Romantic dinner? Good luck!

February 14, 1992

If you're planning to make reservations to wine and dine your loved one tonight -- better hurry.

Recession or no, making reservations, always difficult on a Friday evening, are becoming scarcer by the minute, say area restaurateurs. "Money is of no concern when they're in love," says Ken Hadel of Baltimore's Prime Rib. "We've been booked up for a couple of weeks."

And Marylanders are not alone: At least one in five Americans celebrates Valentine's Day by eating out, according to a 1990 Gallup poll done for the National Restaurant Association. In that survey, 22 percent of American adults said they dined out on the holiday. Only on birthdays and Mother's and Father's Days did more go to restaurants, says Wendy Webster, spokeswoman for the association in Washington.

One man, upon being turned down for reservations at the Milton Inn earlier this week told manager Natalie Frank: "Well, I'm 0 for 7."

"I hear a lot of frantic voices. I feel really horrible," says Ms. Frank. "Valentine's Day is the biggest dining out night of the year, with the exception of New Year's Eve."

Even at L'Auberge in Fells Point, where long-time waiter Scott Curran says recent Friday nights have been slow, tonight will be bustling. "We've been booked for nearly a week and a half, and we have literally turned away as many as we have taken," Mr. Curran says.

But if you haven't made your reservations, there's still hope. Whereas many restaurants welcome reservations, some resist on nights like this. At the Sunset in Glen Burnie, it's strictly first-come-first-served -- a policy the restaurant uses only on its busiest nights. "You have so many people mad at you" when they have to wait while the restaurant holds tables for those with reservations, says owner Otts Fratt. So, he prefers to start early and accommodate people as they arrive, hoping not to turn away anyone.

At Kibby's Restaurant, Don Townsend says he always keeps some tables open for walk-ins, though reservations are running ahead of his usual Friday night business. Valentine's Day at the long-time Wilkins Avenue restaurant is second only to Mother's Day, Mr. Townsend says.

"What nicer gift can you give to someone you love than freedom from the kitchen?" suggests Marcia Harris, executive director of the Restaurant Association of Maryland. "I think that dining out is one of the great Valentine's traditions."

Gonzalo Fernandez, an owner of Northwoods in Annapolis, agrees: "On Valentine's Day, really everybody goes out to dinner."

But even if busy restaurateurs, are inclined to love a lover, the holiday does bring a peculiar quirk. Says Barbara Auty of Churchill's Restaurant downtown: "The only trouble with Valentine's Day is finding all those tables for two."

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