It’s been about 2000 years since Saint Valentine bought a box of chocolates for his girlfriend and took her to an overpriced 3 course dinner at a trendy neighborhood restaurant with angry overworked waiters in his best his suit and tie. Normally, he sits in his house and she cooks him dinner. But today is special a special day. Wait, let’s get this right.
Valentinus was famous, of course, for driving the snakes out of Ireland. No, wait, I know he had something to do with love. There was more than one Valentinus, actually. And among other things he was known for performing marriages of people who were forbidden to marry. The sentiment is lovely to be sure and the mythology is as rich as the real story, maybe even more so. Unfortunately, I don’t remember any of it having to do with food. No restaurants, no chocolates and no aphrodisiac truffles. Being as how this is a food blog, that should about be the end of it then, right? Nope. It took us a few more centuries before we got it right with capitalism and got money into the right people’s hands. I mean that sarcastically of course.
In the restaurant business it’s one of those days that makes restaurant and chocolate store owners alike giddy with joy at the idea of having more money in their pockets. Their employees no doubt have little money of their own to spend on loved ones, let alone pay the bills. Yet every restaurant owner who is worth his weight in Fleur de Sel will find a way to maximize profits on this special night of the year. Whether it’s special seating, a different (and often easier to produce, and yet oddly more expensive) menu, or longer hours, you can expect owners and chefs alike will go to almost any mind-boggling length to raise their profit on the one night when they know they have a captive audience who is rabid to spend money. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not a disgruntled liberal socialist proletariat nor am I an angry old man who wants to squeeze every penny out of my business at my employee’s expense. I am merely stating the facts. It’s a pretty small percentage of restaurants who actually have workers who come to work because they love their job and look forward to making diners happy with their Valentine’s Day offerings. It’s one of the most completely predictable rare days a year when everyone knows the restaurant will be booked solid (and if your restaurant isn’t packed until next week then something is really wrong) and even the most normally dead dive bar can turn people away. Valentine’s Day is a cash cow. Granted, a spotted with cute little red and pink hearts that say “I love you” cow. But nonetheless a cow.
When you go out to eat with your significant other, whether it’s to propose marriage, get laid, get away from the kids, or even cheat on your spouse, you are simply a dollar sign to almost every eating establishment you might imagine making reservations at. That’s not to say it won’t be good or even entirely enjoyable; you probably know your chances of that happening long before you arrive at your destination along with your chances of sleeping alone with the internet and your Boston terrier. Who knows, maybe you will have the most amazingly romantic night of your life. I’ve seen it happen. But I do guarantee that the waiters will gleefully sit at home with a wad of cash and the owners will have one more needless art thing on their mantle. The only ones who really get screwed are the cooks who come in and work extra for maybe a little overtime if they’re lucky. They all see no benefit to your wonderful romantic evening out. All the cooks know they will never spend a Valentine’s Day in their life with a love interest. It’s another holiday spent with coworkers and without extra pay instead of a holiday spent with the one person they can’t live without. It’s part of the restaurant business. And if you happen to have the busiest nights off, then you aren’t really that valuable to begin with. The chef didn’t schedule your day off on Valentine’s Day because he thinks you’re cool.
All this brings me back to capitalism. We play this whole silly game on Valentine’s Day because it’s the expected norm. We go to jobs and we don’t even like, let alone love most of the time, so that we can participate in this game. We give someone else our hard-earned cash because we grew up with the idea that it’s just what we do. We learned it. Like Pavlov’s dog. We don’t need to do it, we just do it anyway like an affection starved zombie wanting to be like everyone else. If we took that time we worked for the money to eat out and spent that time actually learning a recipe, shopping and then cooking a meal it might somehow be more real. More real than being lazy and having a falsely smiling waiter serving you food, made by cooks who don’t want to be there and then giving your money to a person who rarely loves what they are doing, but more than likely just wants to separate you from your cash. Sure you can have a romantic evening with a room full of strangers on a predictable night, but doing something that brings you joy to do for the person you can’t live without isn’t a learned behavior, it’s something honest and meaningful – something unpredictable and beautiful, something that food aspires to be in it’s best and bravest moments, like love itself. That is, after all, the whole idea isn’t it.
Happy Valentine’s Day