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9 Tips for Dining Out on Valentine’s Day

You can see it now—a cozy restaurant, candles, good wine. Here are some tips to navigate dining out on the busiest night of the year.

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"A shot of crowded bar in fine restaurant. A shallow depth of field is used to blur the faces of crowdsPlease, check out my growing collection of Restaurant images.ekash/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Expect a Crowd

According to an Open Table survey, 71% of Americans plan to go out to dinner on Valentine’s Day—an enormous number! Restaurants are notoriously packed during dinner. Even the bar may be busy, so be patient and don’t show up famished, in case food arrives slower than usual.

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Japanese restaurant, Tokyo. Note: the same four people at each table.urbancow/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Expect Things to Be Cozy

On an ordinary night, groups of all sizes go to restaurants. But on Valentine’s Day, it’s just couples. To fill the tables, your host may seat two different couples at a four-top table, so be ready to go with the flow. Follow our food etiquette guide to impress your date—and those strangers.

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Many busy chefs are working in a big restaurant kitchen PhotoTalk/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Make a Reservation


Many restaurants book up weeks or months before Valentine’s Day. Plan to make a reservation five to six weeks ahead of time. Set a calendar reminder so it doesn’t get lost in the flow. If you forgot all about it, call around to see whether any restaurants can squeeze you in, or plan to make a romantic dinner at home.

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Closeup of mid 20's couple having fun during dinner party. The guy is feeding his girls with some chopped fruit, both laughing.gilaxia/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Consider Eating Early or Late

The busiest dinner hours fall between 6:00 and 9:00 p.m. You can beat the crowds if you head to the restaurant early—plus your waiter will be fresher! Or, head out late, for a full dinner or maybe just a dessert. Find the best Italian restaurant in your state.

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Mid adult African American businessman reading Menu in a cafe. Copy space.skynesher/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Expect a Special Menu

Going to your favorite restaurant? Even if it’s your home away from home, the menu may be unrecognizable on V-Day. Many restaurants offer a prix fixe menu, which means you’re stuck eating a fixed series of courses. Offering a fixed menu helps the restaurant kitchen have food ready efficiently on the busy night.

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A beautifully-worn leather-bound menu at a European cafe in Prague, Czech Republichalbergman/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Higher Prices May Be Inevitable

That prix fixe menu? It’ll probably be more expensive than your usual order. Restaurants know crowds are going to descend on Valentine’s Day, and they take advantage to make extra revenue. Plus, the menu is often more “luxe” and romantic, which makes it pricier.

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Handsome Young Waiter Portraitanouchka/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Your Waiter Might Be Elusive

On top of being busy, many restaurants may be understaffed on Valentine’s Day. Waitstaff will be bustling around trying to keep up with extra tables, and helping diners who may not be regulars. See what waiters need you to know about eating out on a holiday.

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Waiter serving couple dessert, man smiling at waiterNick White/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Want to Be Polite? Don’t Linger

It’s tempting to draw out a romantic meal, savoring every bite and ordering an extra glass of wine. But remember that your table is in high demand, and the restaurant is probably planning to seat someone else there shortly.

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Senior couple looking at a menu in a restaurantfiladendron/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Consider a Different Meal

Who said Valentine’s Day has to be celebrated at night? Meet your date for breakfast or lunch, and you’ll probably escape all of these potential issues: no crowds, no limited menus, no need to plan ahead. Or, if you’re a good cook, try making a sweet Valentine’s Day breakfast at home.

Kelsey Rae Dimberg
A former in-house editor at Taste of Home, Kelsey now writes articles and novels from her home in Milwaukee. She's an avid cook, reader, flâneur, and noir fanatic. Her debut novel, Girl in the Rearview Mirror, will be published in June 2019 by William Morrow.

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