Add restaurateurs to the list of curmudgeons who don’t love Valentine’s Day.
Anxious lovebirds scrambling to book a table this week might guess that fancy eateries are gaga over Feb. 14. But many proprietors say it’s actually a once-a-year headache they’d just as soon skip.
Yes, V-Day can pack dining venues wall-to-wall with couples craving pricey wines and entrees. But it also clears out the highly profitable regulars at the bar, who quaff more drinks. Likewise, the tables-for-two-only night limits the size of the tab that comes with bigger groups and corporate events.
“Our restaurants are absolutely full because every table is taken,” says Nick Valenti, chief executive of Patina Restaurant Group, which owns 70 eateries, including The Sea Grill and Rock Center Cafe.
“But not every table is maximized because you have tables for four being occupied by two people.”
Add to that the fact that lovebirds tend to linger — frequently taking more than 120 minutes to finish up and pay their tabs, versus 75 to 90 minutes on a typical weekday night, says Burak Karacam, owner of two Pera Mediterranean Brasserie eateries in Manhattan.
“It cannot be said that Valentine’s Day is great for business or tipped staff,” Karacam told The Post.
And while diners can shell out for prix fixe menus with luxury ingredients — Tavern on the Green’s is a whopping $265 per person this year including wine pairings — proprietors gripe that the margins on foie gras and caviar are frequently lower.
Another dirty V-Day secret: Couples aren’t always quietly canoodling. Instead, the pressures of the holiday can lead to tension — and even fights worthy of a Hollywood script, according to restaurant personnel.
A few years ago, a married pair dining at ilili — a posh Lebanese eatery on Fifth Avenue — decided to get divorced on Valentine’s Day.
“The wife calmly stood up and threw a glass of red wine in her husband’s face,” says Jasmine Cox, who was a waitress at the time.
The waiter assigned to the table wasn’t far away when the husband announced he wanted the divorce, Cox said. Staff decided to leave the husband alone at the table until the wife eventually returned from the ladies room.
“The servers have to be master readers of their guests,” admits ilili’s owner, Philippe Massoud, who has observed plenty of the holiday’s drama himself.
“You have people who are hanging by a string and people who are goo-goo over each other.”
Still, Massoud says he takes pleasure in his own V-day tradition of giving surprise gifts to the women after dessert, such as tulip bulbs and scented oils.
“Valentine’s Day is not as hated as New Year’s Eve, which is despised,” says hospitality attorney Carolyn Richmond of Fox Rothschild, LLP. Aside from potentially rowdy crowds, New Year’s tips are usually lower and waitstaff are more reluctant to work that night to begin with, she says.
Valentine’s Day has been losing its luster for some time. Only 51 percent of Americans plan to celebrate the holiday, down from 55 percent last year and a high of 63 percent in 2007, according to the National Retail Federation.