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Restaurant Industry Vets Share Their Valentine’s Day Horror Stories

Botched proposals, patrons so drunk they’re eating non-edible table items, and more

Illustration by Zohar Lazar
Illustration: Zohar Lazar

Waxing Rhapsodic

I was working at Charlie Trotter’s back in the mid-2000s. There was a couple who came in a lot and had a reputation for overimbibing. By dessert, they were drunk. We poured them some dessert wine, and that’s when I realized that the gentleman thought the votive candle, which had been on the table the entire meal, was part of his dessert medley. It was still lit when he poked his fork into it, but as he brought the hot wax to his mouth, he extinguished it. He then ate it and removed the little foil holder and put it on the table. He never said a word. Neither did his wife. —Alex Bachman, beverage consultant, Folkart Restaurant Management

Dinner for Two—for One

Sometime in the late ’90s, while I was the chef at Mas in Wicker Park, we decided to do this extravagant four-course “aphrodisiac” menu for Valentine’s Day. I saw a guy leaving the restaurant via a fire door. He looked like he was bouncing on his check, but then I realized he’d been sitting with a woman. With two courses to go, he’d ditched her. We offered to comp her the food they’d already eaten, but she was like, “No. I’m going to finish.” Then she proceeded to eat not just her food, but his, too. It was a feat. There was lobster, veal Oscar, and, because it was the ’90s, molten chocolate cake. We poured tequila for her after dinner, and she hung out at the bar until the end of the night. Then she left with another dude. —John Manion, chef-owner, La Sirena Clandestina and El Che Bar

Unpopping the Question

Before I came to Chicago, I was working at an elegant restaurant in San Francisco. A customer had informed us he was going to propose to his girlfriend. He had met with the maître d’, picked out a table, and told us when he was going to do it—after the cheese course and before dessert. We’d decided that we would bring out a plate of all these special sweets with “Congratulations!” written on it, with a candle and two glasses of Champagne. So the cheese course is over, and the waiter comes to the table and presents the plate with the candle and the note. The woman has a blank look. The boyfriend’s jaw drops. Then he says to the server, “I haven’t done it yet.” The server looks at the plate. He looks at the couple. Then he just blows out the candle, turns around, and walks back into the kitchen. —David Barriball, general manager, Blackbird

Eyes Only for You (and Him)

Two years ago, a young couple came in, maybe mid- to late 20s. They had told us on OpenTable that it was their fifth anniversary. They were having fun, holding hands, what you’d expect. I ran their dessert, churros with a candle on it. After they left, one of the servers came up to me and was like, “Jake, I think they left you something.” On the back of their receipt, the woman had written her phone number and a note: “To the food runner with the cute butt, from the girl with the huge rack.” I never called her, but kept a photo of the receipt on my phone for a while. —Jake Bautista, server, Salero

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