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What makes a restaurant "romantic"?

ipsedixit Feb 12, 2009 07:42 PM

Someone asked me this today and I was at a lost to come up with some sort of pithy answer.

Do you have one?

  1. babette feasts Feb 12, 2009 11:55 PM

    Tables far enough apart that you can talk dirty with your date and not worry about your neighbor overhearing.

    1. MSPD Feb 13, 2009 07:21 AM

      Wife with me, kids at home.

      1. m
        MrsT Feb 13, 2009 08:01 AM

        All restaurants have the potential to be romantic. Even McDonald's or a hot dog stand can be romantic --if you're with the right person.

        1 Reply
        1. re: MrsT
          kchurchill5 Feb 15, 2009 07:41 PM

          Ditto Mrs T

        2. h
          HillJ Feb 13, 2009 08:07 AM

          The right lighting can make the most stark restaurant romantic but the right company can make any place romantic.

          2 Replies
          1. re: HillJ
            monku Feb 15, 2009 04:55 PM

            Reminds me of the Seinfeld episode when Jerry's dating this girl and sometimes she looks great and other times plain (lighting?).

            1. re: monku
              HillJ Feb 15, 2009 07:04 PM

              Exactly, monku!

          2. ccbweb Feb 13, 2009 08:35 AM

            The company.

            3 Replies
            1. re: ccbweb
              KTinNYC Feb 13, 2009 08:43 AM

              Beat me by 8 minutes. I was here to write the same thing.

              1. re: ccbweb
                Gio Feb 13, 2009 08:47 AM

                Yes the company for sure, as well as the ambience/atmosphere, the lighting, the
                noise level or lack thereof....

                1. re: Gio
                  kchurchill5 Feb 15, 2009 07:42 PM

                  Atmosphere, lightning, noise ... care less ... company is all and the memories old or new that we make.

              2. f
                filth Feb 13, 2009 08:44 AM

                scantily clad waitresses ;-)

                1. Servorg Feb 13, 2009 08:54 AM

                  The "twinkle" in your dates eyes when they look at you across the dimly lit table.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Servorg
                    Whosyerkitty Feb 14, 2009 08:14 AM

                    If it's pleasant, attractive and I'm comfortable there.

                  2. Bill Hunt Feb 15, 2009 04:44 PM

                    For me, it is comprised of several aspects, some mentioned already:

                    1.) adequate table spacing
                    2.) subdued, but adequate lighting (not too dark, but not directly lit either). The action at the table should only be a “prelude” to romance. One does not need total darkness. That may come later, but in another venue.
                    3.) waitstaff that understands that you'd like to have a conversation, and paces themselves to accommodate that
                    4.) quiet enough, so that a close whisper can be heard
                    5.) comfortable seating for each patron

                    Some “extras:”

                    1.) a wine list that features half-bottles, so there is still a chance of “romance,” when one has left the restaurant
                    2.) service that is in no way rushed


                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Bill Hunt
                      alwayscooking Feb 21, 2009 08:47 AM

                      A very thoughtful and nearly complete list - just missing the right person. I've been in restaurants with the requirements you have stated and I just wanted to (yawn, scream, howl, change tables, leave, and laugh not in the nice way). A gallant, witty, and attentive someone with a smile in their eyes - I'll even eat at McDonalds (well, maybe!).

                    2. carswell Feb 15, 2009 05:43 PM

                      Asked the same question a couple of years ago. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/357245 Based on the replies, I'd say the answer varies greatly from person to person.

                      For me, there are a few factors:
                      - A setting that makes your table the centre of the universe. There is more than one way for this to occur. For example, you might be in an alcove by yourselves or the restaurant might achieve that enviable state of bustle where everything outside your little sphere becomes white noise, never intrudes.
                      - Food that is delicious, even occasionally moan-worthy, but doesn't require you to work to "get" it, food whose appeal is more immediate than intellectual.
                      - Service that is always there when you need it yet never intrudes (see "centre of the universe" above).
                      - Warm colours, from decor or lighting or both.
                      - The feeling that you're welcome, even special.

                      The bottom line is that worldly concerns and unwelcome distractions must vanish for the duration of the meal.

                      1. thew Feb 15, 2009 07:35 PM

                        pork belly

                        1. kchurchill5 Feb 15, 2009 07:41 PM

                          Yes ... it isn't the restaurant it is who you are with the food you both enjoy ... a restaurant doesn't make the atmosphere ... the couple does.

                          To me ... I could be a white castle a previous blog ... taco bell or anywhere ... it is who you are with and what you want to make with the dinner.

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: kchurchill5
                            carswell Feb 15, 2009 07:47 PM

                            «a restaurant doesn't make the atmosphere ... the couple does»

                            While I appreciate the point you and many others make, it really doesn't help anyone answer the repeated requests on this site for recommendations for a romantic restaurant. Presumably the people who ask for such recommendations are envisioning a type of establishment -- a decor, a cuisine, a waitstaff, etc. -- that corresponds to an ideal they hold. Presumably they're not asking for relationship counselling.

