Do's and Don'ts of Eating Out on Valentine's Day
Ah the approach of Valentine’s Day, when established couples suddenly remember they need to buy flowers or something, new couples are suddenly thrown into a tizzy trying to think of a way to impress their fresh flame, and single people are forced to avoid restaurants like there’s been an ebola outbreak. I’ve talked before about one of my own best/worst Valentines Days, saved by the wonderful people at Hastings, but in my later college years I had a different viewpoint for the day of romance: as a waiter at a quaint Italian eatery. Well… okay, it was an Olive Garden, but in Lubbock at the time we only had so many dining options, so the choices for “upscale Italian” were limited to anywhere that served fettuccini and had cloth napkins.
Anyway, during my tenure at the OG I accumulated many things, not the smallest of which was a massive collection of paper-coasters I kept accidently bringing home, and today we’re going to talk about some of the dating do’s and don’ts I saw in my time there. Hopefully, you all won’t make these slip-ups on Sunday when it’s your own turn to try and pitch some woo. And let’s start with the number one lesson I learned:
Don’t take your date to the Olive Garden. I mean, okay, if it has some special meaning to you both, its fine, or if your date just super fucking loves those breadsticks then go for it. But otherwise, come on people. Even in Lubbock at the time, there was a better option, a nice Italian place only ten minutes from campus that used actual candle lighting and had great, reasonably price food. You just had to be willing to do a little research, and now that Yelp exists there’s pretty much no excuse not to. Outside of some special context, Valentine’s Day at Olive Garden is the equivalent of flowers stolen from your date’s own yard, complete with dirt hanging from the roots: it’s the most efficient way to let them know up front how little effort you’re putting into this evening.
Do go somewhere that takes reservations. This isn’t me trying to pitch the idea that you need to drop some serious cash, you’d be amazed how many places will take actual reservations. No, the point here is that so many fucking people go out on V-day, and if you try to hit a place without this feature get ready for a whoooole lot of standing around waiting for a table. That’s not inherently bad in itself, with a nice date and good conversation the time will fly, but it does hamstring you from doing anything else that evening since your schedule will be unpredictable. You’ll be happier if you do the upfront planning, make a reservation, and are whisked off to your table upon arrival.
Don’t get super hammered. I guess unless that’s what your date is into as well, just be really certain of that going in. I don’t know if its nerves or anxiety or what, but on more than a few occasions I saw tables where one party was working on their first glass of wine while their date was chugging down a fourth. Now, at a restaurant there are some controls because we wouldn’t serve anyone who got too drunk, but nobody looks good being cut off on a date, especially in a restaurant full of folks chasing romance. Dates, especially new ones and big ones like V-day, can be stressful, but you need to at least cram that fear waaaay down and ignore it, then drink it away in private. It’s the proper thing to do.
Do show up, or cancel beforehand. Look… we’ve all had bad dates, or dates that came at the wrong times in our lives, or blind dates where we weren’t super happy with the set-up. That said, if you commit to something, see it through. There are few things quite as disheartening as seeing someone get stood up, and since Olive Garden was a date spot I got treated to the sight a disproportionate amount of times. I know it can be awkward to call someone and cancel, but please make the effort. Bad as it might feel for you, it’s a whole lot worse for the person stuck eating the awful lasagna by themselves.
Don’t foist complications on the wait staff during busy nights. Sometimes we would have proposals at Olive Garden, and those were a lot of fun. The person would call up early, make arrangements with the staff and manager to hide a ring or we’d seat them in a place where their family could sneak up and surprise them after the question was popped. I’ve got no objection to that, and honestly it livened things up quite a bit. However, either keep that complex fuckery to yourself on nights like Valentine’s Day or give the restaurant a shitton of notice. Date restaurants are so goddamned busy on V-Day, it’s hard to find time to get a drink of water. If someone comes in asking me to bring his date a different flower every ten minutes for some romantic gesture, the answer is probably no. Your waiter has four other tables who expect just as much perfect attention, you’re not springing that kind of shit on them as a surprise. Call ahead, like weeks ahead, or do it on your own time.
Do consider staying home. I don’t know where each of my readers are in life, romantically or financially, but I’d be willing to bet there are at least a few of you trying to impress someone new in your life this year while also still hoping to make rent. In those times, don’t feel forced to head out to some fancy restaurant where wine is four times more expensive. Cooking for someone can be incredibly romantic, and holy shit so much cheaper. Chicken parmesan is shockingly easy to make, or even better take a swing at your date’s favorite meal. Splurge on a few (non-scented) candles and kick your roommates out if applicable. Quaint, simple, and still shows you cared enough to put in real effort.
Don’t hit on the wait staff. I mean, sure, sometimes that’s fine. I’d be lying if I said none of us ever ended up with a phone number or two written on the bills. But please, don’t be one of the people who hits on a waiter while on a fucking date. That is beyond awkward for us, bad if the person is off in the bathrooms, so much worse if they are sitting right there across from you. Like showing up/canceling above, I don’t really care how bad the date is. We don’t know that. We’re just bringing you breadsticks and drinks. All we see is people out on a date with someone trying to jump shit before the salad even arrives, and that comes off as skeevy to us, to say nothing of what it puts your date through. Just knuckle up and get through the bad date without making it worse, especially worse in a way that drags your poor waiter into things.
Do remember to be kind to your waiter. I don’t just mean the tip, though duh. Keep in mind that if you go out on Valentine’s Day, those packed lobbies might mean a big payday for the company, but your server is going to be running themselves ragged. Holidays were tough, both because every table is full all the time, and because we wanted to give great service to everyone celebrating their special day. But in a whole restaurant full of people, things will go wrong. The kitchen will back up, someone will take the wrong drink orders, it will require a few extra minutes to do refills. Much as they will try to be perfect, things will fall short in places. Please remember that your waiter is just one person doing the best they can, giving up their own holiday to make yours better. I’ve seen more than one date where someone lost their temper at the server over a small issue, and very rarely did their date look happy about it. Be kind, be patient, and remember that the food is secondary to the company you’ve chosen to spend your dinner with. Focus on that, and everything will hopefully be smooth sailing.