Some bad economics at play tonight. Demand will be high for any table at any nice restaurant. Greater demand allows restaurant owners to jack up prices because there are a finite number of nice restaurants within reasonable driving distance. They don't increase menu prices, per se - they offer Valentine's Day specials that include high-margin items you probably wouldn't be interested in on any other night. Demand creates another problem: Poor service. This is the single busiest night of the year for many restaurants, and even with extra staff on hand it inevitably creates delays. The kitchen gets backed up, diners linger, which means that later arrivals have to wait - that sort of thing. So you're paying more for your food and having a lousy experience in the process. On the other side, restaurant owners, while obviously thrilled with the extra business - especially on a non-weekend night like a Thursday - run the risk of alienating regular customers who might not get a table at the time they want, and then might end up with a crummy, pricey meal. (Some restaurateurs wisely alert their regulars that tonight might not be the best night.) Slate's Matthew Yglesias explains further:
Any restaurant knows it's likely going to be flooded with customers who are extremely unlikely to be repeat business one way or the other. That could be folks who just don't have the financial resources to eat at comparable establishments frequently, or it could be couples with kids and little time to dine out. Either way, it's a special occasion. Which means it doesn't much matter how much your customers like the food. They'll enjoy the rare upscale night out anyway, after all, but probably won't become regulars no matter how much they like it. Meanwhile, they're not going to have a good sense of what the competition churns out on a regular night so won't have a genuine basis for evaluation anyway.