10 Extra Special Valentine’s Day Special Requests

With Valentine’s Day coming up this weekend, we’ve been thinking about special requests a lot. A LOT. Our data team has been crunching data. We’ve been looking for trends. And, we’ve been sifting through years of requests, looking for our favorites. Some are heartfelt, some are desperate cries for help, and some are deliberately cheeky — and they’ve all left us hoping the restaurants were able to fulfill these requests (particulary #1 — we sincerely hope you survived, dear diner!).

1. “Can you make it extra romantic and nice? A booth will be preferable. My girlfriend is a bit on the crazy side, and I would like to spend Valentine’s Day without getting screamed at. PLEASE HELP ME SURVIVE VALENTINES DAY!”

2. “If at all possible, we’d like a waiter with a ponytail/longer hair and/or accent.”

3. “Draw a puppy on a piece of paper and leave it on the table!”

4. “I want to get lucky with my girl tonight :)”

5. “A free meal for being so darn good looking!”

6. “I am sending my girlfriend here along with one of her friends. I am in Iraq right now and would like you to accept my credit card for this dinner.”

7. “[Female name, redacted] is breaking up with [male, name redacted].”

8. “No requests, but we’re just five ladies without dates on Valentine’s Day. Feel free if you’d like to give us chocolates or glasses of wine to fill our hearts with love.”

9. “I’m asking my date to prom, and I’m bringing cupcakes that say ‘me’, ‘you’, and ‘prom’ on them. Could our server or the manager bring them out as a special desert? Please and thank you!”

10. “Tell Libby she smells like Amish turkey.”

Valentine’s Day Diners Are Getting More Demanding

The soft music of Argentine tango, or a live jazz ensemble playing away in the background, long-stemmed roses laid across the table, candlelight, a warm greeting with glasses of Champagne, a table by the fireplace, or near a window with a spectacular view of the sunset — these are some of the things many couples look forward to for the perfect Valentine’s day dinner.

Some of these aspirations get reflected in the requests diners make to the restaurant while making their V-day reservations. At OpenTable, we have a treasure trove of these requests dating back to 2004. When we laid them out in chronological order, we started seeing some interesting trends.

Continue reading on the OpenTable tech blog Ingredients.

How Restaurants Handle Your Special Requests on Valentine’s Day — Plus Tips from Top Managers

RequestsValentine’s Day is one of our favorite holidays, but we’ll be the first to admit that it can be a high-pressure day for some couples. After reviewing thousands of special requests, it’s clear that there are a lot of people out there seeking romantic redemption at a restaurant on February 14. Diners’ special requests on Valentine’s Day range from the vague (“Make it extra special!”) to the particular (“When paella is ordered, if possible, shape the meal into a heart.”), but the overall theme of the many requests restaurants receive is that everyone wants their Valentine’s meal to be something special (some need it to be more so than others). We talked to three restaurant professionals for their take on diners’ requests, and they reveal everything from what’s a bit too much to what they want to hear more of — and why you should let them handle the heat.

Under Pressure
“Valentines Day with new girlfriend. Help me out. I am clueless.”

Restaurants see a solid uptick in special requests on Valentine’s Day– and given the perceived stakes, it’s not surprising. Jeff Benjamin, author of the forthcoming Front of the House: Restaurant Manners, Misbehaviors & Secrets, partner in the Vetri family of restaurants, and general manager at Vetri in Philadelphia, notes, “The expectation levels on Valentine’s Day are higher — sometimes artificially higher. We can tell when one member of the party is very nervous. If it’s a first night out with that date or maybe it’s a ‘Hey, I’m not so sure we’re going to continue dating and now all of a sudden we’re out on Valentine’s Day’ kinda thing – that’s a lot of pressure.”

Philippe Vongerichten, director of operations at Jean-Georges restaurant in Manhattan, agrees. “Valentine’s is one of those nights, almost like New Year’s Eve. You have men who don’t know what kind of flower their girlfriend likes. They’re panicking. They’re not used to making romantic moves. Our job is to make sure they get the best service and that everything goes well — and that they forget about any stress.”

At Lucy Restaurant & Bar at Bardessono in Yountville, California, as at Jean-Georges and Vetri, the staff phone all diners who place special requests to discuss them in detail. This helps the restaurants create a plan and to get a read on future guests. General manager Guy Barstad says, “You can put private notes in OpenTable on a particular reservation, and I might type, ‘This diner seems a little nervous,’ if that’s the case.

The ordinary and the extraordinary
“Can I have a Brazilian band playing music and red roses?”

While common requests include diners seeking booths, window seats, or private/quiet tables, as well as flowers, each restaurant gets its share of unusual requests. At Lucy, “We had a customer who made a reservation for our very last seating, and he and his date sat in the bar and waited until every other diner left, had me blow out all the candles in the dining room, turn the lights down as low as possible, and the two of them dined in the dark. And, they loved it,” says Barstad.

