In stark contrast to a morning downpour, Roaming Goat Coffee was cozy and warm, stocked with blueberry muffins and honey lattes. Barista Emma Ferguson was on the hunt for Stevia, per a customer’s request. Despite the mild rush, it was an average day for the cafe, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
Six hours later and a two-minute walk down High Street, Hubbard Grille was opening its doors for the day. Chad Friske, a Hubbard waiter of five years, was beginning his 15-hour shift by keeping an eye on new employees. Although teaching them how to correctly pour a glass of wine signified the start of a long day, this was nothing new to Friske.
Friday will be an entirely different story.
When Valentine’s Day comes around, many couples are unable to see past the excitement of their own plans. Grabbing a coffee or sitting down for dinner and a glass of champagne requires little effort aside from making the reservation and showing up. For employees in the food industry, however, Valentine’s Day and stress are a package deal. Workers like Ferguson and Friske get front-row seats to their clients’ night out, and both offered their take on what sets the day apart from any other.
Ferguson has had diverse experiences, as a current barista and past waitress at both Chile Verde and Firebirds Wood Fired Grill. She said the Valentine’s bustle can actually cut into a server’s pay.
“People stay for so much longer — long after they’ve finished their food — which can be frustrating because you typically have smaller sections in anticipation of it being busier,” Ferguson said. “So then someone’s taking up your section for a long time, and you’re not making enough money for the night.”
Ferguson said most of her coworkers do not mind lingering couples; it’s those who straggle, order drinks and tip poorly that make up the trifecta of most waiters’ Valentine’s Day woes.
“Some people get really cheap on Valentine’s Day because they’re already spending so much money,” Ferguson said. “When people order a lot of drinks and tip poorly, they forget that we have to tip out the bartenders too.”
This financial stress can be even harsher thanks to prolonged Valentine’s Day celebrations. Both Ferguson and Friske said they view Valentine’s Day as something that spans multiple days in the food industry.
“The past couple years, Valentine’s Day has been in the middle of the week. So people will obviously go on those days, but then that also opens up the weekend right after for people who can’t go during the week,” Friske, who will be working his fourth Valentine’s Day at Hubbard, said.
Despite heightened stress and the risk of fewer tips, making the night feel special seems to be at the core of what Ferguson and Friske love about Valentine’s Day. Both regard the day first and foremost as an opportunity to get a glimpse into more personal experiences between people.
“I got a lot of high school couples, and it was sometimes awkward to serve them. But it was kind of cute to watch,” Ferguson said. “Then the couples who were regulars were truly such a joy to have. People who were regulars would bring in gifts for us, and candy, so that was really sweet. They’re more comfortable sharing their stories, and it just presents another chance to get to know them better.”
Friske shared a similar sentiment and offered his advice on a great date.
“I honestly just like interacting with couples who are having a good time. The best people are the ones who are here to hang out and enjoy the full experience,” Friske said. “If you don’t go out to dinner often, make it worth your while. It’s the night that you should take care of the person that you’re with.”