Planning a solo dinner for tonight seemed like it would be simple, at least at first. Like many New Yorkers, I’m extremely busy and dine out most nights of the week. So when I made a hump day dinner reservation at Momofuku Nishi for 6:30 p.m. — not exactly primetime — everything seemed routine. The reservationist called a few days later to confirm that I still was having dinner there. “Of course,” I said. “See you there.”
Then she dropped the bomb. “I also wanted to confirm that you knew that it’s going to be a prix fixe menu only. I know that you’re dining alone at the bar and all, but…”
Her voice trailed off, like a doctor pausing before telling a patient that he had some kind of exotic new disease. What was wrong with me? It’s Valentine’s Day, and I was going to be alone, a fate that some in this city would consider worse than death.
It’s not easy being single in New York, and on most nights, one can placate being alone by going to a nice restaurant and enjoying an entree and a glass or four of wine. This is not the case on Valentine’s Day: Even though studies show 67 percent of diners prefer a la carte menus to prix fixe, and only 8 percent want a special menu, many restaurants eliminate a la carte altogether and use the capitalist’s wet dream of a Hallmark holiday to force everyone into expensive all-or-nothing prix fixe menus to bolster earnings during the slow post-holiday months. This is an affront to all diners, but single people in particular are forced to pay a tax, both in dollars and time spent on superfluous courses and wine pairings during a lengthy dinner experience designed for two. Pay, or starve on one of the coldest nights in the middle of winter.
“We’ll see if the chef can do any of the items a la carte,” said Nishi reservationist. I’m sure that she was just trying to be helpful, but then I’d have to eat something different from everyone else in the restaurant and get stared at like I was some sort of subhuman, or vegan. Who would want that?
Okay, forget Momofuku. I had been dying to try L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, whose chef has been awarded more Michelin stars than anyone else in the world. Surely he knew how to make a single person feel welcome, even on Valentine’s Day. All of the tables were already committed, but the reservationist noted that the bar takes walk-ins. Perfect, I’d just grab a quick bite there! Not so fast. A la carte items were being taken off the menu on Valentine’s Day, and even lone diners at the bar would be subject to the $275-per-person prix fixe, she said. I got the message: Single people not welcome.
Unfortunately, Valentine’s Day oppression of singles is not just limited to high-end joints owned by celebrity chefs. Restaurants across the spectrum like Gotham Bar and Grill, DaDong, Colonie, Indian Accent, Flora Bar, Little Tong Noodle Shop, and Empellon Taqueria are all going the prix fixe route. Brigitte, a cute French restaurant in the Lower East Side, doesn’t even take online reservations for one person. When I called, the person on the other end seemed incredulous. “So, you want a reservation for one… on Valentine’s Day?” she asked. Believe it or not, single people also need to eat dinner on a Wednesday, and not just boxes of Easy Mac in our parents’ basement. Still, there were seats available at a reasonable price — $69 (very classy, y’all) — provided I abide by their ground rules for Valentine’s Day: Before dinner, my iPhone would need to be placed inside a vintage cigar box, which contains a pair of question cards to help “spark conversation.” I would talk to Siri, but she’s been locked away in a wooden coffin.
Perhaps something a bit more casual would have to suffice. I reached out to Yo! Sushi in Flatiron, which serves nigiri and hand rolls via a fun glowing conveyor belt that runs the length of the restaurant. Perfect. Who in their right mind would even come here for Valentine’s Day? Is it even logistically possible to serve a prix fixe menu here? It is, apparently. The restaurant is getting locked down with an eight-course omakase and is booked with couples to near capacity. Even the conveyor belt sushi joint had bent to the pressure of Big Valentine.
So I tried my local White Castle, as one does after being rejected by what felt like every restaurant with a Yelp review over four stars. Although the chain converts all its restaurants into a tablecloth experience complete with waitstaff every Valentine’s Day, I was convinced that a single person could still eat a Crave Case of 30 sliders to fill the void that would otherwise be occupied by a fulfilling relationship. But it seemed that White Castle’s regular dinner hours on OpenTable (you read that correctly) were already completely sold out, so I contacted the company, hoping that I’d be able to do a walk-in, or at the very least order at the counter. A representative replied, “I do believe the drive-thru will remain open for those without reservations.”
White Castle had banished me from being in the same room as their real customers for the night: couples. I was like some sort of relationship leper that needed to be kept away from healthy people, at the risk of spreading my disease and making everyone single. Walking up to a drive-thru window to retrieve 4,200 calories worth of mini-hamburgers on Valentine’s Day would be a new low.
From the high end to fast food staples, restaurants in this city are waging a war against single people on Valentine’s Day. What are we supposed to do? Cook dinner at home and Netflix and chill with our cats? Actually ask another human being out on a date?? Don’t be ridiculous.