Kitchen Confidential: Table For Two

written by Wendy Watta 6th February 2016

As you plan to make your dinner reservation, Ray Cournede, Executive Chef at The Talisman, gives yet another interesting insider’s perspective. This time, it’s all about what goes on at restaurants during Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day is upon us yet again, and as with every year, it attracts plenty of lovers and friends looking to sit down for a special dinner at a selected restaurant. It is therefore very easy for most restaurants to overextend themselves on nights like these, and that is when you run into issues, either by putting dishes on your menu that put the kitchen under pressure or by overbooking your dining room. Take into consideration that couples come with such high expectations on this day. They really want to get something out of the ordinary from their meal, and that’s a lot of pressure for a restaurant to have to live up to. It can be very hard to make somebody’s date go perfectly.

Valentine's Table For Two With Talisman's Executive Chef, Ray Cournede

A lot of restaurants are going to take the opportunity to serve a fixed-cost menu that can be elevated in price. When you do a prix fixe, you guarantee that people are going to have an appetizer, entree and dessert, but not everybody always wants to eat that way. You know that more people will be dining out, and if they are making a last-minute reservation, they might not even to ask what the restaurant will be serving.

Despite this flock to restaurants, Valentine’s Day isn’t really the blockbuster moneymaker that everyone assumes it to be. The economics of a Valentine’s menu can be difficult if a chef chooses to fill up the menu with pricey aphrodisiacs. The check average may be higher, but your food cost is also much higher. You’re putting caviar, foie gras and ostrich on the menu because it’s a special occasion. The problem is that it’s tough to get patrons to indulge in a menu full of special foods while also pricing it accordingly. You can never mark up caviar or truffles as much as you should, but you can’t put together a Valentine’s menu and not offer some of those ingredients, so we have to face up to the reduced profitability and absorb the loss.

Valentine's Table For Two With Talisman's Executive Chef, Ray Cournede


One of the biggest economic factors is completely dependant on the calendar. It’s great when Valentine’s is on a Tuesday or Wednesday because it’s like adding an extra weekend night to your week. But the fact that it falls on a Sunday this year means we might actually do less than we would do on a normal Sunday. Yes, it does mean a full dining room, but you can only turn so many tables on a night like this. We will have lots of couples sitting on tables that could easily accommodate four to six people. Couples also tend to linger longer than they might on a normal night and the last thing you want is to rush people out. You want them to enjoy their experience.

Talisman is a neighborhood restaurant. We’re definitely going to see some folks who we don’t normally see, but our clientele will largely be familiar faces. So we will offer our regular menu and then do a seasonal menu with Valentine’s specials. From a kitchen standpoint, we always ensure we produce the best quality and leave a positive impression on patrons. Offering only a special menu isn’t worth alienating regular customers, but at the end of the day, Valentine’s is also a chance to impress people enough to hopefully convert them into regulars. We don’t overbook or overcharge, and we give them integrity and value for their money. Happy Valentine’s Day.

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