How to Have a Perfect Valentine’s Day Dinner

It’s Valentine’s Day, and the advice from those in the know is simple—stay home.

San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer sums it up: “Valentine’s Day, like New Year’s Eve, is a night to stay home. It’s a time when restaurants charge a premium for seats, and the expectations generated by the price are rarely met.”

His commenters tend to agree—especially those in the restaurant business who refer to it as “amateur night.” “I am so glad I no longer work in the restaurant business,” writes one commenter. “St. Valentine’s Day, along with Mother’s Day, are the two worst days to be near a restaurant, either as a diner, or employee!”

Meanwhile, on the British blog Fire and Knives, Tim Hayward offers a thoroughly amusing explanation of the V-Day dilemma, an extended version of an article titled “We can fit you in after 10pm,” which appeared in The Guardian. You’ll definitely want to read the entire post, but here are some of the highlights.

Valentine’s day has become all about eating out and failure to secure a reasonable booking on the 14th can be cited, if not as grounds for divorce, at least for weapons-grade recrimination for the rest of the year.

And so, for one blissful night, the balance of power shifts away from the whiney, demanding and unpredictably fickle customer and firmly into the hands of the restaurateur … this is a time he can be sure of filling every available seat several times over. If you can’t fill a place on Valentine’s night you have no right to call yourself a restaurant.

It’s not just the quantity of customers that’s different on this, the catering trade’s most magical night of the year, it’s also the quality … as far as the restaurant trade is concerned, it is the time when they’ll get the most inexperienced diners.

As one high-end chef, anonymous for obvious reasons, put it, ‘Everything shitty, clichéd, and horribly 80s gets wheeled out. Duo of lamb chops, cut to resemble hearts. Coeur a la fucking crème. There will be at least one nancying, ninnying chicken dish, especially for the ladies, and steak, which will be ordered by 80% of the men. Well-done, of course—medium if you’re lucky.’

Dining out on the 14th of Feb is an experience that doesn’t reflect well on any of the participants. We go because we feel we have to, we’re served by people who’d rather it was any other day of the year, with food that the chefs are ashamed of because they know they could do better.

Tim’s solution is to postpone Valentine’s Day (the Vatican took it off the official calendar in 1969; it’s only Hallmark that keeps it going these days). According to him, “You and your partner can choose any other day of the year to go out, get treated well by a decent restaurant and create your own romance.”

Do you hear that? It’s the sound of reservations being canceled.

What do you think? What is, for you, the perfect Valentine’s Day Dinner?