Another new year! We made it through the Christmas Season without nervous breakdowns, which is a Christmas miracle all in itself. We even made it through New Year’s Eve, for which we happened to be closed this year. We turned away tons of reservation requests because we were determined to have a New Year’s Eve of our own. We went to Indianapolis… out to dinner for a very over-priced, mediocre meal and then to a bar where some poor party-hearty soul threw up on the dance floor, and someone else spilled a drink on my gorgeous black velvet dress. When WE are working, it really looks like everyone else is having a lot of fun, but in reality, I think everyone is just trying too hard. There is a reason we are better off working that night.
Anyway, once New Year’s Eve is over, there’s another big night just around the corner, and the calls start coming is as soon as January 2nd. (The calls are coming in right now, and I don’t even have the reservation sheets done yet… I’m just toting all the messages around in The Vault on little pieces of scrap paper.) It’s a night with expectations just as high, if not higher, than New Year’s Eve. A night where everyone’s romantic dreams come true. Four syllables that bring hope, anticipation and an excuse to buy a new outfit for women everywhere while simultaneously causing an ulcer to form in the bellies of restaurant folk around the world.
It’s always interesting to me that one member of a couple is always on the spot on Valentine’s Day while the other one just gets to wait and see if they’ll get it right. How does this get decided for each couple? In many couples, it’s the husband, but in other couples, especially same-sex couples (whom I am proud to say feel every bit as comfortable celebrating their love in our restaurant as anyone else,) you just don’t know who will bear the burden of doing St. Valentine proud. Much like Christmas time when we watch employees opening bonus envelopes, on Valentine’s Day we see the expectation in someone’s eyes when she (or he) is opening a tiny box that has been slipped under her (or his) napkin, and sometimes the thinly veiled disappointment when it’s just not something they would want.
(By the way, here’s a hint from me to you… stay away from heart-shaped jewelry of any sort, no matter how expensive, resist any impulse buys at the check-out lane at the drugstore…. and back away…far away… from any heart-shaped boxes bearing the name “Russell Stover.” Even Russell’s wife does not want those waxy chocolates. )
The phone rings in the month of February like no other month, just because of the sheer volume of reservations. Think about it… if on any given normal night, we do 100 guests, that might break down into 15 four tops, 10 two-tops (deuces, as we call them,) maybe 2 sixes, and an eight. Twenty-eight tables total. And of those twenty-eight tables, maybe four of them will be celebrating a “special occasion.” On Valentine’s Day, we will do 200 guests, and almost all of them will be a table of two.
One hundred tables total. And every single one of them is celebrating a “special occasion.”
I sit and obsess over the reservation sheets for hours in the week prior to the big day. For sure the 5:30 resos (as we call them) will be out by 7:00. For them, Valentine’s Day is a business transaction. Something to check off their to-do lists. Ten minutes to turn (clear and re-set) those tables means we can start re-booking them at 7:00. The real romantics come at 7:00 (even if it falls on a weeknight… they will stay for two hours, gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes over coffee, but I’ll still have their table back by 9:00 for the third turn. And just when I think I’ve got it all worked out, the phone rings: “We just realized a friend of ours will be alone tonight… can I add one person to our reservation?” If I can, I move them to a larger table, but this changes everything, not just their table, but the turns of that table as well. I squeeze in every call I can, but I’ll be honest… I’m also keeping a few tables up my sleeve, in case a reservation was lost (remember those little scraps of paper I was telling you about?) or a very regular customer calls me on the 13th, penitent and begging for me to save his butt. Of course I can.
It is almost impossible for me not to laugh into the phone at the poor, clueless souls who call at 4:30 on Valentine’s Day… “Um, yeah, I’m gonna need a table for two tonight, around 7, or 7:30 would be okay too…” I don’t often use the word “dude”, but now I want to, as in “Dude… seriously??” Those tables have been booked for a month now. They are outright scandalized when I tell them that I really don’t have ANY tables left at all, but I guess I could try and squeeze them in at 9:45. Dead silence… it’s sinking in. I wait for the inevitable question: “So for SURE you don’t have anything at 7:00?” Yes, I’m quite sure. Now comes denial, coupled with the certain doom of the doghouse he is about to find himself in… “Well, can we come in at 7:00 and just see if something opens up?” He is hoping against all hope, but I cannot give him hope where none exists. “Even if we have tables that don’t show up, there is very little chance that we will have anything before 9:45 or 10:00. We are literally booked solid. I’m so sorry.” And I really AM sorry. I know what that guy’s in for. But, seriously dude, it’s Valentine’s Day! Put a reminder in your phone for next year to call on February 1st, and then RUN to the florist and pray they have some roses left… you’re going to need them.
Whether or not you fully embrace the spirit of Valentine’s Day or just feel resentful that Hallmark and the media will make you look bad if you do nothing, my caveat to you is the same… start thinking about it NOW. Even if you think it’s a load of hooey, there’s nothing wrong with choosing one day every year to tell your beloved how much they mean to you. Yes, my life would be easier if it were spread out over the course of a year, but that’s okay. I’ll be ready. And when I get home that night, KJG will invariably have two dozen, multi-colored roses waiting for me… my favorite… as she has every year for the past fourteen years. Some years they die in two days and one year we found them frozen to the front steps when we got home at 11:00, but regardless, the sentiment is there and the thought means a lot to me.
As I finish this, I have also assembled the reservation sheets for the week of February 14th… sheets with sooo many more time slots than usual. I am ready. Now, where did I put all those little scraps of paper…