First Dates is back on Channel 4 with a brand new location

Channel 4’s popular dating show First Dates will return to our screens on 19 January, and the format will remain largely the same, despite Covid restrictions being in place.

Instead of Zoom dating and isolating in a Surrey mansion like in Celebs go Dating, contestants will continue to be wined and dined in a restaurant setting - without social distancing or masks.

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While the dates might be similar to what we have seen in previous seasons, the staff and restaurant had a shake up with a new Manchester location..

So, what can you expect from series 16 And how did the producers manage to film in the Covid era? This is what we know.

Where was First Dates Filmed?

The 16th series will break with tradition - moving out of Paternoster Chop House in the popular St Paul’s area of London to The Refinery in Spinningfields, Manchester.

Though some may think this was related to the pandemic, Channel 4 has been moving its productions north for some time, opening creative hubs in Leeds and Glasgow in 2019.

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Executive producer Jon Crisp has told how the show’s executives had already considered moving out of London prior to the pandemic, as a means of producing a fresh new look.

He told the BBC: "To be honest, we'd been looking for quite a while to change the restaurant because we filmed a lot there [in London], and we were keen to shake things up a little bit, create a new environment for daters which would keep their experience as real as possible.”

Manchester has long been considered one of the best cities in the UK for nightlife, making it perfect for singletons to continue getting to know their date after enjoying maître d' Fred Sirieix’s hospitality.

How else is the set up different?

While the show has always tried to be a reflection of the British dating scene, producers have taken it one step further to ensure authenticity.

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In the latest series, the show’s host, Sirieix will not seat the singletons at the bar and introduce them.

Instead they will need to approach the bar alone and greet their date - drumming up conversation or risk an evening of staring awkwardly into their drink.

The Refinery is also considerably smaller than Paternoster Chophouse, and guests were only joined by other diners who were part of the production.

Therefore, dates could enjoy people-watching from the bar and gauge how successful others had been in their attempts at finding love.

Will there be new staff members?

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As producers aimed to create a real-life environment, there would have been little authenticity in Londoners welcoming guests into a Mancunian restaurant.

Therefore, three new staff members will join the cast - Daniella, David and Fiona.

Not to worry - First Dates’ fans will not go without their Fred fix. The famous Frenchman will join his trio of staff members - Merlin Griffiths, CiCi Coleman and Grant Urquhart - in the Manchester eatery.

Born and raised in Manchester, Daniella is a waitress already and had previously applied to be on the show as a date.

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David is Liverpudlian who moved to Manchester to study fashion design, before becoming a restaurant manager in London.

As for Fiona, she has previously worked as a model and will be the apprentice of experienced barman, Merlin.

How did producers create a covid-safe production?

First Dates was filmed during 2020, in a year during which we were confined to Zoom quizzes and distanced outdoor gatherings if we wanted to see our friends and family.

So, the idea sipping on Martinis with our new beau in a crowded restaurant may seem somewhat far-fetched.

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Crisp has explained how the show managed to go ahead, and why producers did not opt for a series which reflected the current struggles with finding love in lockdown.

He said: "We considered doing Zoom dating, and we discussed it with [Channel 4].

"We didn't want to create something that people could get fed up of quite quickly.

"It felt like it could produce something that could be quite interesting, to see how people are doing it. But while we're a documentary at heart, we are there to entertain viewers and give an insight into the world of dating, and they also want a bit of escapism."

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The cast and crew were tested and formed a bubble while filming to allow them to work together, while those attending the restaurant isolated in a hotel where they completed a covid test prior to filming.

Producer Sarah Flink said this ensured that prior to filming, everyone inside the restaurant tested negative and felt safe to proceed.

She said: “The crucial bit for us was to test people as close as them going into the restaurant as possible, so they knew they were negative when they went in, and knew that everyone around them was also negative."

Therefore, viewers will be able to enjoy watching some form of normality - with diners moving around the restaurant freely, shaking hands (maybe even a kiss) and sitting within close proximity to one another.

Where can I watch First Dates?

The latest series of First Dates will air on Channel 4 every Tuesday at 10pm from 19th January.

You can also view it on Channel 4’s 4oD catch up streaming site.