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Dish and tell 

Liz Feltham gathers reports from the front line of Valentine's Day screw-ups: restaurants.

Ah, Valentine’s Day—seems like such a good idea, a day to celebrate love. But as anyone in a romantic relationship knows, Valentine’s Day can be one of the most stressful days of the year. Hours spent planning the perfect evening, making sure everything is just right for the love of your life—the pressure is really on.

Going out to dinner is probably the most popular option, although it’s not a great night for a trip to that lovely restaurant you want to impress with; it’s bound to be crowded (Valentine’s Day is one of the top three busiest restaurant days of the year, along with New Year’s Eve and Mother’s Day), there’s usually a special fixed menu instead of an a la carte selection, waitstaff are run ragged and the crowds mean an intimate dinner is usually out of the question.

And it’s the waitstaff that get to witness what happens when something goes wrong, when someone cracks under the pressure of trying to have the perfect night and when the best-laid plans go horribly awry.

I spoke with several long-time Halifax restaurant workers and asked them to share some of their most memorable Valentine’s Day traumas, meltdowns and tales of love gone wrong—they’ve asked to remain anonymous to protect their jobs.

The best (worst?) break up has to go to Mr. X, so dubbed by his waiter. A regular out-of-town guest at an upscale eatery, Mr. X had a favourite table at which he ate, alone, a couple of times a month. On Valentine’s Day, Mr. X brought a date. “Too bad his date wasn’t Mrs. X,” recalls the waiter—Mrs. X showed up in the middle of dinner to surprise her husband. “He was surprised all right—especially when Mrs. X bonked him over the head with the bottle of champagne he’d ordered.”

Many people get engaged in restaurants on the feast of St. Valentine, and there were several stories of dinner proposals and happy endings. But, if you plan on doing this, remember the kitchen and front of the house are super busy, and it might be best not to involve them in your plans.

Case in point: one romantic young man decided to pop the question by having the kitchen put the ring in one of the oysters he knew his girlfriend would order. When the oysters arrived at the table, he quickly realized the ring was not on any of them. “The kitchen was so busy, they sent out the ring for table 21, not 31.” The mix-up was eventually straightened out, but not without some disappointment from the woman who wrongly got the ring the first time. Still, it didn’t effect on the outcome of the proposal. “The girlfriend said yes anyway.”

And with so much love, waitstaff get to witness more PDAs than on any other day of the year. It’s all well and good when it’s handholding, giggling and staring deep into each other’s eyes, but some couples just don’t know when to quit. Reports this mortified waiter, “I was called over to a table by a red-faced couple. They pointed across and there at the next table this guy was getting more than he should be.” The man was sitting apparently alone, says the waiter, and looking a little too happy. A pair of woman’s shoes were peeking out from under the tablecloth. Some fantasies are better left unfulfilled.

There were other tales of failed romance—men begging for seats at restaurants that were already overbooked, at least one black eye from an off-course champagne cork and blind dates gone bad. Unless it’s high drama that you’re after, perhaps it might be better to cook dinner or order a pizza for your sweetheart. If you do go out, give your server a little love in the form of a bigger tip—you might be in love, but on this night, they could be in a war zone.

Still planning a night out? Review Liz Feltham’s reviews first: foodcritic.ca

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