At Vetri, Benjamin says, “Several years ago, a man with his wife were coming in, and it was a first time out for them since they’d had a baby. The gentleman sent a script for us [related to a forthcoming present] ahead of time. The staff and I had fun with it at first, but we could tell midway through that his wife was getting uncomfortable with it. And, none of us [at Vetri] had thought about the effect these exchanges would have on the surrounding diners in the room. So, midway through, we talked with him about it, and he said, ‘You know, I overthought it; maybe tone it down a little.’ We ended up just bringing the gift he’d bought her with dessert at the end, and he was very happy.”

At the elegant Jean-Georges, a guest requested that staffers throw rose petals as he and his date walk through the entrance, a request they were unable to meet. “We’re very sorry, but this is not Coming to America.”

Managing Everyone’s Expectations
“I will be dining with a woman named [redacted]. Please tell her how beautiful she looks.”

While almost all restaurants will do their best to meet your special request, it’s a good idea to temper your own expectations. For example, while staffers may not be able to pave your path with rose petals or feel comfortable explicitly telling your date how beautiful she looks, they may find another way to carry out your wish. Says Barstad, “We actually compliment diners on a regular basis, but we come from a place of, ‘You took some time to get ready and you look great!’ With any ask, he reveals, “If you request it, and we have it or can tastefully do it, it will happen.”

One of the ways restaurants meet guests’ expectations is to let them know if they cannot be met on a particular night, says Benjamin. “You don’t want to start off with the idea that you’re going to underwhelm someone. If we can’t give someone the table they requested, for example, I can say ahead of time, ‘I guarantee you that everything else other than your table choice is going to be perfect, and we’re going to make everything special for you.’”

Oftentimes, when a restaurant cannot fulfill a request, it’s because, says Vongerichten, “Guests are scared of their wife or valentine and are trying to throw too much at it [the evening].” Instead of overthinking it, let the restaurant create the experience for you. Embracing the foundations of fine hospitality, the Jean-Georges staff makes sure everyone feels important. “When most people come through the door on Valentine’s Day, they love being recognized as if they were a regular guest. We can tell who the host of the dinner is, and we’re sure to greet that person by name.”

Didn’t make a special request? Don’t fret. “Even if you don’t make a special request, you’ll still be treated special,” says Vetri’s Benjamin. “First-time diners are just future regulars.” Getting ready to make a special request? Barstad, Benjamin, and Vongerichten offer up their tips for one on Valentine’s Day, below.

Book early to help secure your ask.
“Make your Valentine’s Day reservations as early as possible — that way you get everything you ask for,” advises Barstad. “We can see when the reservation was made, so if someone tells me in December that they want a window table on Valentine’s Day, they’re likely to get it. If someone requests that on February 13, the odds are that it is unavailable.”Continue Reading

Restaurants and Book Clubs: Meeting over a Meal

Book-club-and-restaurant.jpgI love being in a book club, but not always because of the books (Ask me about The Mercy of Thin Air…blech!). What I love is that we dine out every time we meet. This wasn’t always the case. We tried gathering at members’ apartments, but that didn’t work as well as we’d hoped. Conversation strayed too far from the book and interruptions (spouses, hosting duties) popped up. Restaurants were a better fit – but finding the right one proved to be a process.

We first met at a pub owned by a famous author. It was a bit too rowdy and no one was really thrilled with the fattening, downscale fare offered there. We tried a yummy Korean restaurant that made sublime bibimbap, but the slim wine list and lack of a full liquor license left us cold (and thirsty).  A deceptively overpriced restaurant proved financially disastrous.  A too-casual joint (think chili!) was yet another letdown, although we did discover Dorothy Parker was on to something: Round tables are a must!

Armed with a refined list of our needs (reasonable prices, upscale cuisine, interesting cocktails, respectable wine list, vibrant crowd, round tables, and convenient location), I set out to find the right restaurant for us. It turned out to be Elizabeth, a new-ish place in the NoLita section of Manhattan. A tall banquette provides us with privacy and fosters conversation. The restaurant offers budget-friendly, $25 Mondays (two courses and a glass of wine or beer), a noted mixologist helped craft the cocktail list, and the menu appeals to our diverse appetites. Nearly two years into our book club, we’ve guaranteed that we’ll always enjoy our meetings even if we don’t always enjoy the books.

Want to avoid our trial and error and make the most of your book club meetings? Use these tips:

Consider picking a regular venue. As my fellow book clubber Nancy commented, “I love that we have a regular book club restaurant, and that it’s so adorable and elegant. Just like us.” The latter sentiment may be debatable, but having a place ideally suited to our needs has made planning our meetings a snap.

Look for pre-fixe deals – or ask if the restaurant might create one for your group. Depending on how big your club is and how often you’ll commit to going there, you may be able to work something out.

Get cozy. Don’t be afraid to sit a bit closer than you normally might. Squeezing seven people into a table for five actually makes things more fun.

Note your needs. Use the “Special Requests to the Maitre D'” section on OpenTable to let the restaurant know your party is a book club and make personal requests (such as a round table or sitting closer than usual).

Start at the bar. Avoid veering off topic by meeting at the restaurant’s bar for a drink beforehand. Catch your breath, catch up, and trade gossip.  When you sit down for your meal, it will be much easier to keep the discussion focused on the book.