Why Valentine’s Day is the worst time to eat out
I’m here to warn you. I’m here to stop you making a big mistake. I’m here, in short, to make sure you stay at home on 14 February. Valentine’s night is the Friday 13 of restaurant dining. It’s a time when bad things happen.
For a start, there are the other diners. On Valentine’s Day, restaurants are filled with once-a-year romantics forcing themselves to have a good time, packed in cheek by jowl at tables that barely fit the space. What you intended as a romantic dinner ends up feeling more like the reception at a Moonie mass wedding.
And make no mistake: a room full of couples does not make for a lively atmosphere. Put six friends around a table and you have a gregarious hum of conversation and laughter. Put three couples at separate tables and you create a soundtrack of embarrassed whispers and uneasy enjoyment – hardly the language of love.
Then, of course, there’s the food. Even decent restaurants underperform on Valentine’s Day. On the ‘special menu’, designed to cause the kitchen minimum inconvenience, you can expect the regulation ‘aphrodisiacs’: asparagus tips (ooh, get you with your lascivious licking!), salmon (pink), chocolate (sensuous) and a variation on a strawberry theme.
Never mind that strawberries in February could hardly be more out of season. Winter strawberries are the official fruit of Valentine’s Day: red, heart-shaped, tasteless and a little bit sad.
Gulp! ‘How much?!’
And did I mention the price? It’s laughably high. Valentine’s Day is a cash cow for restaurants in the dark days of winter and you can’t blame them for milking it. But the truth is, that ‘free’ glass of pink fizz and scattering of petals on the table cost you more than they cost them.
It’s all delivered with, at best, a mild air of panic and, at worse, a discontented scowl. The staff don’t want to be there. They’d much rather be at home with the one they love or out with their mates. They’re stressed because a restaurant full of couples all wanting to eat at the same time plays havoc with service (two by two is not a natural rhythm and VD – a particularly unfortunate abbreviation – is legendary for its long waits).
The staff are also peeved because there are more complaints than usual – partly because Valentine’s Day comes with unrealistic expectations of a perfect evening that few restaurants could ever deliver; partly because it brings in the sort of irregular diners who think it’s clever to make a fuss and never tip.
''My advice is to go out another time – any other time''
At the very least, seek out a restaurant (and they do exist) that has studiously avoided the whole hearts and roses thing. They will be full of people laughing, drinking and generally having a good time – which is what going to a restaurant is all about.
Better yet, stay at home and have a nice time together. Open a decent bottle of wine. Make something simple and good to eat. Have a little Valentine’s kiss. If you end up eating dinner off each other’s naked bodies, so much the better. Just avoid anything containing chilli…