Fri, Feb 14, 2020 - Page 14 News List

Stupid Cupid: Valentine’s Day disasters

From excessive canoodling to screaming rows, restaurant staff see the best — and the worst — of the annual night of romance

By Gwendolyn Smith  /  The Guardian

Lebanese people eat lunch at a restaurant decorated for Valentine’s Day in Beirut in February 2018.

Photo: AFP

The end is nigh. Millions of us today will abandon all semblance of dignity, good manners and common sense, as cities become a hellscape of canoodlers, nitpickers and philanderers. That’s right: Valentine’s Day is upon us.

Restaurant staff see the worst of this annual depravity. From their vantage point, Feb. 14 is less a celebration of romance, more the night each year when one questions whether humans deserve love at all.

We’re not all complete savages — it is just that heightened expectations make us act strangely.

“You can tell people are trying harder than usual,” says Katie Toogood, co-owner of the Prawn on the Lawn seafood joints in London and Cornwall.

Obviously, it’s nice to make an effort, but too often this tips into tedious perfectionism. Giotto Giannandrea, a waiter at Lina Stores in London, notes that lovestruck diners become fixated on securing a special table, automatically rejecting the perfectly fine spot they are first offered in favor of an imagined superior setting.

“It’s not the table that makes a date,” he says wisely, adding that people should quit fretting. “I’m not going to sit you in the toilet.”


Pressure is no doubt also to blame for an ailment that affects men around this time of year: loudly complaining that the wine is corked (even when it’s not) in order to impress a date. And, yes, while #notallmen are culpable, it is “100 percent always guys” who do this, according to a waitress-turned-PR who asked to remain anonymous. She recalls a punter who vociferously insisted that his wine was corked, despite it coming from a screw-capped bottle.

“Usually we’d have glossed over something like that, but he was quite rude, so my colleague called him out on it,” she says.

Josh Stephenson-Roberts of Osteria Tufo in north London confirms that behaviour of this kind is a Valentine’s Day staple.

“On a new date you will get the guy rejecting the wine.”

He finds it funny — but if you are going to try it, first check the bottle was sealed with a cork.

Understandably, many of us want the evening to look memorable — hence our weakness for over-the-top table decorations. Phoebe Somerfield worked in a restaurant in Devon where every year a regular would deck out her and her husband’s table with “ginormous gold, glittery balloons” and scatter the area with confetti.

“The tables were really close together, so we had to fight around the balloons,” Somerfield says, groaning.

Rachael Gibbon, the general manager of London’s Honey & Co restaurant group, had to deal with a man who festooned the table with rose petals — one for every month he and his girlfriend had been together, he explained. Gibbon was worried about his partner’s reaction, but the abundance of petals proved reassuring. “It was quite a lot, so I thought: she’ll know what he’s like by now,” she says.

Should you avoid decorations altogether? No — the consensus is that they are OK as long as you ask first. But think twice before involving confetti.

“People don’t realize how annoying it is to sweep up,” says Somerfield.


While some of us make too much effort on Valentine’s Day, others haven’t even mastered the first rule of dating: don’t perv on someone who is not your partner. Stephenson-Roberts observes that “wandering eyes” are a common feature of the evening. Digital flirting isn’t unheard of, either. Peppe Corallo, bar manager at London’s Kitchen at Holmes, remembers one woman who suddenly started screaming at her boyfriend during dinner. Why? He had been checking Tinder at the table. She hurled her champagne in his face before storming out. Unsurprisingly, her sodden lover soon paid up and left too.

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