by Cheryl Baehr
Like any other major restaurant-going holiday (New Year's Eve, Mother's Day) dining out on Valentine's Day is about as pleasant as chatting with your mom about Fifty Shades of Grey. If you intentionally decided to stay in, congratulations -- you are indeed a savvy diner.
If you screwed up and forgot to make reservations, take solace in these five reasons for why dining out on Valentine's Day is the worst while you run to the store to prepare an impromptu dinner. Then secure a table for the following Tuesday -- you'll have a much better time.
1. Crowds Made reservations to that posh bistro the requisite three months in advance? Good for you. Now you can look forward to cramming into an overpacked bar as you wait for your table: The restaurant is running two hours behind because the general manager intentionally overbooked, counting on no-shows. Do your best to avoid a fistfight as you elbow your way to the front of the line for two glasses of sparkling Shiraz and curse yourself for not bringing a flask.
2. Limited Menus Your date hasn't stopped talking about Cafe Bisoux's truffle-scented poached quail egg ever since she saw it featured in Food and Wine Magazine. She's almost jumping out of her seat with excitement when the server approaches the table with the evening's offerings -- which don't include the truffle-poached quail egg. Of course it's not on the menu. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to prep 300 of those suckers? Cut the kitchen some slack. It needed to craft a menu that is easy to execute for such a busy night. And she won't fall for the "I'm sure the shrimp cocktail is just as good" shtick. Just quickly promise her you'll come back to avoid a bigger scene.
3. Reconfigured Floor Plans and Temporary Tables Let's say your chosen restaurant known not only for its cuisine, but also for its interior of upcycled pieces from the auto-salvage yard and wall of living moss was created by the town's hottest design firm. It's dazzling, you'll note, as the hostess walks you through the dining room. But then she keeps walking -- into an overflow space in the building's lobby. Shouldn't there be a discount for having to eat your surf and turf on a folding table in a vestibule? (There isn't.)
4. Harried and Unhappy Staff Chances are, your server had to show up three hours early to move the furniture around to accommodate that floor plan. He didn't have time to eat before his shift, so he's already grumpy. Then he sees that the manager gave everyone three table stations because "it's going to be so busy." As he's calculating how little money he is going to make compared to a regular night, the kitchen crew is plotting a mutiny because they don't get paid extra for this crap.
5. The Other Diners The guy at the table next to you just gave his girlfriend a rose for every month they have been together. The lady across the window just gave her date a first-edition copy of The Illiad. You've witnessed three marriage proposals before your soup course hits the table. Wasn't dinner supposed to be the gift? Your only hope is to excuse yourself for the restroom and write out a few "love coupons" on the back of some old bank receipts to give your date when you get home.