As the chef-owner of the popular date-night restaurant Rendezvous in Central Square, Steve Johnson has seen his share of good and bad nights out. With a full house expected for Valentine’s Day, where Johnson will be offering an a la carte menu with his regular prices, the restaurateur offers a glimpse into the holiday from the staff’s perspective.
Q. Do you notice a shift in the atmosphere leading up to Valentine’s Day?
A. I think we enjoy a good reputation in general as a good, comfortable date restaurant. It seems like after the first of the year, there are some people that have made a New Year’s resolution to get themselves out there a little more. They might try to go on some dates or ask somebody out that they’d be thinking about or maybe even sign up for a dating service. We get a few blind dates throughout the month of January. So leading up to Valentine’s Day, and in my mind seasonally culminating with Valentine’s Day, it seems to be a six-week window where that is more prevalent, kind of like people who go to the health club in January, a New Year’s resolution-type thing.
Q. Do you tell your staff to be aware of anything out of the ordinary on this holiday?
A. It tends to pace itself nicely because it is mainly [two-person tables] and there are only a handful of tables that are larger. So typically the servers are able to follow a nice easy pace with the guests and they’re not having to juggle three four-tops, a five-top, and a two-top all at the same time, which is great for the guests. We’re aware that it’s not about us, it’s about them, and we try to keep that in mind and let them do their thing. I think we spend a little less time engaging the guests beyond what’s needed for good service, wine consultation, questions about the menu, stuff like that. It’s not a night for the waiters to be telling the guests their life stories.
Q. Do you get a kick out of watching the Valentine’s Day crowds?
A. The ones that are intriguing to me are the three-tops and that’s just a funny kind of old school sense of humor. We’re like, “Whoa, we got some swingers,” instead of having it be twos and twos and twos. When we’re going over our reservation report at our staff meeting prior to opening for service, I’ll always make the same joke, “OK, I’m going to circle this one and that one. We’ve got two tables of three tonight and I really can’t wait to see what their dynamic is.”
Q. Have you ever had someone ask you to hide the ring for them to propose?
A. It’s happened. It happens once or twice a year here. I think only once in the entire history, the intended declined on the spot. One thing that does happen and my heart goes out to some of these folks, is we’ll be basically full by Valentine’s Day week, but on Thursday, at 1 p.m., you get this desperate person calling, “Can I have a table for two at 7 p.m.?” And you can tell that this guy’s really going to be in trouble with the girlfriend if he doesn’t pull a rabbit out of his hat. It makes me chuckle a little bit, on one hand, because it always happens every year, a lot, but then on the other hand, I’m a really sympathetic guy, so I’m like, “I wish I could help you out, bro.”
Q. What do you do when someone is turned down like that or when things get heated?
A. We’ve had a couple arguments where we’ve had to come to a sympathetic kind of response to the person that’s been left. There’s been a couple where on the blind date that’s obviously not going so well, the guy will get up to go to the bathroom and the woman will say, “I’m out of here.” He’ll come back and the woman’s not there anymore. That’s uncomfortable, but that can happen any night of the week. We’ll buy the guy a drink. We’ll offer a sympathetic [ear]. If the guy wants to spend a little more time with us getting over the shock or the disappointment, we’re here for him.