I’m reading on a number of weblogs today about where people are taking their Valentines for a nice dinner out in the spirit of romance. I had the same idea, but I quickly realized that, at least here in Raleigh, Valentine’s Day is mainly seen by the nicer restaurants as an occasion to extort money from people who aren’t part of their usual clientele. I had read in the paper that most restaurants offer special Valentine’s Day packages. I’m not opposed to prix fixe in general, so I called one of the places that we often visit on birthdays and anniversaries to get an idea of what was on offer.

Their regular menu is here. Two people can get out for under $100 if they forego wine, even if they both have their own appetizer and dessert. The Valentine’s Day special is $85 per person — two salads, two appetizers, two entrees, and a special dessert sampler for two. Oh, and you each get a glass of sparkling wine. The options are limited for each course, and the price does not include tax or gratuity. In other words, for the same price, we can eat there twice and have whatever we want, or we can eat there once, choose from a limited selection, and have the privilege of celebrating Valentine’s Day. I went ahead and made reservations (which had to be guaranteed with a credit card, naturally), presented my wife with the value proposition, and called a few hours later and cancelled when she dismissed the idea of paying more for less as absurd. A perfect reminder of why I married her in the first place. We both love a good meal out, but throwing money away doesn’t appeal.

I think that the idea behind the pricing is basically that fancy restaurants get a huge clientele on Valentine’s Day who would never eat there otherwise. These people are less price sensitive because they are expected to treat someone to a nice meal out, so the restaurants can gouge them. The prix fixe enables the restaurant to get people to pay the higher amount without dwelling on the per course prices (people might blanch a bit if they saw a chicken entree that normally goes for $17 priced at $40), and it gets the patrons with unsophisticated tastes off the hook because choices are limited. The thing that really pushed us away from going out was that we felt that the menu choices on Valentine’s Day would certainly be the safest that the restaurant could afford. When you’re catering to people who don’t normally eat pretentious food, you don’t present an adventurous menu. And at $85 per person, I want to have an adventure.