I stopped going to any restaurants on Valentine’s Day after I started working in the food industry. I used to be the girl who would spend hours doing research to find the most exciting place to dine out on Valentine’s Day. I embraced Valentine’s Day just like anyone else. When all my girl friends were sharing photos of gourmet chocolate or beautiful bouquets via Facebook or Instagram, I used to feel it was compulsory to go somewhere and spurge on this special day.
It’s intriguing that after I started working within the restaurant industry, any important holiday now means only one thing to me: more work. For those who work at restaurants, it is the best time to make good money. The Chef de Cuisine and the manager have to figure out how to attract the most guests on those holidays and apply the best strategy to up sell dishes. For the servers and host (front of house team), there would be meetings to discuss the flow of the service. They would aim at turning each table three times, if possible, which can mean: 5:30~7:00 PM for one turn, 7:00 ~8:30 PM for the second turn, and then 8:30~10:00 PM for the third term. The manager can change the setting on Open Table, so the guests can only book tables at specific time.
For those of us who work back in the kitchen (back of the house), it means we have to come out with some special dishes to make our guests feel “special” on these “special” days. The seemingly endless recipe testing and menu planning started a few weeks before the holiday. A pre-fix menu is easy for servers, since the guests have to order appetizers and main entrée together. The Chef de Cuisine also has to think what items we can up sell through the pre-fix menu… like, shavings of black truffle? 25 dollars. How about luscious caviar? 35 dollars. Oh yes! Just because…it’s Valentine’s Day. As we know, the guests usually have more generous budgets on those days.
Since I graduated from Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, I have always worked on the pastry station at resturants. I was either squeezed in the corner or placed in the basement. When I was allowed to use the main station, I had to run the production very early and leave the station before the savory team came in. The pastry station is hardly under the spotlight in the kitchen. The main entrée is the showcase of the chef’s talent. Many guests would decide to skip dessert if they were satisfied with appetizers and entrees. Or, they would ‘share’ one dessert. You hardly see guests share one entrée, but you often see guests share one dessert.
Valentine’s Day is probably one of the only holidays that dessert suddenly become central to the meal. Chocolate desserts are especially popular. Several years ago, I worked at Farmstead Table, a farm to table restaurant in Newton Center. That first winter was extremely brutal. We had to close the restaurant several times due to bad weather and storms. The sidewalk was icy, and I accidentally slipped when I was walking and hurt my back terribly. However, Valentine’s Day was coming. I had to make double amounts of dessert than usual. I endured the back pain, and I worked over time during that week. Our best seller was a s’more tart. I used all the s’more tart molds in the entire basement, including the old ones in the storage. On Valentine’s Day, Sharon, the pastry chef of Farmstead Table, was very kind to let me leave early. “You’ve worked very hard. Tonight, I will stay in the restaurant to make sure things go well.” I thanked her and went to a café for some coffee and snack. When I sat down, I got a text message from her, “Guess what I am doing?” she texted. “Is everything all right?” I was concerned. “Everything is all right. I am making more s’more tarts!” We made five times the normal amount of our s’more tarts, and yet, they were all sold out!
If you go to restaurants on holidays, the service may not be as good as usual. The volume of the guests is usually very high. If the restaurant plans to turn tables twice or three times, you may feel you’re rushed to finish the meal rather than take time enjoying each other’s company on the special holiday. The price of each dish can be slightly higher than the regular A La Carte menu. In other words, you’re potentially paying more for a less quality experience.
I know it is cliché to say “everyday should be as special as holiday,” but that’s really what I’ve learned working in restaurant industry. Since I hardly have weekends or holidays off, I cherish every moment I can spend with my family and friends. Everyday when I spend time with my children, I think how can we do ordinary things in extraordinary ways. Every time when I catch up with my friends, I genuinely enjoy their company. “Your presence is the best present,” as I always say.
So, what’s my suggestion for Valentine’s Day? Avoid going to any restaurant. Turn on the music. Light up the candles, and cook a nice meal at home. Want some suggestions? Here is a recipe to a make vegan sushi. Want something sweet? Here is a recent recipe I posted for making Spanish churros. A delicious, sweet treat.
But, don’t do it only on Valentine’s Day. Do it at least once a week, or as often as you can. If you’ve found the love of your life, everyday should be Valentine’s Day! If you wish you were more comfrotable in the kitchen and would like to book a private, in-home lesson with me, get in touch here to schedule.