                            To put it another way, while a perfect companion might make a dinner romantic, s/he doesn't make a restaurant romantic.

                            1. re: carswell
                              Bill Hunt Feb 16, 2009 05:36 PM


                              You could take a page from those "books." When asked about a "romantic restaurant," tell them to take so-in-so's wife, or husband to dine, and that should do it.

                              Now, there is nothing bad about creating a romantic setting, with only the dining partner, but after 38 years of wonderful marraige, there are some restaurants that are, by nature, "romantic," and some that are just not, regardless of the wonderful company, that one is keeping.


                              1. re: carswell
                                MSPD Feb 19, 2009 06:44 AM

                                carswell -- remember, this was posted in the run-up to Valentine's Day. The OP also phrased it as "what would YOUR answer be" if asked by a coworker. In that context, you're going to get people's immediate personal reactions.

                                Besides, my answer is the same...my wife makes dinner romantic, a restaurant romantic, or anywhere from steakhouse to slaughterhouse to outhouse.

                                Even in the literal interpretation, I don't believe you can get useful recommendations by simply asking for a "romantic restaurant". In the years of using this site, it's readily apparent that you have to be more specific in your request for recommendations.

                                1. re: MSPD
                                  ipsedixit Feb 19, 2009 02:35 PM

                                  "The OP also phrased it as "what would YOUR answer be" if asked by a coworker"

                                  Hmm, let's not misquote me ...


                                  1. re: ipsedixit
                                    Bill Hunt Feb 19, 2009 03:41 PM


                                    Maybe it would help to have you indicate the exact context that you wanted. I assumed, as did some others, that it was a question about the restaurants. Now, I am as big a "romatic," as the next person, or probably more so, but I took the question to be more literal.

                                    Actually, I had not considered the time frame of the OP, being just before Valentine's day. Did that play into the question? I guess that I focus down the month a bit, as our anniversary is only 6 days later.

                                    Now, if I were asked by a coworker to give recs. on a "romatic restaurant," and I were to answer "any restaurant with my wife." I'd almost expect the coworker to reply, "OK, can I borrow her for a Valentine's Day dinner?" [Grin]

                                    Just curious of the intent,


                                    1. re: Bill Hunt
                                      ipsedixit Feb 19, 2009 09:04 PM


                                      I think another poster upthread may have summed it up best.

                                      Your dining companion makes for a romantic dining *experience*.

                                      Other things -- for example, things like lighting, location, service, food, layout, etc. -- might or might not create for a romantic restaurant.

                                      Of course "romantic dining experience" versus "romantic restaurant" may be a distinction without a difference, but my query was more aimed towards the latter than the former.

                                      And, yes, V-day did precipitate part of this question.

                                      1. re: ipsedixit
                                        Bill Hunt Feb 20, 2009 03:12 PM

                                        Thanks for the clarification.


                                    2. re: ipsedixit
                                      MSPD Feb 21, 2009 07:51 AM

                                      I guess if you want to edit the original post and change the question.

                              2. s
                                Sharuf Feb 16, 2009 01:52 AM

                                Ambiance, ambiance, ambiance -- plus the right companion. There were two outstandingly romantic restaurants in San Francisco, now long gone (sigh!) My companion, also departed (more sighs), was possessed of casual elegance along with a great sense of fun. These restaurants were his choices.

                                The Shadows was perched on the side of Telegraph Hill and looked out over the bay. A spectacular setting. They kept the lighting low so we could be entranced by the nighttime view with lights sparkling on the water. The food was unobtrusively delicious, and the genre was high-end German -- would you believe a romantic German place?

                                The other prelude-to-romance setting was Skipper Kent's at the bottom of Telegraph hill. They made up for their lack of view by going all out with the South Seas grass shack motif. There was a big tank of tropical fish and lots of decor concepts swiped from Don the Beachcomber in Waikiki. It was also dimly-lit (perfect for playing footsie) and had soft guitar music in the background. I think there was even a tiki out front. My kinda kitsch! Those big drinks with flowers or parasols in them helped move events along, too. Oh, yes, the food. Think Trader Vic's creative liberties with Cantonese and also upscale char grilled steak / lamb / pork. Very tasty, but not culinarily forefront.

                                They don't seem to make romantic restaurants the way they used to, do they?

                                1. The Oracle Feb 16, 2009 03:34 PM

                                  Echo-ing some of the same sentiments of others...

                                  -seats: ones that seem like they were made for you

                                  -temperature: not too hot, not too cold

                                  -lighting: bright enough to be able to see, but no spot lights in a darkened room or overly bright fluorescent lighting.

                                  -noise level: quiet enough to have a conversation and hear each other without straining

                                  -table space: far enough, you can't eavesdrop

                                  -service: always there, but never in the way

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