For many couples, Valentine’s Day means an evening out at a restaurant with plans to enjoy a romantic, extravagant meal. But Valentine’s Day is one of the busiest days of the year in the restaurant industry, and while your goal may be romance, restauranteurs’ goals are more focused on raking in major profit. Dining out on Valentine’s Day typically ends up meaning big crowds, rushed service, and simplified, fixed-price menus to ensure the kitchen can crank out as many plates as possible – not exactly a great recipe for love. And this is all assuming you can get a table, even if you attempt to make reservations months in advance.
For those who still wish to plan a special meal around Valentine’s Day, here are five alternatives to consider to dining out at a fancy restaurant on February 14. Follow one of these suggestions instead and you and your special somebody just might have the best Valentine’s Day ever.
1. Get your sweetheart a fondue set as a gift and try it out for Valentine’s Day
Fondue may seem oh-so-very 70s, but it is on a comeback with restaurants such as The Melting Pot devoted to fondue-style cooking. Instead of fighting the crowds at a fondue restaurant on Valentine’s Day, surprise your sweetheart with a fondue set of his or her own – and don’t forget the fixings to make a home-cooked meal or dessert! Chocolate fondue is perfect for Valentine’s Day, accompanied by fresh fruit, shortbread, marshmallows and cookies. Or try a cheese fondue for those who enjoy savory more than sweet delights.
2. Purchase a gourmet meal to serve at home from a specialty food market
Many specialty food markets or even supermarkets such as Whole Foods and Wegmans prepare wonderful meals you can simply warm up and serve at home. That way, even if you are not a gourmet chef, you can surprise your loved one with a delicious meal at home on Valentine’s Day. Consider treats like baked oysters or clams, crabcakes, rack of lamb or a stuffed pork roast. You may wish to put in your order ahead of time at the market for Valentine’s Day, as well as find out what specialties they might be preparing for the holiday. Don’t forget dessert, such as a decadent chocolate cake or luscious fruit tart.
3. Plan an at-home wine and cheese tasting-for-two
A similar option is to prepare a lighter – yet still extravagant – wine and cheese “party for two” at home. If you are not a wine connoisseur, consult with a knowledgeable sales clerk about selecting 3 or 4 different wines which will pair well with an assortment of cheeses. Start with something bubbly like champagne or prosecco, then progress to a drier white wine, a red, and then perhaps a sweet dessert wine such as a Vin Santo. Visit your local gourmet market or cheesemonger for a tempting array of cheeses, accompanied by fresh fruit, biscuits and crackers. Sampling such delights with your loved one can be a wonderful, intimate affair, a chance to explore may different tastes and textures of food together.
4. Consider a less-fancy, ethnic restaurant for Valentine’s Day
Who says you need white linen tablecloths and big price tags to enjoy a delicious, romantic meal out on Valentine’s Day? A dinner at a more casual, ethnic restaurant can be a great alternative without all the fuss, stress and expense. Consider an Ethiopian restaurant, where food is meant to be shared and no utensils are provided: diners feed one another by scooping up food with thin sourdough flatbread called injera. Japanese food can also be wonderfully sensual and romantic, sharing artistically prepared sushi plates and savoring the textures and flavors of fresh fish. Many Japanese restaurants offer “Love Boat” special sushi platters for two, or sukiyaki to be shared from a simmering pot. Korean BBQ can also be a fun adventure for a couple, where you get to cook your meat over a hot grill at your table, then assemble with a mixture of spicy and sweet condiments.
5. Make plans to go out for a Valentine’s meal on another night of the week
Who says you have to eat out on exactly Valentine’s Day? You can likely have a much nicer experience planning for an special dinner out on another night that week, or perhaps the following weekend. It will be easier to get a reservation at the restaurant you want, there will be fewer crowds to battle, and you can experience a more relaxing, romantic evening. Just be sure your loved one knows of your plans; present him or her with a card showing your upcoming reservation and be sure to them them know it’s your night for Valentine’s celebrations.