Valentine's Day Dining Out: Just Say No

by Sarah Henry on February 12, 2010 · 28 comments

in food flotsam & jetsam,restaurant food

Allegedly, this coming weekend is a good one for amore.

That’s debatable, of course, depending on how your love life is looking.

What’s indisputable: It’s a great weekend for restaurants. This year, Valentine’s Day falls on Sunday, so presumably there’s a wider window (tonight might be a tad early, but tomorrow or Sunday works) of possibilities for the coupled to express their devotion over dinner.

If you’re not part of a dining dead duo (have nothing to say to each other, for those unfamiliar with the term, illustrated above) or go solo while you sup, then the thought of taking your main man (or woman) out for a bite to eat this weekend has probably crossed your mind.

I have three words for you: Don’t do it.

Here’s why:

  • High-expectation holiday¬† = Recipe for disappointment. No restaurant, no matter how fabo, can live up to this kind of pressure.
  • Restaurant kitchens and wait staff tend to be stretched thin on Big Night Out nights. Too much tension in the air. Who needs it?
  • Chances are you’ll wind up spending more than you would on a regular night out. You just will. Trust me on this one.
  • Food served up on a major holiday night tends not to taste as good as on a garden-variety evening. Little time for that careful attention to detail.
  • Lingering over a meal may not be possible if an eating establishment is trying to squeeze in two or three seatings for the night.
  • Tables tightly crammed into a small space to accommodate more people can preclude intimate conversation.
  • Other diners may engage in behaviors you’d rather not witness, be they proposals or displays of passion.

So stay home. Cook. If you can’t cook, serve an awesome cheese platter and a stellar bottle of vino, spread a blanket on the floor and call it a picnic. Or find inspiration for special dishes for the day by entering the words “Valentine’s Day recipes” into the Food Blog Search directory.

Spontaneous. Private. Mood managed. What could be sexier? And what says I (heart) you more than taking the time to plan a celebratory meal for the person you (heart)?

Don’t take my word for it. Restaurant industry insider and food service professional Food Woolf says V Day dining out is a really bad idea.

Canada’s Globe and Mail reports that restaurant wait staff consider V Day one of the least romantic evenings of the year with more bickering, hostility, awkwardness, and tension on table 2 than on other nights. Not to mention the fact that some fellow diners perform sex acts others would rather not see. So sez the paper. I kid you not.

Are you a lover or a hater of dining out on Valentine’s Day? Got a V Day eating out story — good, bad, or ugly that you care to share? Bring it on.

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Alisa Bowman February 12, 2010 at 4:09 pm

I don’t have a V Day dining out story that I remember, mostly because I don’t do it. I’m a big fan of doing the opposite of what commercialized holidays predict I should be doing. To me, it’s a lot sexier to stay home, share some wine, watch a movie, and have wild sex than it is to go out, overeat and empty my purse/wallet.

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Sarah Henry February 12, 2010 at 4:40 pm

You go girl. Love it. Am sure your share is gonna be hard for others to trump!

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Frugal Kiwi February 12, 2010 at 6:39 pm

No one will be surprised that the Frugal Kiwi is with you on this one. It is all just too much. In fact, I was just telling my man how glad I was that Valentine’s Day is more or less a non-event in New Zealand. Is it the same in Oz as well?

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Sarah Henry February 12, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Hey Frugal Kiwi,

Valentine’s Day isn’t as big a deal in Oz as it is in the U.S. None of those cheap and nasty supermarket cards for kids to hand out at school either, thank goodness.

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Sheryl February 12, 2010 at 6:52 pm

We never go out (anymore) on Valentine’s Day, ever since that meal we had the one time; you know, when it was overpriced, undercooked and just plain awful. Never did I feel more like the fool than that night. Now I know better. No big deal. No need to go out just because someone tells you that you should. I much prefer going out when I feel like it, for no other reason that to have a nice, relaxing and delicious meal out.

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Sarah Henry February 12, 2010 at 10:42 pm

I’m with you, Sheryl. Organized or forced “fun” brings out my rebellious spirit.

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culinary kitten February 15, 2011 at 10:13 am

Amen. Last night, I was the valentine’s day fool. Got roped into a pricey prixe fixe menu that I can only describe as gritty, overdressed, undercooked, poorly executed and way overpriced. Bad, bad, bad all around. Any other night, we would have complained, or simply walked out, but because it was ‘that’ night, we almost felt obligated to smile through it. Egads…never again. We are great home cooks, and from now on, an intimate dinner at home will be our new tradition…

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Kris February 12, 2010 at 7:21 pm

Valentine’s Day? The most we do is a little chocolate treat at home – with the kids! This is an interesting take on it, though. I hadn’t thought about the overworked staff and potential for inattentive wait people.

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Sarah Henry February 12, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Yes, Kris, any excuse for a chocolate treat with the kids is fine by me. My boy and I have our eye on a Double-Chocolate Bread Pudding recipe. But we may have to put it off until his tummy is feeling 100 percent.

