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Food and Wine
February 08, 2018 10:00 am

Imagine: The most romantic night of the year is nearly here, but somehow, through what is definitely no fault of your own, you haven’t made that Valentine’s Day dinner reservation yet. But while you might think this is cause for a Feb 14 panic, stop right there. Whether it’s the day before the big day, or even the afternoon of, there’s plenty you can do to ensure you can get the kind of dinner that’ll be worth remembering long after you’ve taken your seats at the table. Seriously, don’t worry—if you follow these tips, you’ll even have time to book a hotel.

Don’t feel bad

First of all, OpenTable‘s Chief Dining Officer Carline Potter tells Food & Wine, 40% of people who book reservations do during the week before Valentine’s Day, so don’t feel like you’re doing anything wrong, however close you are to the night of!

Keep checking

If you have your heart set on a specific restaurant, Potter says, just keep checking. February is prime sick season, so lots of reservations get canceled at the last minute. You can also try calling the restaurant, or walking in and asking if there’s either room at the bar, or a wait list, which can work in a pinch.

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Try earlier, or later

Potter says that even if prime dinnertime reservations are booked, you’d be surprised at how many Valentine’s Day tables are still open a bit earlier or later, around 6 or 9 p.m.. If you go earlier, you can follow it up with a great cocktail somewhere else. But going later, she says, might actually make for a more relaxed dining experience, as the restaurant won’t have to worry about turning your table over for the next reservation.

It doesn’t have to be steak and lobster

With so many restaurants out there putting on unique Valentine’s dining experiences, Potter encourages you to think outside the traditional box. “You can go for something that’s more relaxed and comfort food-y and you can still have a great experience,” she says, or just try a type of food totally new to both of you. After all, what better way to celebrate Valentine’s day than by sharing a new, unique experience together?

Look around

Similarly, there’s plenty of restaurants with tables available outside the most obvious areas. If you’re willing to take the cab, bus, or subway ride to another neighborhood she says, you’ll definitely find something great.

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Book a hotel

And finally, if you’re really stumped on where to go, it’s worth considering switching it up and booking a hotel. On average, says Sam Shank CEO of HotelTonight, room rates for Valentine’s Day are lower than the cost of a prix fixe dinner for two. Plus, hotel rooms often get less expensive the closer you book to the check-in date, with prices dropping 20% within the last week of booking, so a Valentine’s night, weekend, or even week just might be the solution to your dinner-booking struggle!

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