Restaurants prepare to celebrate Valentine’s Day during the pandemic

Jon and Candace Miller of Sycamore are looking forward to celebrating Valentine’s Day this year.

“We almost always go out on Valentine’s Day,” Jon Miller said. “Although we’ll be out of state, we’ll be celebrating with friends.”

“It’s been a tough year with the pandemic, and it’s nice to go out, try something new and feel special,” Candace Miller said. “It’s nice to get out of the house and support local businesses and restaurants.”

According to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey, 52% of U.S. adults plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, spending a total of $21.8 billion.

Of those surveyed, 73% said that celebrating Valentine’s Day is important even though there is a worldwide pandemic. Only 24% plan to gift their loved one with an evening out, the lowest in the survey’s history, but 41% said they will plan a special dinner or celebration at home.

Local restaurant owners have been preparing for the holiday, following Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois mitigation plan. Phase 4 allows restaurants to serve diners inside with up to 25% capacity.

Mary Wilson, an owner of Hillside Restaurant in DeKalb, describes Valentine’s Day as “the most romantic day of the year” and displays antique heart decorations at the restaurant.

In addition to its regular menu, Hillside will serve Valentine’s Day specials, including steak, jambalaya and shrimp. The “Lasagna for Lovers” special features beef or vegetarian lasagna for two, homemade soup or salad, rolls and butter and a heart-shaped cherry chocolate cake.

“Reservations are important because of capacity limits, but people can still get it to go or curbside orders,” Wilson said. “The holiday is all about love. We love our customers and we hope they love us, too. We all could use a little more love this year.”

Nat’s on Maple in Sycamore will be closed on Valentine’s Day, but will offer specials on Saturday, Feb. 13. Specials include beef medallions and shrimp as a surf-and-turf option, a homemade cheesecake with chocolate-covered strawberries and a Valentini martini, made with Tito’s handmade vodka, Chambord raspberry liqueur and Godiva chocolate liqueur.

“Although we’re usually closed on Sundays, we usually open on Valentine’s Day, just not this year due to the pandemic and being short staffed,” said Judie Gaytan, restaurant general manager. “We’ll offer specials to help celebrate the holiday. Normally, we don’t do reservations for parties less than five people, but most of our customers come in a pair on Valentine’s Day.”

Bill Hristakos, owner of Ellwood Steak and Fish House in DeKalb, said Valentine’s Day is usually one of his restaurant’s busiest days of the year, but he “doesn’t know what to expect this year” due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Reservations are required at the restaurant on the holiday, and dinner specials for two will be offered.

“Usually we’re at full capacity and it’s a very busy day at our restaurant,” Hristakos said. “This year will be a little different since we have limited capacity. We will still be offering carry-outs, too.”

Hristakos said he is “looking forward to celebrating Valentine’s Day this year, especially since there is a pandemic.”

“Valentine’s Day is a celebration, and I think we could all use something happy, a reason to celebrate right now,” he said. “That’s what we’re here for as a restaurant, to accommodate that. We want our customers to enjoy the romantic atmosphere, with flowers on the table and a special dinner with the one you love.”

Katrina J.E. Milton

Award-winning reporter and photographer for Shaw Media publications, including The Daily Chronicle and The MidWeek newspapers in DeKalb County, Illinois, since 2012.