A Former Maître d' Explains Why You Should Stay Home on Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day

Not representative of actual restaurant experience.

Are you planning on going out to eat for Valentine's Day this year? You may want to reconsider. Even though a restaurant seems to be the easy, romantic option, that couldn't be further from reality. Valentine's Day is, in fact, a nightmare for everyone involved in the restaurant business.

I've worked front of house at three high-end restaurants in New York, including one three-Michelin-star restaurant where I was head maître d'hotel. I can safely say Valentine's Day is not only the worst night to work at a restaurant, but it's also probably the worst night you can go out to eat. Let me explain why you should probably cancel your reservation and cook at home instead.

On New Year's Eve, we got to dress up — so much better than Valentine's Day.

As maître'd' I worked every single holiday – Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve, Fourth of July – you name the day, I worked. Holidays in general can be stressful for a restaurant, but Valentine's Day is a totally different beast.

There is a greater expectation on Valentine's Day than any other holiday for restaurants. It's the night people go out and spend lots of money on someone they love and drink pricey bottles of wine that they usually never think to order.

Valentine's Day reservations at high-end restaurants are booked within the hour they become available, and that doesn't include the super VIP guests that call last-minute for a table that no longer exists. It's a lot of stress for everyone in involved — including you, the guest.

Before service, not on Valentine's Day — a happier time.

3 Reasons You Shouldn't Go Out on Valentine's Day

1. The food is going to be overpriced.

The extensive tasting menus and fancy steak you eat at a restaurant on Valentine's Day may be delicious, but it's going to cost you more than usual. Restaurants know you are willing to pay the extra cash for something that seems extra special on Valentine's day, even when it's not worth the price. You're better off celebrating a week later.

2. You are probably going to be rushed through dinner.

Restaurants have no problem filling reservations on Valentine's Day, which means you're probably going to feel rushed during dinner. This is especially true if you have an earlier reservation. They need to turn those tables!

When I worked as a maître d' on Valentine's Day, the restaurant was fully committed for the night and multiple super VIP guests and celebrities walked in and asked for a last-minute table. At one point we had to physically add another table to the floor because we were over capacity and people with reservations had been waiting too long. It was a nightmare.

3. Nobody at the restaurant wants to work on Valentine's Day — and it shows.

Valentine's Day is considered amateur night at restaurants. People who rarely (or never) go out to eat choose Valentine's Day as the night to try a fancy place. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with people trying out a high-end restaurant for the first time — except when half of the dining room is full of them. On Valentine's Day, often more than half the dining room did not understand how much to tip, or that you really shouldn't be more than 20 minutes late for your reservation.

Because the tip probably isn't going to be as good, restaurant staff might try to get out of working, which means the new people are assigned Valentine's Day shifts (seniority rules, guys). Therefore, you as the guest are stuck with a second- or third-tier staff member. Without the A-Team to guide the restaurant, the staff can get flustered with the added stress and chaos of Valentine's Day, and it will show.

Restaurants, especially high-quality establishments with great service, do their best to make you, the customer, happy. But it still pays to be street smart and know when to go (and when to stay away). On Valentine's Day, take it from a pro: Stay home, eat a great meal, and enjoy a romantic evening in. Leave the three-star spot for your anniversary.

(Image credits: Irina Barcari/Shutterstock; Ariel Knutson)

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