Why you shouldn’t dine out on Valentine’s Day

DON'T go out for dinner on Valentine's Day.

Not because the candlelit meal is a cliche or that it shows a lack of imagination, but because it's the worst day to dine out.

It is one of the busiest nights of the year; restaurants are full, staff are harried and you're stuck with a set menu. You don't even get to decide what you want to eat and you're paying over the odds for the privilege. That deal you think you're getting? Pfft.

Restaurant booking site Dimmi expects reservations to be 300 per cent higher than they would be for an average Wednesday.
Don't believe me? Then listen to an anonymous industry insider.

"Restaurants push diners into obscenely expensive set menus just because they can. Nearly every restaurant will be fully booked and can ask for however much they want.

"Restaurant operators know that many people who don't usually eat out leave the house for Valentine's Day only. Having 120 people requesting complimentary drinks to start the evening, or roses to be organised, or special handwritten notes to be delivered is pretty much standard."

The diner that only ever eats out on special occasions has grandiose expectations of a big night out - their patience for an overworked kitchen is non-existent and empathy for a waiter trying to juggle a full section is as empty as the wine glass they want refilling right this second.

Nothing short of the technique of Quay's Snow Egg, the Instagrammable-ness of Black Star Pastry's strawberry and watermelon layer cake or indulgence of fresh truffles is going to be good enough. And you'll be sure to hear all about it because tables are packed in so tightly there's no way of avoiding their sarcastic spray to the waiter.

There’s only a few dining experiences — like Quay’s Snow Egg — that are going to be a match for dining expectations on Valentine’s Day. (Pic: Kristi Miller)
There’s only a few dining experiences — like Quay’s Snow Egg — that are going to be a match for dining expectations on Valentine’s Day. (Pic: Kristi Miller)

It's why dining out when everyone else eats in is the way to go. You'll often have a better experience midweek than on Friday and Saturday nights when restaurants are busy and there's less of everything to go around.

Some of my best dining experiences recently have been during quiet weeknights or odd times in all day restaurants.

Staff are relaxed, the kitchen can pace the meal and we don't feel we're being shunted out in the rush to flip the table.

An early booking on a Tuesday night in the CBD where the hostess gave us a four-top so we could sit next to each other on the leather banquette.

A very late lunch Sunday in the Eastern suburbs where the waiter had a lull after the lunch rush, but it was the calm before the storm of dinner service so he had time to discuss the wines and recommended some new ones that hadn't made it onto the list yet.

A casual midweek dinner at a local where the owner sat down and chatted to us about the menu after we'd paid the bill.

These are the things that make for memorable dining experiences. While the food is a major part of it, the ambience, service and yes, even your fellow diners, all affect how it plays out.

So cancel that booking and surprise your love with dinner out on a random evening instead.

Whisking them away from the drudgery of doing dishes when they least expect it is a helluva lot more romantic than doing something just because everyone else is.

Renata Gortan is The Daily Telegraph's food reporter.

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