As Valentine’s Day approaches, Cupid sharpens his arrow readying it to puncture the left ventricle of the heart which is where all the love is stored. Restaurant servers are also preparing, girding their loins for one of the busiest days of the year. The 14th of February falls on a Friday this year which is a bit of a disappointment for servers. We like it better when the restaurant is inexplicably crammed full of lovebirds on a normally slow Tuesday night instead of a Friday night when the restaurant will be busy anyway. Most couples have a pretty good expectation of what their Valentine’s Day will be like, but servers also know what to expect on this day of romance. From restaurant to restaurant, it’s the same thing every year, more regular than Old Faithful after a spoonful of organic psyllium husk.
Without fail, a server somewhere in the world will be asked to participate in a marriage proposal that might involve dropping a ring into a glass of champagne or carefully placing it onto a flourless chocolate torte to be served at the precise moment when love is in the air. Coordination is key for this to go off without a hitch. When cued, the server will be expected to forsake all their other tables and shine the spotlight of love on this most important of couples. If the one doing the proposing is nervous, the server is twice as skittish, because in addition to keeping track of the orders of seven different tables and how many fried artichoke heart appetizer specials remain, they are also tasked with the responsibility of keeping track of a ring in their apron that is probably worth of 1 to 3 months of their customer’s salary. If the answer to the popped question is yes, the server will immediately assume the role of engagement photographer so Instagram can be alerted to the big news. If the answer is no, the server gets to turn the table over more quickly than anticipated.
Servers can also expect to see at least one lone regular who comes into the restaurant every week to sit at the same place and order the same thing. Upon arrival, this person will realize two facts: the menu has fewer choices, but is more expensive and there is no place for a single person to sit in a restaurant on Valentine’s Day. This person will begrudgingly sit at the bar and order their usual prosciutto pizza only to have it arrive in the shape of heart confirming that going to a restaurant alone on Valentine’s day is no fun. When they ask for the bill, it will come with two Hershey Kisses because the bartender thinks it’s cute.
Finally, somewhere there will be a server who will witness the most disappointing Valentine’s Day of someone’s life. A woman will enter the restaurant carrying a glittery, plastic rose with flashing LED lights and her face will already show the finest wrinkles of disappointment. Minute by minute, those fine lines will turn into fissures of discontent and the server will watch it play-by-play. When her date announces he’s not in the mood for champagne and orders a beer instead, the romance sheds a delicate layer of hope. When he refuses the “Steak & Lobster for Two” and instead orders the fish and chips and a burger so they can split it, all hope is lost. Still the server will persist, convincing them to order the strawberry shortcake dessert garnished with gold leaf. By the time the woman receives a red teddy bear that says “I Wuv You” and her date asks to split the check, the romance will have shriveled up and died on the vine.
At the end of the night, the couples will all go home for obligatory love-making while the single folks will go home to either bask in their single hood or wallow in it. Servers will reset the dining room, polish the silverware and sip their well deserved shift drink as they count their tips. You can keep your roses, your candy, your stuffed animals, and your sentimental Hallmark cards full of mushy expressions of ever-lasting love. We servers will always look at Valentine’s Day as the shift that fills our hearts and aprons with the one thing that will always be there for us: money.