From when to make a reservation to how much to tip your servers, we asked the experts to weigh in.

By Kelly Vaughan
January 17, 2020

Dining out on Valentine's Day can be a special way to celebrate your love with your partner, but scoring a reservation at the most popular restaurant in town can be near impossible unless you plan ahead. And if you're planning to pop the big question on Valentine's Day, things get even more complex. That's why we asked Caroline Glover, owner and executive chef of Annette in Aurora, Colorado, and Kait Goalen, executive director of AC Restaurants in Raleigh, North Carolina, for advice so that your evening goes off without a hitch.

party snacks and small glasses of red wine
Credit: Janelle Jones

Make Reservations—and Make Them Early

Before getting all dolled up, make sure that you've secured a reservation at the restaurant of your choice. Our experts recommend booking a table 30 days in advance for the best chance at getting your preferred time slot. Whatever you do, don't show up without having called ahead. "If you have specific time requirements or special requests [like a dietary restriction], the earlier the better," says Goalen.

Tip and Treat the Staff Well

While you share a toast with a loved one on Valentine's Day, consider the work that the staff has done to provide a special experience. "It does take a lot of passion to do what we do, but I think it's always important for guests to be aware that restaurant workers are sacrificing time with their families to be at work on a holiday," says Glover. Since this is a holiday, consider tipping higher than usual; Goalen recommends leaving your server 20 to 22 percent of your total bill. "I think on any holiday that a restaurant is open, it's always nice to leave a little more tip, or honestly just treat the staff with respect," says Glover. If you're thinking about buying the kitchen staff a round of drinks or offering cash tips, ask to speak with the chef or kitchen manager to learn what is appropriate, Goalen adds.

Exercising patience, gratitude, and kindness are cost-free ways to show the staff your appreciation. Consider sending a thank-you note the day after Valentine's Day—"I know that we're always really touched when we get cards or emails from guests that have had a great time," says Goalen.

Understand the Menu

Many restaurants will offer a pre-fixe menu exclusively on holidays like Valentine's Day, which features special menu items at a fixed cost. If the menu is à la carte, that means that you can order as you please from the restaurant's standard menu. Confirm with the restaurant which type of menu will be offered when making your reservation. If you're looking for a way to cut costs, consider dining a day or two before or after Valentine's Day when there is no obligation to order off the pre-fixe menu, says Glover. "Plus, the restaurant may be less crowded and the expectations for your date a little more relaxed!" she adds.

Popping the Question

If you're planning to propose in a restaurant on Valentine's Day, make plans with the staff in advance. "Communicate with the restaurant beforehand, and be respectful and understanding that, by choosing a restaurant as your proposal venue, you need to work within the limitations of the flow and needs of the space," advises Goalen. Glover recommends proposing on the earlier or later end of the evening when things might be a little less hectic or crowded.


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