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Donna Hull February 13, 2010 at 8:11 am

I’m breaking the trend here. We’re going out for Valentine’s Day, although we rarely do. We didn’t choose the restaurant for it’s special, in fact, we didn’t even check to see if there was one. And, I doubt that there will be a big Valentine’s Day crowd. You see, we chose it for the quiet dining room and for the chance to dress up for a change. Where are we going? The dining room of the Arizona Inn in Tucson.

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Sarah Henry February 16, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Hi Donna,

Hope your dinner was a success, you trend breaker (at least on this thread) you.

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marthaandme February 13, 2010 at 8:26 am

We haven’t gone out for Valentine’s Day in years. Actually the last time was when we stopped for dessert after Lamaze class 18 years ago! This year we’re going out with my parents to their country club, with kids in tow. It will be nice to have something to get dressed up for at least.

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Susan February 13, 2010 at 8:31 am

My boyfriend’s family is in town this weekend, so all eight of us are going out to dinner on Sunday night. Not exactly the intimate, romantic affair I might have chosen, but it should be fun. In past years, I would have cooked, because it’s more personal and intimate.

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Cheryl@5secondrule February 13, 2010 at 2:43 pm

I’m making my husband and kids help me make dumplings for Chinese New Year instead. Though I did make chocolate waffles for breakfast today, so I can’t say I’m giving the finger to V-Day completely.

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Sarah Henry February 16, 2010 at 2:03 pm

And those choc waffles look pretty darn scrum-diddily-umptious, Cheryl.

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Meredith February 13, 2010 at 2:48 pm

In the earlier days of my youth (!) I would have loved going out for Valentine’s Day. Now I like staying in, or going somewhere local and really casual. Or maybe going out to dinner on Feb 15, or the 26th, or in March!

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Almost Slowfood February 13, 2010 at 7:02 pm

I definitely prefer to stay home and cook. While I love eating out at tasty restaurants, I definitely don’t believe the hype!

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Alexandra February 14, 2010 at 5:56 am

Another vote for staying in here. During winter, local restaurants are usually quite empty. Why eat out on the very evening everyone else wants to eat out?

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Ruth Pennebaker February 14, 2010 at 7:20 am

What an excellent, thoughtful post, Sarah. You’re so right!

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JCN February 14, 2010 at 7:46 pm

We went out for a group of friends (3 couples) for brunch … we hadn’t actually planned it as a V-Day celebration, just a chance for a get-together. There were no V-Day expectations, so in fact it turned out to be a very nice surprise to see a V-Day special brunch menu option, with oysters, eggs florentine and other light and well-prepared dishes, all paired with a glass of mimosa at very reasonable prices rather than the usual V-Day mark-up.

Add some mellow and kitschy/fun Barry White soundtracks to the general atmosphere and we had an unexpectedly lovely V-Day dining out experience. Maybe the trick is to eschew dinner reservations in favour of brunch – then head home and spend the rest of the day in the arms of your (hearted) one?!

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Sarah Henry February 14, 2010 at 9:36 pm

Your brunch sounds lovely, JCN. And, as you say, perhaps a better bet than dinner.

Who can argue against oysters, mimosas, and Barry White as a prelude to some afternoon delight?

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Katherine February 15, 2010 at 8:20 am

I so can relate to your comment about heightened expectations. On the first Valentine’s Day with my then-boyfriend, he tried to take me out to dinner without reservations. We ended up having Indian food and laughing about the hype at the other restaurants. That set the tone for never taking the holiday too seriously…

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Sarah Henry February 15, 2010 at 8:25 am

Indian food & laughter on V-Day…sounds like a good day to me…and, yes, taking any holiday too seriously is bound to disappoint. Smart advice, Katherine.

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Jennifer Margulis February 15, 2010 at 4:42 pm

I LOVE your idea to stay home and cook. That’s what we did and we had a very nice Valentine’s Day celebrating as a family. The restaurant business generates so much waste and is so expensive, I’m glad we decided not to eat out!

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Anna, The Lemon Lady February 15, 2010 at 9:59 pm

I was so tired after a Sunday truckload of produce, farmers’ market haul. Is it Valentine’s Day already? Gee, we still have our Christmas Tree up. Shhh…don’t mention it! Just too tired to bother taking it down, and our 3-year old delights in seeing the tree all lit up.

So, Valentine’s Day is no big deal around our house.

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Sarah Henry February 16, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Your secret is safe here, Anna. Why not get your money’s worth out of that Christmas Tree — and you’re doing your bit for the environment too, prolonging its usefulness and all.

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Elise February 16, 2010 at 8:53 am

Hi Sarah,
Valentine’s Day is my birthday, and after several years of going out to a disappointing dinner (expensive fixed price, poor service, hastily prepared food) I finally came to the conclusion a couple years ago to avoid going out to dinner on that day. It just isn’t worth it. This year I had some friends over for an evening of making homemade pizza. It was delicious! And the company perfect. :-)

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Sarah Henry February 16, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Happy Birthday, Elise!

And what a double whammy V Day is for you. Sounds like you’ve figured out a great way to eat and have fun on this special Feb day.

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