“They were dressed up with their tuxedos on, and everything,” Abbey Price said.
Price, one of the managers of the Oyster Bar at Libby Hill in Greensboro, remembers that detail vividly, though that Valentine’s Day shift was more than a decade ago. During the midst of one of the busiest restaurant nights of the year, a quartet of men strolled in, wearing black-tie-worthy matching tuxedos. As waitstaff with trays of crab legs and hushpuppies took detours around them, the group began to belt out love songs to random tables.
As Valentine’s Day arrives, all builds of Greensboro restaurants craft the picture-perfect night for lovebirds. But seasoned service-industry types know that it can be one of the craziest nights of the year. Aaron Sheehan, a now-manager at 1618 Seafood Grille, remembers one night in particular.
“It was my first year working in a restaurant,” Sheehan recounts.
He sets the scene: The week of Valentine’s Day, a server quit from the restaurant where he was a backwaiter. Sheehan agreed to fill the role as a front waiter at the upscale spot in downtown Raleigh, one which required reservations. The holiday fell on Sheehan’s second day in the position.
“It was a Thursday night, and they put me in what they thought was going to be the overflow room,” he says. “So basically for any walk-ins or anything like that.”
Sheehan estimates he served around 70 guests that evening, more than double that of other servers. The shift earned Sheehan a permanent spot as a front waiter, but the six hours on his feet came with some hectic hurdles, including handling a public proposal. He explains how the staff arranged the ring on a plate with an elegant dessert and brought it out while the man on the date popped the question.
“She said yes,” Sheehan added happily.
The mood quickly shifted to discomfort for Sheehan as the next couple seated at the same table left as two singles. By the time the check came, the pair had fought, both parties ended up crying, and the man remained alone at his seat.
“She walked out on him,” Sheehan says. “She was done.”
For Alex, a delivery driver who preferred to only give his first name, Valentine’s Day each year brings a new addition to a line-up of awkward situations he’s experienced on the holiday.
One recent year, he found himself carrying a large heart-shaped pizza adorned with pepperoni up to a door he assumed would reveal a couple having a night in. After knocking and waiting an unusually long time, the door finally opened.
“There’s this middle-aged man standing there in a banana hammock,” Alex says. “And nothing else.”
He laughs as he says it, but then mentions the 30-second long silence and awkward eye contact that followed.
“He slams the door, comes back in a robe and says, ‘I’m sorry, you are not my wife.’” Alex chuckles.
Another year on another front porch, Alex found himself with an unwelcome case of déjà vu, as a woman answered the door in a sheer negligee.
“‘Oh, hi, I was not expecting you this quickly,’” he remembers her saying, as she scribbled a signature on the receipt and retreated back inside.
He mentions the multiple instances his deliveries inadvertently helped people learn their significant others were cheating, or otherwise lying. He describes the situation as something that happens year-round, but moreso on Valentine’s Day, when people order surprise meals for their partners. Unfortunately, on some occasions the significant other wasn’t where they claimed to be. Alex would then call the contact number to see if they could get in touch with the recipient as he waited patiently with the pizza boxes.
“A few times I’ve gotten a call back like ‘Yeah, I’m sorry. Can you please sign the receipt, and throw it in the dumpster? I broke up with this asshole.’”