The Valentine’s Day Perfect Storm

Sometimes you can see it coming

I am generally a pretty optimistic person when it comes to work.  That might be running pretty thin tonight.  I just finished one of the toughest shifts I’ve ever worked.  I can honestly say that I am dreading the shift that is staring me in the face on Valentine’s Day.  In all my years of serving, I cannot think of a time when I witnessed the convergence of factors that will occur on Valentine’s Day 2011.  I am forecasting nationwide restaurant dysfunction and server stress.  I am posting this Monday morning to see if my prediction comes true.

Three distinct factors will contribute to what I predict will create a perfect storm of restaurant madness:

Valentine’s Day:  I have a theory about Valentine’s Day that states: The number of days prior to Valentine’s Day that you make your reservation is directly proportional to the amount of misery that your significant other will cause you if you fail at this task.  If you work in a restaurant runs primarily on Reservations you might have noticing this trend occurring already. 

Normally early tables spend less and expect more.  The last two nights have been the opposite of the norm.  The prime reservation times were filled with angry people who really didn’t seem to enjoy each other’s company at all.  This was because those are the people who made their reservations when those spots were available.  Most of those people were turned away from those times on Monday night and settled for tonight.  This does not speak well of the people who made their reservations even earlier.  This is not my first rodeo, watch what happens and see for yourself.  Nothing will make you consider the notion that romance might be dead like serving on Valentine’s Day.

The issues listed above happen every Valentine’s Day.  It is a Holiday, you work it, and you are grateful for the extra cash after your body recovers.  This Valentine’s Day these problems will be magnified by two other important factors.

Restaurants:  If you are in an area where the recent snowpocalypse hurt your business, the pressure on the entire weekend is tremendous.  Publicly owned and traded restaurant companies run on a quarterly basis when they report sales figures to shareholders and possibly pay dividends.  If they report declining sales, the stock price goes down.  This makes it imperative that every quarter is better than the same quarter of the previous year.  As a result any revenue lost to inclement weather must be accounted for by the end of March.  The only big opportunity for restaurants to make up this revenue in the next month and a half is this weekend.  Valentine’s Day falling on a Monday is ideal for restaurants.  This means that they are taking more reservations and trying to fit in more guests.

The other response that restaurants have to respond to the loss of revenues from the storm is to stop spending.  On a store level, numbers are reported to the corporation every 4 weeks (a “period”).  The snow storm falls in the same period as Valentine’s Day.  When the storms closed restaurants, or drastically slowed their business, that restaurant had to curtail spending to help offset the loss of revenue for the period.  This often means that plates, glasses, and silverware were not purchased.  If a restaurant runs a 5% profit margin, saving $200 puts the same amount towards the bottom line as $4000 in sales. 

Staffs:   Have you ever noticed how much poorly restaurants tend to run on Sunday mornings.  I think that universally Sundays are a bad day in restaurants.  The staff is worn out from two busy days in a row.  People are cranky and quite frankly lazy.  Teamwork and morale are at their low points for the week.  This Sunday was like a busy Saturday.  I saw a night and day difference in the attitude and energy level of the front and back of the house between Saturday and Sunday.  Tomorrow, we get to do it all over again.  No other holiday drives the number of tables (though not necessarily guests) that this one does.  The grind of Valentine’s falling on a Monday is something that I cannot recall happening in years.

When all of these factors combine you have the normal stresses of cranky couples coming in combined with restaurants trying to squeeze in more of them and a staff worn incredibly thin.  Reservations run late and servers waste time scurrying around the restaurant to gather what supplies are available.  Managers will be frustrated with angry guests and worn out servers.  Cooks are working harder for the same money and dealing with additional frustration.  The guests have no idea of the powder keg they are walking into.

I am making this prediction because I feel that it will come to fruition.  I think that if you are aware of this going into it, you can know what is happening and why.  Be prepared and know that you are not alone.  I have thought of a few different ways I could end this post on a positive note.  None of them felt very honest.  Instead I will end with this thought.  If you work more than eight hours straight tomorrow and still manage to maintain your composure throughout, you have my respect.

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2 comments on “The Valentine’s Day Perfect Storm

  1. Well, David, you hit it on the head as to Why I don’t ever go out on my Valentine’s Birthday. I have a few times and the frustration of the hastle way outweighs the pleasure. I hope the best for you and your staff tonight. I have both my girls coming over to fix and serve me dinner. So much more enjoyable and we don’t have to fight the crowds.

  2. The Restaurant Manager on said:

    Great post! Excellent insight.

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