Should I Propose Before or After Dinner? Here’s What the Experts Say

As they say, timing is everything! Proposing at the right time will make the moment even more magical—and make you less anxious.

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You’ve done it! You’ve found The One, the person you want to spend the rest of your life with. The hard part is over, right? Not quite. To honor your love, it’s important to propose in a way that feels meaningful, special, well thought out and authentic to you as a couple—and that’s all about the little details. The timing of the proposal is one of the details you need to get just right. And if you plan to propose over a meal, you might be wondering, Should I propose before or after dinner?

This may not be the most important aspect of the proposal (you did remember the ring, yes?), but taking the time to plan this out will show you care, build excitement and make you less anxious during the proposal, says Grant Speed, a jeweler and gemologist who specializes in engagement rings.

“The ring is often the centerpiece of the proposal, but how and when you present it can make or break the feeling of the proposal,” adds Carrie Speed, Grant’s wife and the co-owner of Jewelfire Diamonds, a chain of engagement-ring stores in Colorado. “In the 27 years we’ve been in this business, we’ve gotten to be a part of a lot of engagements, and we’ve seen it all.”

It can be a lot to think about! How much should you spend on an engagement ringWhat knee do you propose on? Once they say yes, are they your fiancé or fiancée? Which wedding traditions should you incorporate in your wedding? Before you get ahead of yourself, here’s what you need to know if you plan to propose around a meal.

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Should you propose before or after dinner?

“The No. 1 rule of proposing is that it needs to be climactic,” says Donnie Brown, a celebrity wedding planner from the Style Network series Whose Wedding Is It Anyway? and the founder of Donnie Brown Weddings and Events in Dallas. “This is the main event, so the timing should be at the apex of the evening.”

But the timing of the “apex” depends on a variety of factors, says Maryanne Parker, wedding etiquette expert and founder of Manor of Manners. They include:

  • Where the dinner is (a romantic restaurant vs. at home)
  • How public the location is and if strangers will be watching
  • If other people, like a photographer or family, will be involved
  • How fancy the location is
  • How much of a surprise you want it to be

Are there any specific etiquette rules surrounding the question “Should I propose before or after dinner?” Nope, but there are pros and cons to each situation. Our four experts break it down below.

The pros and cons of proposing before dinner

Pros

  • Gets it out of the way so you’re not worrying about it during the meal
  • Limits the time for things to go wrong
  • Allows you time as a couple to talk and connect
  • Allows for seating, food and space for other people you might wish to witness the proposal, like close family or friends

Cons

  • You may not feel like eating after the proposal and then the food might be wasted
  • If the proposal doesn’t go positively, you’ll have to sit through an awkward dinner or possibly argue publicly
  • It may feel too sudden or abrupt if you propose and then rush to eat dinner

The pros and cons of proposing after dinner

Pros

  • Gives you time to steady your nerves, prepare your speech and maybe have a drink or two
  • Allows you to enjoy eating the meal together, uninterrupted, as you probably won’t want to eat afterward
  • Gives you more time to make adjustments (say, if the photographer is running late)
  • Builds anticipation and excitement, especially if your beloved has an idea what’s coming
  • Gives you the option of going somewhere else for the actual ring presentation—perhaps a more private setting

Cons

  • If either of you is prone to nerves, you may feel nauseous having so much excitement after a big meal
  • It allows more time for anxiety to build and things to go wrong
  • If you have cold feet, you might lose your nerve

Proposing during dinner

When thinking about how to be romantic during the proposal, there is one more option, say the Speeds: proposing in the middle of the meal. You could present the ring with drinks while waiting for the main course, or drop down on one knee during the dessert course.

Just don’t put the ring in the champagne or the cake, says Grant. “A brand-new engagement ring is absolutely dazzling, and that’s the ‘awe’ factor when you put it on their ring finger. You want to take their breath away,” says Carrie. “It won’t hurt the ring to be in wine or food, but it will dull the sparkle and could potentially be a choking risk.”

Pick the perfect engagement ring

Tips for making your proposal extra special

Is an idea for the perfect proposal taking shape in your mind? Excellent. But before you finalize your plan, here are a few more things to consider.

Plan for some privacy

Public proposals, like those done at a restaurant, come with their own risks—and strangers interfering and your beloved not reacting in the way you expected are just two. So a nice compromise, says Brown, is to have the fancy dinner out, tease the proposal and then go somewhere more private for the actual presentation of the ring.

Consider social media

These days, nearly everyone wants to post pictures and video of the proposal, the ring and the couple online, says Parker. Keep this in mind when planning by making sure you’ll have good lighting and a pretty backdrop for pictures. Alternatively, if you want to keep the moment private or make sure other people you’ve invited to the proposal don’t beat you to the announcement, make sure that all phones are put away before the big moment.

Set the right mood

Sure, you could just hand the ring across the table, but a little extra effort will make the presentation truly memorable. “Have someone stage the ring under a light, maybe on a mantel, and have candles lit around it,” says Brown. You can also give a few small engagement gifts.

Make the proposal its own separate event

As tempting as it may be, never piggyback a proposal onto another big event like a family reunion, a sibling’s wedding or a friend’s baby shower. It might seem easier, since proposals “just take a minute” and everyone is already gathered, but doing this risks making your beloved feel unimportant and/or the guests of honor feel overshadowed, says Parker.

Skip the prank proposal

A popular current trend is to trick or prank the other person before doing the real proposal—usually as a way to get a big reaction, make others laugh or (heaven forbid) “go viral.” This usually entails pretending to propose, revealing it’s a prank and then eventually proposing for real. The other person, usually the woman, goes through a roller coaster of emotions in a very public way, and it’s all captured on film for social media.”This is cruel—don’t do it,” says Carrie Speed. “Why would you want to make the person you love the most uncomfortable during one of the biggest moments of their life?”

Ask for help

Whether you hire a photographer to capture the moment, involve friends in the setup or ask the waiter to be your accomplice, involving others will take some of the pressure off of you and help you stay present and really enjoy the moment, says Parker. After all, this is about you too!

As you can see, the answer to the question “Should I propose before or after dinner?” is very individual. Once you know what’s right for you, the rest will fall into place, and before you know it, you’ll be picking out engagement gifts and looking through wedding registry ideas. Good luck!

Sources:

  • Grant and Carrie Speed, licensed jewelers, custom wedding and engagement ring specialists and co-owners of Jewelfire Diamonds
  • Donnie Brown, celebrity wedding planner from the Style Network’s Whose Wedding Is It Anyway? and the founder of Donnie Brown Weddings and Events
  • Maryanne Parker, wedding etiquette expert and founder of Manor of Manners

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte is an award-winning journalist who covers etiquette, relationships, psychology, health and lifestyle. She has written more than 50 etiquette stories for Reader’s Digest, spearheading the site’s popular Polite Habits and Best Messages series. With a knack for capturing the essence of an interview subject, she also specializes in human-interest and “as told to” stories. In addition to Reader’s Digest and The Healthy, her work has been published in Shape, Cosmopolitan, Women's Health, O Magazine, Fitness, Redbook, Seventeen, What to Expect When You're Expecting and more.