Happy day of love and friendship! I bet you didn’t think I was a romantic. Wrong. I can be as lovey-dovey as the drippiest sap and have been particularly gushy of late. That’s probably because I’m dating a guy who is as sweet and tender as St-Canut porcelait. But when he asked me where I wanted to go on Feb. 14, I did laugh in his face. I’m not cruel. I’m a professional diner who knows better than to venture into a restaurant on the most overhyped night of the year for a manufactured Hallmark holiday.
Seriously, who dines out on Valentine’s Day?
After Mother’s Day and New Year’s Eve, it’s the busiest night for restaurants. You’ll likely have to go in early and get out quick because most places try to do three turnovers. The seating is tight and uncomfortable because all the tables that normally seat four people have been split in half and spread out for couples. Prices are marked up. You can only order prix-fixe tasting menus. And the service is shaky, as most restaurants try to offer something special, which they’re not accustomed to doing, so everything gets mucked up.
You can’t really blame restaurants for exploiting the celebration, which falls during their slowest time of the year. It saves jobs. It’s good for the economy.
But I do take issue with the whole premise of a kissy-face festival that discriminates against singles – Canada’s fastest-growing demographic. And I would say that the Vancouver restaurant industry is sadly conventional and lacking in imagination for not capitalizing on this new reality.
Where are all the Galentine’s Day specials for groups of gal pals or guys? And please don’t suggest Valentine’s Day speed dating or a singles mixer (I’ve seen lots of those advertised.) This implies that singles are desperate to change their status and should be segregated from all the happy couples.
On the flip side, I wouldn’t want to discriminate against all the happy couples who, silly as it sounds to me, actually enjoy dining out on Valentine’s Day. From what I have gathered by talking to dozens of restaurant servers, sommeliers and managers (because I can’t even remember the last time I went out for Valentine’s Day), they’re generally young, they don’t dine out a lot, they save up for this big night out and they’re genuinely excited to be there.
“There’s a real buzz in the room,” restaurant veteran Lisa Haley says. “Nobody is there because they’re hungry. They’re there for this special occasion and they chose you – your restaurant. That’s definitely exiting and it’s so fun to watch.”
So for all you crazy-in-love kids out there who insist on celebrating and can’t just stay home and cook heart-shaped hamburgers, which sounds more sensible, here is my V-Day restaurant survival guide.
If you haven’t already made reservations, you’re out of luck. This year might be different because of the snowstorm. I’m sure there has been a deluge of cancellations. But generally, if you call a restaurant on the morning of Valentine’s Day looking for a reservation that night, the person answering the phone won’t even try to hide their laughter.
Choose your restaurant carefully
Do not expect a fantastic fine-dining tasting menu from a restaurant that normally offers counter-service tacos. Some restaurants do go above and beyond, showering the menu with caviar, uni butter and other silky delicacies. But if it’s too far outside their norm, steer clear.
Look for Valentine’s Week specials
Many restaurants extend their Valentine’s Day menus for a few days before and after. Love is a soft, gooey feeling. It doesn’t have to be celebrated on any particular day.
It sounds romantic. It’s not. What if she or he says no? It happens more often than you think. What if he or she says yes? They’ll be on the phone telling all their friends and family. You’ll be sitting alone. Service will get backed up. The couple waiting for your table will be immensely peeved. Just wait until you get home.
Go easy on the aphrodisiacs
Public displays of affection are acceptable. Hogging the bathroom together is not. This is apparently a common problem in restaurants on Valentine’s Day. Again, much more romantic in private.