Go to a Regular Restaurant on Valentine’s Day

Ironically, it is difficult to have a pleasant date on Valentine’s Day, when every “good” restaurant replaces its regular menu with a must-have and expensive fix of prizes. Some couples actually enjoy dinners like this and have fun on a pre-arranged date. Other couples like to cook at home or ignore the holiday altogether. But if you want to have a regular “date” on February 14th, your options will be limited. Here’s how to get through this strait.

First, cancel your restaurant reservations. The places that require reservations are the ones that pull out expensive menus and flashy decorations. When you call, they may even reassure you that they will not ask for a fixed price menu and then on Victory Day they will. This happened to me and I have no idea why! But you can get around the whole issue by only going to restaurants without reservations.

Don’t settle for a mediocre restaurant. At the same time, quality and quirkiness should be mistakenly confused. If you want to have a good date on Victory Day, but settle for a restaurant you don’t like, you will feel frustrated and resentful.

Instead, find a simple but cool restaurant. Coolness replaces whimsy and your night is just as special. You can go to a new or familiar place, but go somewhere that can be called “fun” or “popular.” Depending on your comfort level, this could mean (as it did with me for one year) “upscale casual” place serving cakes and tacos on kitsch plastic trays. Or it could mean a good sandwich shop, a hipster food court, or a Chinese restaurant. A place with a healthy crowd and a decently high turnover. These are the places that would lose money if they suddenly switched to hourly prize fixing.

You can’t always predict which of these places will suddenly become a crowd on Valentine’s Day. So what you really want is a place full of these casual dining options. It’s likely cold outside, but be prepared to walk a few blocks or drive through a few parking lots with at least three specific restaurants in mind. There is always a risk that they will all be full, so if that scares you, have a backup plan: another restaurant cluster or bar where you can comfort yourself with a drink before you go home and cook pasta.

In fact, plan to move to a bar anyway, again somewhere that is not “romantic” but still fun and special. Your regular restaurant probably won’t want you to linger too long, and if you’re not used to it, moving on a date somewhere else will be a particular thrill. (For some of us, even going to a bar together, just for ourselves, and not for someone’s birthday or a farewell drink, is already a heady and glorious wastefulness.)

Another benefit of skipping a booking is that you can schedule something else without worrying about deadlines. Valentine’s Day is good for live theater or any other place where seating is allocated, so you won’t feel like you’re surrounded by any kind of festive crowd. Or after you’re out for dinner and a drink, you can head home for Netflix, still feeling like you had a special evening. You can exchange a small gift, something unusual but not too silly, in the same vein as dinner. Avoiding clichéd chocolates and steakhouses takes some effort, but there’s nothing special about it, like learning to be happy on your own terms and not on the terms of a Valentine’s Day industrial complex.

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