Ah yes, VD… no not the sexually transmitted disease, the lovely day where men buy heart shaped boxes of crappy chocolate and last minute brown tinged roses from CVS and women pretend that it’s enough to make them happy when all they actually wanted was that heart charm bracelet from Tiffany’s. The day when little nerdy children become brave enough to write out a paper valentine for the super popular boy/girl they have a crush on, only to be made fun of mercilessly by their peers for such an act.*
Yes… it’s here again… Valentine’s Day. Despite the fact that everyone does it anyway, Valentine’s Day is probably the worst night ever to try to actually have a romantic dinner with someone you love. As a server I’ve had a first hand look at how awful dining out on VD can be. The pressure to make it all “perfect” is so intense and the ideals are impossible to live up to. I’ve watched snuggly couples turn into rabid dogs right in front of me. I’ve watched seemingly polite people turn into impatient assholes when their wait gets extended yet another 15 minutes. The fact is it’s stupid to try to dine out on VD. Too many people have the same idea and too many of them had it far too late. I can’t tell you how many calls restaurants get day of, usually by desperate procrastinating men who, for some reason, think they can call at 4pm and actually get dinner reservations at 7pm on VD. I’ve even had men try to bribe me into giving them a table.
Pathetic Procrastinating Dude: “Will a crisp $20 change your mind?”
Me: “We have a waiting list to be on the waiting list. Honey, not even $1,000 could get you into this place tonight… well unless you happen to have $1000 in cash that you could give me on the sly, but even then you’ll have to wait until at least 9pm and sit next to another couple at a table for four.”
The thing is, even if you have thought ahead and gotten reservations a few weeks in advance, you still end up having a shitty time. Most restaurants run a Prix Fixe menu with very limited selection that forces you into a $45-$95 3 or 4 course meal with or without wine selection and usually including some kind of boring appetizer and crappy chocolate heart shaped dessert. They rope you in with offerings of free sparkling wine (which costs the restaurant pennies) and some small and usually gross amuse bouche soup course (also, pennies) so you think you’ve gotten some kind of deal.
Since normal diners and foodies know better than to even attempt to dine out on VD, it’s what we in the industry call “total amateur hour.” Most of the clientele for VD dining are young, usually 18-25 year olds, who haven’t had kids yet and still think VD is actually important for their love lives. Unfortunately, most of them rarely dine anywhere but in front of their tv set, or at one of those chain restaurants with random stuff glued all over the walls where they serve jalapeño poppers and blooming onions. These are people who have no idea what food is supposed to look like, smell like, or taste like, so inevitably it is impossible to please them. They get thrown when American cheese is not an option. They assume charcuterie is an assortment of thinly sliced deli meats with a little miracle whip and bread and butter pickles on the side. The men are a little easier to please, as long as there’s a steak on the menu and a light beer on tap. The women however, become easily overwhelmed when they can’t find the style of salad dressing they like (ranch on the side of course) or when they order zinfandel without realizing it’s not the sweet pink crap they are used to drinking on ice out of plastic cups at the beach. That’s when the horror begins. There’s pouting, whining, yelling, foot stomping, fit throwing, glass throwing, walk-outs… yes… all that in the name of love… also they tip like shit.
Then there are the couples that somehow, against all odds, end up having things go their way. They get a nice, quiet, dimly lit table. All the food comes exactly the way they wanted. Then another half dozen oysters and a few drinks later, these couples can’t get enough of each other… and they want to express it, with fervor. One time at the Beehive, a manager actually had to stop a couple who had been vivaciously making out, complete with what a health teacher would call “heavy petting,” from running off and having sex in the bathroom. They were half way in a stall before he was able to intervene.
Of course the restaurants are sometimes responsible for their own drama. I was witness to a severe allergy attack involving a poor woman who ate a dish made with shrimp, even after telling her server that she was deathly allergic** to shellfish. Anaphylaxis… how romantic. The chef fired the server on the spot in front of a room full of diners. One particular Valentines Day I was maneuvering through a thick crowd at Cuchi Cuchi, (otherwise known as the smallest restaurant on the planet) got bumped by a guest, and spilled an entire tray full of glasses filled to the brim with vintage Veuve Clicquot ($20 a glass) on three different couples, in front of the owner. I was fired a week later and I’m pretty sure this had a great deal to do with that.
But I’ve seen a lot of nice moments too. Engagements, reunions with lost loves, catching that look in someone’s eyes that you can see across a crowded room when they suddenly realize that the person they are sitting across from is just… flat out… amazing. That’s the stuff that really keeps you going… even through the bad tips and the clueless diners and the long hours spent trying to make that perfect moment… for someone else.
Sometimes it’s worth it.
Disclaimer #1: I’m not saying the idea of Valentine’s day is wrong. I think it’s very important to celebrate love, especially in a shitty fucked up crazy world like this. I’m just saying I don’t think you need some special day to do it. Love should be celebrated every day.
Disclaimer #2: But if you are male and happen to love me, my favorite flowers are tea roses and gerber daises and I prefer dark chocolate without any nuts. Just sayin…
*This may or may not have happened to me…
**Don’t worry, she didn’t die.