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What makes a restaurant romantic?

Have been mulling over this question for a while but, with Valentine's Day only weeks away, now seems as good a time as any to throw it out for discussion.

I'm always at a loss when posters ask for reccos for a romantic restaurant, especially since they almost never describe what romantic means to them. Intimate would seem to part of the equation, though one of the local restaurants that attracts the most lovebirds (I once saw a couple there hold hands throughout an entire meal!) is Au Petit Extra, an airy, bustling bistro that probably has 100 diners at any given moment. Visitors often talk about the romantic Old World charm of places in Old Montreal or Quebec City but that can't be integral to the experience, else there'd be no possibility of romance in less antique restaurants, districts or towns (think Las Vegas).

In fact, for nearly every characteristic that might define romantic, you can find a real-life exception. Your romantic wandering fiddler may make me want to dive under the table. Does that mean romantic is less a universal than a state of mind? Is it simply a place where a couple in love can feel comfortable? Then again, can't solo diners or large groups find a restaurant romantic?

Arrgh! Tell me, please, what makes a restaurant romantic?

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    1. re: thegolferbitch

      Then why would people bother asking for reccos for romantic restos?

      1. re: thegolferbitch

        BINGO, I agree, everything else is secondary. If you really know your companion, you know what kind of surroundings they like or dislike.

          1. NO NOISE! I hate the current trend towards having a lot of noise in the background from tables placed so close you can hear all the intimate details of your neighbors affairs, cell phone conversations, clanging of pots and silverware from the open kitchen etc. I think it's to suggest that the restaurant is energetic or dynamic or something. I just find it nerve-wracking. And yelling across the table isn't conducive to romance.

            Pleasant decor. Harmonious colors, elegant furnishings all contribute to a romantic atmosphere. As already said, warm lighting helps too.

            Good food and service. This is the biggest problem with Valentine's Day menus, the food is usually trite and staff overworked. I avoid eating out at this time because I've been disappointed with the poor quality of both.

            My favorite restaurant for romantic tete a tetes in the Boston area is La Lumiere, but I've never eaten there at Valentine's Day.

            1. Any restaurant is romantic if your blind date turns out to be hot!

              2 Replies
              1. re: beevod

                And this happens to you a lot? I mean, having a hot blind date?

              2. Personally, one requirement I have is that the tables are spaced far enough apart that you're not sharing your conversation with half the restaurant, and vice versa. Nothing inhibits a romantic mood like having everyone around you hear your intimate murmurings and mushy endearments--or listening to them discuss their stock portfolios and ingrown toenails. Loud music or anything else that you have to shout over is also a romance-killer for me.

                Good, non-intrusive service is also important. A server who is attentive and efficient, who goes about their work smoothly and minimizes distractions from the diners' enjoyment of their meal and each other, can contribute tremendously to a romantic evening.

                A nice view is good, but not mandatory. If you're not looking out on a pretty view, lower, indirect lighting helps set the mood.

                And like Walters said--lots children, particularly if they're noisy and badly behaved, do *not* put me in a romantic frame of mine.

                1. The lighting, the linens, the scent...just like in the bedroom.

                  1. This is something that is solely reflective of the two people (or perhaps 3) and not an atmosphere created by a restaurant, in my opinion of course. I think that if two people are connecting and in their own world in a crowded restaurant with much noise, and they are in their own respective world, that can be romantic. Likewise, if the setting is quiet and "romantic", that could be good as well but again, as a result of the company rather than the setting

                    1. Romantic elements:
                      -- ambiance and/or view
                      -- low-ish lighting with candles
                      -- easy on the noise
                      -- food that can be shared (e.g. fondue)
                      -- a little soft background music is nice

                      Some memorably romantic places -- long gone:
                      -- Don the Beachcomber at Waikiki
                      -- The Shadows on Telegraph Hill, SF
                      -- Skipper Kent's near Fisherman's Wharf, SF
                      -- Metropole, Berkeley

                      1. After going to Cirque du Soleil's Zumanity, I can certainly say that lighting plays a HUGE part in creating a romantic atmosphere. They made the entire audience of 2000 people look like the sexiest group of people you have ever seen; it was great. I think the ideal lighting for a romantic atmosphere is to get the lighting to look like the place is lit very well with nothing but candles. For that matter, if it's lit with nothing but candles, so much the better.

                        With ambiance, you want a place that has small seating areas; separate rooms with a few tables each are ideal. The tables themselves should be made mostly for 2, 3, or 4; large group tables should be nowhere to be seen. If there are multiple tables in a given area, they should be well spaced. Soft surfaces are ideal for a couple of reasons, one being that they add a touch of class, the other being that they provide good sound insulation.

                        Speaking of sound, the ideal background noise is nothing more than the gentle buzz of the restaurant itself, with no music to distract. If there is music, it should be soft and preferably instrumental; classical is ideal, jazz works in a good number of circumstances but can be off-putting to some people. There should not be an open kitchen.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                          Yes, thank you JK!

                          Low lighting, small rooms. NO recorded music always cozy and calm. A piano or duo MAY be lovely depending on style/volume. Otherwise low instrumentals. However the most horrifying sounds to my ears is "Lite Jazz", which makes me feel like I'm in a vacatation-town shoppe.

                          1. re: Up With Olives

                            Hahaha, how true. I should have been more specific on types of jazz. Lite jazz (I know it better as smooth jazz) is to be avoided at all costs. It's the auditory equivalent of a frontal lobotomy.

                        2. Good beers on tap and a nice wine selection lets the SO and I relax and have a pleasant conversation that doesn't revolve around how bad the beer and wine are.

                          1. Funny. Years ago my dad took me to a top of the hotels "romantic" place. Pretty sure it was one of those awful revolving restaurants. We were driving to Hilton Head and I think we ended up in Nashville that night. Dad was in his 60s, I was still a teenager, but ample, and looked in my 20s. Within 2 minutes the violinist was at our table, assuming we were on a date. Dad got such a huge kick out of it he kept over tipping that damn noise maker. He was at our table throughout the entire meal. I was mortified. Now it's a very fond memory.

                            But to answer your question.. isn't it the person your w/ that makes it romantic? I had a pretty sexy meal in a taco joint once.

                            1. For me it would mean:

                              Many different rooms or areas that create a feeling of intimacy. With low lighting preferably candlelight or table lamps, soft music, white or eye pleasing (not forest green or teal)tablecloths, cherry or dark mahogony wood, heavy furniture with texture everywhere. A room mixed with masculine and feminine touches. Flowers on the table a, fireplaces. Beautiful tall crystal wine glasses, rich china patterns. And maybe a slow moving river or a window seat on the ocean at twilight. Good food smells.
                              Seating tucked away as to not be disturbed with other guests going to and fro. Not near the kitchen door, but a corner window is perfect. And a great bar for the dessert cocktail, that has been there for awhile. Laughter and a feeling that we can take our time and not feel rushed.

                              1. sawdust on the floor and a mechanical bull!

                                Kidding....

                                The perfect companion and some durn fine grub!

                                1. Unobtrusive service people who pick up on the romance and behave accordingly - no need to interrupt people who are deep in conversation, or just staring into each other's eyes.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: julesrules

                                    Big second to this. I hate it when servers/waitstaff are obtrusive...think the "flair" people from Office Space. Our favorite Italian restaurant, which recently started sliding downhill, had just hired some castoffs from TGIFriday's, I swear. Not that there's anything wrong with TGIFriday's, but this wasn't the kind of place where servers should have "flair," or be exceptionally funny. People were there to talk and enjoy the food.

                                  2. For me it's the company. The right person can turn McDonalds into a romantic place.