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How to Avoid Getting Ripped Off This Valentine’s Day: Nina Zagat

Daily Ticker

Feb. 14 - aka Valentine's Day - is one of the busiest days of the year for restaurants. According to Zagat’s Valentine’s Day survey, 43% of people plan on dining out to celebrate the Feast of Saint Valentine.

Because of the sudden influx of patrons, restaurants often create an expensive prix fixe menu instead of the regular a la carte fare:

  • The Modern, a restaurant in New York City, is offering a $250 7-course tasting menu compared to an average price of $127 a person
  • Sepia in Chicago is offering a 4-course menu for $90 compared with an average $60 per person
  • Gitane in San Francisco is offering a 5-course menu for $75 compared to an average price of $53 per person.

Nina Zagat, co-founder of The Zagat Survey, sat down with The Daily Ticker to give us some pointers on how to avoid getting ripped off while dining out on Valentine’s Day.

#1 Lunch of Love

If you have a job that allows you to get away for an hour or two, consider a romantic midday meal instead of dinner. Lunch menus are often less expensive than dinner; while Valentine’s Day dinner at Per Se (a top-rated restaurant in New York) is $295, lunch costs over 30% less at $185. Last minute lunch reservations are often easier to come by than their evening counterparts and can break up monotony and bring excitement to an otherwise tedious workday.

#2 Valentine’s Day, Every Day

Who says Valentine’s Day has to be celebrated on Feb. 14?

According to The Zagat Survey 59% of respondents would rather dine out on another night, so why not avoid the hassle, expectations, and expenses that come along with Valentine’s Day?

“People want to celebrate Valentine’s Day but not everybody can do it on that day,” Zagat tells The Daily Ticker. Zagat herself is planning to celebrate on another day of the week and she’s not alone. According to OpenTable, 5% of diners plan to celebrate on Feb. 13 and 8% plan to dine out more than once in order to soak up the festivities.

#3 Do Your Homework!

“My key tip,” says Zagat, “would be to find out in advance what the restaurant is going to do because you don’t want to go and be surprised. That can really take the romance out of the visit.”

Make sure you know if the restaurant is offering a special price-fixed menu and if you can also order a la carte, if you have any dietary restrictions make sure the restaurant is capable of making you a special meal ahead of your visit.

#4 Avoid The Wine Trap

“Restaurants triple or quadruple the price of wine,” says Zagat. "The restaurant isn’t the place to pick the most expensive wine on the menu.” Instead, explain to your server or sommelier that you are looking for the best wine within a certain price range because they’ll know where the bargains are and can help you get the best bang for your buck.

According the The National Retail Federation, total spending on Valentine’s Day will reach $18.6 billion with the average person spending $130 on candy and gifts. Add that to the average expected dinner bill of $142 and you’ve got an incredibly expensive day on your hands.

While it’s easy to get caught up in the need to spend money on meals and gifts to show affection on Valentine’s Day, remember a heartfelt card costs just a few dollars and means much more than foie gras ever could.

Tell Us What You Think!

Is going out to dinner on Valentine's Day worth it?

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