important to keep in mind that most of the women surveyed don't condone foodie calls, nor do they engage in them.

I also think this study shows that the traditional dating scenario is no longer viable. Men who feel they can only attract women with offers of expensive dinner dates may need to rethink their strategy if they want to avoid being taken advantage of.

Likewise, women who believe in gender equality could consider countering such offers with suggestions for low-key first dates instead. In today’s society, this is probably a more honest signal of romantic attraction, while it removes the perceived obligation of having to pay your date back for the expense he incurred.

I look forward to reading the perspectives of those currently on the dating scene in the comments below.


Collisson, B., Howell, J. L., & Harig, T. (2019). Foodie calls: When women date men for a free meal (rather than a relationship). Social Psychological and Personality Science. Advance online publication. DOI: 10.1177/1948550619856308