Consider these figures:
-The National Restaurant Association (NRA) expects a quarter of American adults to dine out on Valentine's Day, making it the second-busiest holiday for restaurants next to Mother's Day.
-This Valentine's Day, diners are expected to spend an estimated $3.9 billion on a romantic evening out.
-The fact that the New England Confectionery Company (NECCO) produces 8 billion candy hearts each year (that's about 100,000 pounds per day) has absolutely nothing to do with dining out on Valentine's Day, but that's still a lot of fucking SweetHearts, amiright?
With big numbers like these, Valentine's Day may be the "Super Bowl of fine dining," but is everyone on board?
While 51 percent of OpenTable diners plan to eat out on Valentine's Day, 41 percent say they plan to celebrate on Feb. 13, 15, or 16 instead. According to Zagat's 2013 Valentine's Day Survey, 57 percent of people say they're either cooking at home, ordering in, or not celebrating at all this year. Among those who do plan to eat out, 59 percent say they would rather skip the V-Day shitshow and celebrate on another day altogether.
A recent AJC post posed the same question to Atlanta diners: Stay home or go out for Valentine's Day? The post quickly generated two dozen responses. In general, commenters were largely opposed to dining out on Feb. 14, often citing rushed service and limited menus among their chief complaints.
They're not alone.
Bon Appétit's Andrew Knowlton offers several reasons to avoid eating out on Valentine's Day - inflated prices, mediocre food, overcrowding. Brooke Burton, author of Foodwoolf.com, published 10 more around the same time.
Like most busy holidays, restaurants almost exclusively push limited, prix fixe menus on Valentine's Day to cope with the high volume. But as the AJC thread suggests, diners may be less receptive to the concept than in years past. Sixty-seven percent of OpenTable diners say they prefer a la carte menus over special price-fixed ones. And according to the Zagat survey, "[a] whopping 78% of people say that they prefer to order from the normal menu, while only 22% say that they enjoy these special fixed-price offerings (people complain that they are overpriced, gimmicky and limit options)."
Last year, former CL dining critic Besha Rodell recounted the pre-Valentine's Day rant of a flustered maitre d' and wondered if the holiday really is "amateur night armageddon."
"I have to admit, I don't get it either," she wrote. "I know dining out can be a romantic experience, but on Valentine's Day? With the guarantee of a stressed waiter, busy kitchen, and tons of other googly-eyed couples around you? No thanks."
Rodell also pointed out that restaurant folks aren't so much ungrateful for the business as they are baffled at how many diners are willing to participate in the ritual.
As a former server, I still can't help but wonder why people choose to eat out on the busiest nights of the year. For me, Valentine's Day was always a dreaded event associated with all the shitty things you have to do when you work in a restaurant: Dealing with stressed out bosses; Schlepping dozens of two-top tables in and out of the dining room; Getting your ass kicked all night; Peddling an unfamiliar menu that the cooks aren't used to cooking to diners who aren't used to dining; Taking one table's order while praying the one six inches behind you is too busy canoodling to notice that your backside is hovering dangerously close to their rose colored cocktail; The added pressure of making the night extra-special, extra-romantic, extra extra.
If my dad were here, he'd say something annoyingly pragmatic like, "I don't know what to tell you, Stephanie. It's work. That's why they pay you to do it."
He's probably right. Nearly 70 million people are expected to eat out this Valentine's Day. How does it look from where you're sitting?
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