9 February 2024

Roses are red, violets are blue, it’s Valentine's Day and restaurants hate you

| Lucy Ridge
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Mandarin trifle in small glass dish

Have you considered how the restaurant feels about your table for two and dessert to share? Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Ahh, Valentine’s Day. When couples feel societal pressure to performatively brag about their love via acts of mindless consumerism and public displays of affection.

I’ll admit to being something of a cynic when it comes to romance (no, really? After that introduction?), so I was never exactly a fan of Valentine’s Day. A table for two at a fancy restaurant might seem like an intimate and romantic occasion, but years of working in hospitality thoroughly solidified my dislike of the lovers’ holiday.

To start with, tables in restaurants are generally designed to seat parties of more than two. So when every table is full of couples, that means an awful lot of chairs are going unfilled. And waitstaff are spending more time per person explaining the specials, topping up water bottles, and making sure everyone is having a good time.

In an industry working on very tight profit margins, that translates to more staff with fewer customers. It’s no wonder more restaurants are running Valentine’s Day set menus as this simplifies orders for the kitchen and guarantees a minimum spend per head.

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Couples also tend to linger over dessert, swapping mouthfuls while coyly sipping their wine. Speed it up, people! We’d like to get a second seating in, plus nobody wants to watch grown adults feeding each other. Yuck.

Meanwhile, the non-romantics are spending the evening at home or at the thoroughly platonic pub.

Dessert featuring apricots.

No matter how romantic you’re feeling, don’t feed each other dessert. Photo: Region.

I’ve witnessed some appalling customer behaviour, but Valentine’s Day often seemed to bring out the worst in people. It’s not your waiter’s fault that you and your partner have nothing to talk about, so don’t yell at them about how long you’ve been waiting for your food.

And the embarrassing displays of male ego still give me second-hand-cringe.

“This wine is corked!”

“Umm … this is a screw top bottle, sir.”

Or the gentlemen who suggested his oysters had not been “freshly shuckled”, and resisted all attempts to assure him that they were, in fact, freshly shucked. The ‘I am so sorry’ eyes of the date suggested that this attempt at showing off his gourmet prowess was not well received.

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And the number of people who will ask the staff if they are doing something special for Valentine’s Day always astonishes me. Considering many of these staff won’t finish their shift until around midnight on February 14, the only special thing they are doing is serving you your dinner. If they’re really lucky, they might have time for a quick snog behind the bins with their work crush, but that’s hardly worth bragging about.

If you truly want to have a special night with your loved one, that is wonderful. Good for you. But don’t forget you can tell someone you love them with champagne and oysters on any old night of the year. And if you are dining out on the 14th, keep it snappy on dessert.

The real-world adoption of the fictional Galentine’s Day – a day for women to celebrate friendship on February 13 – is definitely something that’s a little more hospitality-friendly. Big groups keeping the drinks flowing, with no shortage of conversation and zero male ego. Sounds like a perfect date.

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Sylvia Doherty7:56 pm 06 Feb 24

Wine that is in a screw cap bottle can easily be “corked” as the wine is tainted by bacteria not necessarily residing in the cork.

Kim Treasure9:40 am 06 Feb 24

Telling it like it is! Love this!

Andrew McLaughlin8:29 am 06 Feb 24

This! Thank you Lucy. After 15 years in hospo, I came here for this!

Yeah, but the owners of those restaurants love you. Huge numbers of customers, consuming price gouging, Valentine’s day set menu’s?

Definitely one of the more profitable days of the year.

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