Crunch Time for Valentine's Day Dining

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When you think about Valentine's Day, you think about romantic restaurants. But what comprises a romantic restaurant is a very subjective matter. And so it's difficult to make a recommendation because what I consider romantic may not be what you think of for an intimate dinner.

Click here to see the Facebook Live chat about Valentine's Day dining.

For me, it's a quiet atmosphere, someplace where you can have a conversation without having to shout over the noise of the restaurant, or a place so cramped that your neighbors can hear all of your sweet nothings meant only for your sweetie's ear.

But a romantic restaurant might be something entirely different for you. Maybe it's the restaurant where you had your first date. Even if that's a place as crowded and loud as, say, Hard Rock Cafe or Planet Hollywood, going back there might be very romantic.

If you don't have a special restaurant and you're trying to come up with one to take your Valentine to, keep some things in mind.

  • First: Man, you're really late! It's in two days. Didn't you realize that? It's always on February 14, so it shouldn't have come as a surprise.
  • OK, calm down. You have options. But you're probably going to have to be a bit flexible. Call your restaurant choice right away, but be warned that the only time slots available, if any, might be really early or really late.
  • About the choice of restaurant: It should be one that your date will like. Don't choose one that's your favorite hoping that she or he will also like it. If you like steakhouses, be sure your Valentine does, too, before booking.
  • Don't go for expensive restaurants for expensive's sake. There certainly are some very good and very costly restaurants that would fit my definition of romantic -- Victoria & Albert's, Norman's at the Ritz, among them. But the bottom line on the check shouldn't be the reason you choose the restaurant. Remember, Lady & the Tramp ate in an alley behind a small Italian restaurant and ended up having one of the most romantic plates of spaghetti in cinematic history.
  • But don't go cheap just to be cheap, either. But do stay within your budget. You won't be able to relax and be charming with your date if you're worrying about the check total.
  • Also, let's not be a snob about restaurants. For many people, going out to a restaurant -- any kind of restaurant -- is a big splurge. And so a chain restaurant that some people would sneer at might be a real treat for others. Many years ago, I asked a date out to dinner and said she could pick her favorite restaurant. She chose Red Lobster, so that's where we went. (It was our last date, but not for that reason.)
  • When you make your reservation, check whether the restaurant's regular menu is available or if they're offering a special prix fixe dinner. Some do this because it can be more profitable but also because it's easier for the kitchen to prep and put out more dinners.

Valentine's Day is a busy one for restaurants but not necessarily as profitable as, say, Mother's Day. That's because a majority of the tables will be just two-tops, so a lot of seats will go unoccupied. Therefore, don't be surprised if the staff tries to rush you. They want to serve as many couples as they can. I'm not saying you should allow yourself to be rushed -- you're entitled to a relaxing dinner. Still, it would be a nice thing to have coffee and dessert in the bar so that your table can be turned for another party.

And if you still have trouble getting a reservation for Wednesday, consider this. Invite your Valentine over for a casual home-cooked dinner and present a card with an invitation for a dinner out on the weekend. You'll have a much better time -- and you're guaranteed a second date!