Bye bye valentines day. Or as it is known in the kitchen, VD.
Valentines day is notorious in the restaurant industry. Now don’t take this the wrong way, but we call it “amateur night.”
I know you are out there too, you foodies who love us for what we do. I know that romance to you is charcuterie, good wines, and haute chocolates.
I know you too, are out there, those that take the plunge and eat at restaurants way out of their price range and comfort level, using valentines day as a good reason to live a little.
But I also know how many of you avoid eating in restaurants on valentines day. I know you go out on a different night, if at all. And I don’t blame you.
This is the one night above all, when amongst a certain portion of the population, fulfilling a specific obligation to their partner, people who could care less about the food absolutely HAVE to have a fancy table at an expensive restaurant.
They book months in advance. They always ask for the “most romantic” or “best” table in the restaurant.
They call and try to con us into tables. True story here.
Dude- “Um, yeah. I made a reservation for 7 and would like to change it to 7:30.
Us- “Can I have your name?”
Us- “We don’t have a reservation in that name, could it be under a different name,?
Dude- “WHAT!!! you lost my reservation!!!! I made it a month ago, what kind of people do you hire!?!?! You had better make it up to me!!!!! I expect a table and free champagne!!!!”
Us, (knowing that the time slots at 7 and 7:30 were blocked permanently before a single reservation could have been made, a common practice amongst smaller restaurants on high volume nights in order to fill the dining room twice in an evening. A table booked between 7 and 7:30 can have no one sit before or after, so it sits empty most of the evening, not good for anyone.) “Do you have your confirmation number?”
We get a lot of manipulated orders, removing one, two, or three integral items in a dish turning it from carefully crafted cuisine into food on a plate. We sell a lot of chicken and salmon. We see people who would never in their life choose our restaurant if it weren’t helping them live the cliche of this holiday; flowers, chocolates, champagne, fancy restaurant.
It’s hard to feel the romance in an evening, when you are putting 14 hours into making it happen, cooking for customers who don’t want you to do what it is you do best. I wonder if wedding planners all elope.
One table encouraged us to make everything spicy. Everything. This day, admitting defeat and submitting before the customers walk in, we obliged. We added chile flake, tabasco, harissa, heat, places they were never meant to be, like a salad made with whipped goat cheese, pickled grapes, and hazelnuts. (Luckily they didn’t order dessert.) But I was told, they were extremely happy with the hot versions of our food, and that must count for something.
We had one proposal last night. We all saw the box come out, and paused while the girl’s face scrunched and her eyes flooded with tears. It didn’t look good. We held our breath, glanced at each other in anticipation of the botched proposal that we might be part of. This girl knows drama, because she had our entire kitchen and wait staff on the edge of our proverbial seats. But her hand went out, the ring went on, and the man smiled and mumbled something like, “it can be re-sized” while tucking the box back in his pocket and being smothered with affectionate kisses.
Last year this time, I was beginning my short stay at The Rainier Club, and was sent to help in the pastry department. They didn’t really need it, they are always over-prepared and everything had been ready for days. I was free to photograph the evening, a special menu complete with a live band and dancing for the members. I recoiled at the pink sugar, red tapioca beads, magenta hued sauces being put on the plate. But I knew, as I have known for years now, valentines day is not about me or what I like.
It’s a day of submission for us, a day or romance for you.