OpenTable has the right restaurant for any occasion — and oftentimes that occasion is popping the question. Approximately 2.3 million couples are wed each year in the U.S. alone, and proposing marriage to a loved one at a restaurant is commonplace. In fact, Geja’s Cafe in Chicago, Illinois, boasts 16,683 engagements at its establishment alone. Most of those proposals come and go smoothly, but not all come off without a hitch. Aside from a few obvious cringe-worthy endeavors like texting ‘will u marry me’ over nachos, hiding a ring inside a piece of layer cake where it could choke someone, or using an ice bucket challenge to pop the question, planning the big moment should be as smooth as crème brûlée. Since matters of the heart and restaurants go hand in hand, we’ve enlisted a team of experts to share their best advice. Here’s how to propose in a restaurant — on Valentine’s Day or any day.
Plan in Advance
General manager Kelly Harbison is no stranger to marriage proposals. After all, the iconic Central Park restaurant Tavern on the Green in New York City is one of the most sought after places to propose and marry. Harbison says her best tip is simple but key to a successful proposal.
“Get in touch with a manager well in advance of your reservation day – because while you may want to surprise your fiancé to be, it is not in your best interest to surprise the restaurant staff,” she says. “Most high-end restaurants can help you tailor your experience and organize logistics.”
Tavern on the Green can facilitate a special table, time the coursing of the meal or beverage service as needed, and help with flowers or even grabbing some snapshots of the moment. Harbison cautions that not planning in advance could result in having to sit next to a loud, large party or where it’s impossible to kneel down. “We’re so honored to be a part of the start of your forever so it is best for everyone when you reach out about your plans in advance.”
Co-founder of Peli Peli Restaurants Thomas P. Nguyen and his staff are known to go the extra mile for future brides and grooms, including singing one of their favorite songs. At Peli Peli Galleria in Houston, Texas, they welcomed three proposals just over the New Year’s Eve holiday. Getting the servers, bartenders and managers involved and leaving nothing to chance is his secret recipe for a perfect proposal.
“Walk the space and designate the table where the proposal will happen and enact where the future bride or groom will be, areas to take photos and video, decide who the server will be and your chosen menu items,” says Nguyen. “The person doing the proposing should share an understanding of her or his expectations including table décor and anything the restaurant can do to assist with the actual proposal.”
Vancouver’s The Teahouse in Stanley Park general manager Andy Crimp is at the helm of one of the city’s most picturesque venues where engagement events can be like memorable mini-getaways.
“Find an escape from the city for the two of you, or consider renting a private room to make it surprise affair with all your friends and family,” he says.
Most restaurant staffers can’t wait to help plan the perfect proposal, like at Firefly in Washington, D.C. When one of his restaurant regulars requested to propose to his girlfriend in Firefly’s rooftop garden, lead bartender Brendan Ambrose obliged. He transported a couch up to the roof to create a romantic sunset seating, incorporated the couple’s favorite wines and cheeses in a shareable spread, and handpicked fresh flowers from the on-site garden.
Pick the Menu, Stage the Steps
At The Keep, part of Autograph Collection’s Hotel LeVeque in Columbus, Ohio, director of food and beverage Andrew Holmes goes a step further in suggesting the potential bride or groom sit down with the maître d’ or general manager prior to the proposal both to understand the menu and consider a partner’s needs. You may have decided on a special place, but take time to block the course of the meal.
“This way the couple has less to worry about the night of including making the restaurant aware of any allergies and, of course, taking a look at the beverage list ahead of time never hurts,” he says. “Specific to The Keep, we also offer guests the opportunity to see the top of the historic LeVeque Tower for special occasions, such as a proposal, and it’s magical.”
Drexel Heard is the events director for Michael’s Santa Monica where this art-laden Westside Los Angeles eatery is coming up on 40 years of service. The California cuisine lends itself to a romantic plate from small bites like dumplings with pork shoulder, ginger, and black vinegar to larger portions like duck confit or pork collar with dandelion and ginger.
“Consider if your partner likes a lot of attention or would they prefer a more secluded spot that makes the moment more intimate and consider pre-ordering particular dishes or wines that have meant something in the relationship,” says Heard. “It all comes together to help tell a story and build to your moment.”
At nearby Barton G. also in Los Angeles, executive chef Attila Bollok says to be creative and consider the timing.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime event so feel free to think out-of-the-box and be as over-the-top as possible, but be sure to wait until dessert, because when the proposal occurs at the beginning of the meal, couples are often too overjoyed and overtaken by sharing the news with loved ones that they forget to eat,” says Bollok. “Also consider the lighting and whether you should hire a professional photographer to capture the moment.” Bollok also suggests the planner consider a weeknight proposal because they are generally less crowded.
What Not to Do
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a good idea to place rings in anything edible. At Yuwa Japanese Cuisine in Vancouver, the food is so gorgeous, the ring doesn’t stand a chance of outshining it – but also, putting the ring in any food can be dangerous.
“Propose after you finish eating your meal and don’t put the ring in the dessert,” says co-owner and sake curator Lori Kataoka. “If you must put the ring in the dessert, keep an eye on it and make sure to let the cat out of the bag before he or she swallows it.”
Cibo Trattoria general manager Murray Saunders agrees.
“We once had a guest propose after placing a ring in a small amount of Champagne,” says Saunders of the downtown Vancouver restaurant. “Fortunately it all worked out and she said ’yes’, but gazing into his eyes she did not notice the ring and proceeded to drink all the Champagne.” (Thankfully, she didn’t swallow the ring.)
In beautiful Richmond, British Columbia, Origo Club restaurant manager Melanie Gravel also cautions against going with the status quo, rather to make the proposal unique to the couple.
“It’s up to each individual whether they like to make a bit of a show or not, because restaurants may be public, but not for a very showy celebration like showers of confetti or a live band and dancing,” she says. “It’s lovely to have everyone clap for you afterward though, plus you’re likely to get a glass of bubbles on the house as congratulations.”
Refrain from choosing a place that’s not memorable because proposal photos are once-in-a-lifetime, advises Seasons in The Park general manager Richard Baker. Be sure to consider the natural light, too. In Canada’s Queen Elizabeth Park, Seasons in The Park is a frequent proposal hotspot for its views, particularly from the outside patio.
“Pick the perfect time of the day, such as popping the question at the restaurant during sunset, and bonus points if the restaurant has a view that’s great for photos and videos,” says Baker.