Going out to dinner may be the classic route for Valentine’s Day dates, but with more and more restaurants offering fixed-price meals, that quiet, romantic night for two can quickly become an exercise in overspending for many lovers.
It’s "a ripoff that preys on the insecurity of boyfriends, fiancés and husbands," says Will Morel, a 31-year-old husband and father from New York City. Now Morel opts to cook a romantic dinner at home on Valentine’s Day.
Prix-fixe menus often appear to be "what a kitchen can turn out the easiest, which leads to lack of innovation," quips food writer Abbe Lewis Baker.
But the squeezze on these elaborate meals isn't just felt in huge cities like New York.
There's "usually too much food and [it's] not what I wanted to get," adds Sarah Early Reed, a designer from Charleston, S.C.
But prix fixe menus actually help restaurants solve a big problem on Feb. 14.
"Valentine's Day is one of the busiest days of the year, so a prix fixe helps us prepare effectively," says Maiko Kyogoku, owner of Bessou in New York City.
"It's a real lifesaver for us to know in advance how many people are coming and what dishes are being ordered."
Bessou is offering a $65 four course menu where you can get special items like sea urchin tagliolini and soy glazed filet mignon-- that are only being offered on that special day. And with entrees ranging from $14 to $34, the prixe fixe option may actually be much less expensive than ordering four courses a la carte.
What's more, some chefs say, prix-fixe is what customers want on special occasions.
"Valentine's Day is a special holiday for couples and those celebrating with their loved ones, and at all of my restaurants we try to honor that by giving guests unique dishes that they can't always find on the daily menu," says chef Julian Medina of New York City's Toloache Restaurant Group.
"Offering a pre-fixe option also allows my kitchen and staff to accommodate the influx of diners wanting a night off from cooking.” Their menu is $90 per person for four courses, but it also includes one-and-a-half hours of unlimited margaritas-- or a bottle of Perrier Jouet Brut (a champagne that by itself can retail for over $50) for two.
Chef Matt Blous of The 404 Kitchen in Nashville told Fox News that he tried for years to avoid prix-fixe, but too many of his customers said they wanted it.
"As a diner,” he said, “a prix-fixe menu isn't my favorite way to eat. But I found that I was sending my regular customers somewhere else for dinner on holidays when they'd rather be with us, and ultimately that just didn't make sense to me."
So this year Blous is bowing to demand.
"I'm here to please my customers," he said. "We are in the hospitality business, and I'm happy to make customers happy. If a Valentine's Day prix fixe is what they want, we will deliver the best damn Valentine's Day prix fixe in Nashville."
While you can order off the regular menu at 404 Feb. 14, if you opt for the five course $90 tasting menu you'll be able to taste dishes like crab agnolotti and dry aged pork chop.
For diners seeking a little adventure who don't want to go overboard, the key is to seek out a menu that has some Valentine’s Day spirit baked into it. Chef David Santos of New York's Good Stock has served themed dinners on Valentine’s Day.
"As a chef, I think it's important to create memories through food, and I personally don't think enough people do it,” he said.
“I know the holiday comes with the idea of price-gouging and so on, but I always looked at it as a way to create an experience for the night." His favorite creation was a "tragic lovers" themed dinner with multiple courses laden with aphrodisiacs from the story-origin countries.
"People came in and it became more then just a meal. It became an event and a talking point. One couple even went as far as reading each story to each other course by course. It was romantic and beautiful."
So the price tag on prix fixe may be worth it — if you choose carefully. If you do want the old standby, however, just make sure to call the restaurant ahead, so you know what you're getting into.
The only surprises worth having on Valentine’s Day should be good ones.