February 14

On Valentine’s Day


Barring a giant meteor striking the Earth, Valentine’s Day is about to happen again.

Two by two, marginally married couples will file into your dining room like it’s some kind of passive-aggressive Noah’s Ark.

If you are a student of human behavior, then Valentine’s Day is fascinating. You get to witness the various mating rituals and partnering strategies from the front row.

Here are a few things I got to observe while working in restaurants over the years.

Reservation strategy: Acting like it’s just another day.

Reservations fill up fast for Valentine’s day dinner. If the 14th falls on a weekday, as it does this year, then the rush to get a good table at an optimal time is even busier. The well-organized among us solve this problem by making reservations well in advance. The rest of us just have to start calling every restaurant we can think of trying to score that two-top for 7pm.

My favorite strategy is when people try to play it cool – and pretend they’re just making a reservation for any normal night. “So,” they’ll say on the phone “got anything open on Tuesday?” It’s as if they think they are the only ones with easy access to a calendar.

The books are full, but they just keep calling.

Considering that the dining room has been booked out nearly two weeks in advance, it can get a little tiring to have to answer that inevitable phone call. You’ll get to listen as people go through the usual stages of grief.

Denial: Are you sure you’re booked? Can you check again?
Anger: I’m a regular! You can’t treat me like this! I need to talk to your manager.
Bargaining: Tell you what, I can grease the wheels a little… maybe put the table under a Benjamin… like Franklin Benjamin….
Depression: I knew I’d screw this up. I bet she knew it too.
Acceptance: Are you taking reservations for next year?

Or you can just record yourself reading a recipe for a steak dinner, set that as your outgoing voicemail message and stop answering the phone altogether.

But, among us walks genius. Sometimes the best Valentine’s Day strategy is to play a different game.

One year I was working the bar and this guy came in without a reservation. It was fine, as we were taking walk-ins for the bar only.

This guy sat down, put a bouquet of flowers in front of him, and stared glumly at the bar. I didn’t ask questions, but bought him a round.

Then these two girls came in – they said they were ‘over valentine’s day’ and just wanted a drink. They eyed him for a while and then one of them went over and they started chatting.

Numbers were exchanged.

It was a lovely story that gave me hope for the power of love to transform humankind.After that long shift, I went up the street to the neighborhood bar. And there he was with his bouquet of flowers – talking to a totally different girl.

Don’t hate the player, as they say, hate the game…. Happy Valentine’s Day!


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