Swift's Attic partner and general manager C.K. Chin believes in a "balanced" approach to Valentine's Day. Swift's embraces the fact that on February 14, the restaurant will be packed with couples, but Chin also wants to make sure that singles and service industry folks don't get left behind. Swift's hosted a "Singles Appreciation Night" last year, and they plan to do so again. They're also looking into hosting service industry members for a Valentine's-esque dinner, since they're all working Black Friday.
Eater spoke with Chin about Swift's approach to handling a night when every single one of their two-hundred-plus reservations reads "best seat in the house." Chin also shares his advice for last-minute diners, coupled and non. Those without reservations should come with a group, or consider taking a seat at the bar.
Valentine's Day is a huge night for dining out, but it's also a holiday that's infamous for goofy dining gimmicks and expensive special menus. How does Swift's Attic approach Valentine's Day?
Valentine's Day is a very polarizing holiday. It's bittersweet – it has become commercialized. As a restaurant, it's one of our busiest nights, and we love being a special occasion restaurant for people. We embrace the fact that on Valentine's Day we'll be packed with couples coming for dinner, but we try to remind people that it's just another day. People who don't have a sweetheart to impress can still come out and have a good meal without being inundated with romance.
We do a tongue-in-cheek Singles Awareness Day, a big party. We wanted to embrace the other side of the coin. Lots of Austinites are single and like to be that way. Let couples have their day and give singles their day, too.
What's your advice for folks who want to dine out on Friday and don't have reservations?
Go in a group. Our restaurant is fairly modular, but we do have a half dozen tables that are meant for tables of six and larger, and by and large, those tables will be unsat unless walk-in couples are willing to sit communally. At the last minute, you can find a large table, especially at restaurants with lots of them. We have a giant booth in the back that's our VIP table 364 days a year, but I'm not going to fit two people in there, it feels weird. If you have groups of four, six, eight– that will make a restaurant owner's eyes light up.
Another way to get a seat is to be willing to go sit at the bar. Whatever the antithesis of what someone would consider "romantic," -- sitting at bar, sitting at cocktail table. On Valentine's Day, every reservation has a note on it that says, "best seat in the house." And we want to accommodate that! But if somebody says, "I want some good food and I don't care where I sit," then we have spots at bar and lounge that are more casual. You could walk into any restaurant in town [on Valentine's Day] and sit at the bar.
Obviously be flexible with your time –everyone wants to eat at 7 p.m., so if you're trying to take somebody out to dinner, plan something before or after, and then part of your whole gimmick is to have a late dinner.
Valentine's Day is often referred to as 'amateur night' because so many people who don't usually dine out go out on that night. How do you handle that in the front of the house?
We use the phrase 'amateur night' sparingly. We don't want to be insulting to people. The person who comes to Swift's consistently, they'll go a notch higher for Valentine's Day, unless there's some kind of sentimental value, which we hope so. But if you go to Swift's three times a week, on Valentine's Day you go somewhere else.
So now, the person who comes in doesn't normally go here, and they're here because it' a special occasion. I tell the staff to assume they've never been here, there's a high chance that's the case. They've heard about us and they want to check us out. It's like me going to French Laundry, where I would be considered an amateur. We want to make sure that we don't ostracize somebody for not coming to the restaurant more often. They're coming in for a special occasion and treat it as such.
The restaurant is full of people who want to be treated special, so you make sure they feel comfortable while looking good for their date. I put a lot of weight on any opportunity I have to reach new guests. You take the time to do a little bit of hand-holding.
We have 200+ reservations for Friday night. Normally there'd be ten-tops, eight-tops, etc. Now you've got largely two-tops, and a room full of people expecting you to provide romance. It's a lot of pressure. I recently had an obvious first date in the dining room, and it was great, watching two people really connect and enjoy the food. This is what we do it for. That's why I own a restaurant. I don't mind the pressure. Don't dismiss it and say, "Oh you guys are here and don't even know what foie is." They might have saved up for eight months so give them due respect.
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