Break a leg, lovers and hopefuls

Don’t: Try not to order unwieldy things like king crab claws or messy peel-and-eat shrimp that require extra manhandling and a bib. Photos by Colby Rabon

Valentine’s Day, along with Mother’s Day, is one of the biggest nights of the year for restaurant sales. This year, Zagat (a restaurant guide that offers food news and ratings) conducted a survey of about 600 people, finding that 44 percent planned to go out to dinner with their special someone to celebrate the oft-sneered at “Hallmark” holiday.

Here are a few more useful tidbits for you: Proposing in a restaurant is a big no-no, according to a whopping 69 percent of both men and women surveyed. Picking up the check is a big yes for guys, apparently, with only 11 percent surveyed saying that they’ll be splitting the bill with someone else. Perhaps chivalry is not dead after all?

Here are a few more rules of the dining game, according to Xpress:

If she’s into seafood, do go independent — that is, try to avoid the big chains. While Red Lobster may hold some childhood charm for you, it's not exactly Valentine's Day material.

If lobster is the epitome of romance in your eyes, by all means, go for it. If you still want a casual environment in which to eat your oversized crustacean, may we recommend The Lobster Trap (http://thelobstertrap.biz)? The seafood restaurant specializes in (but does not limit itself to) fresh seafood, including a raw bar. We say indulging in raw oysters (and a glass or two of dry bubbly) can be pretty sexy. Just make sure she isn't allergic to shellfish, because there's nothing romantic about anaphylaxis.

If you are going the seafood route, don’t order unwieldy things like king crab claws or messy peel-and-eat shrimp that require extra manhandling and a bib. Speaking from experience on this one, that's a good way to accidentally fling crab juice on yourself — or your date. Plus, nobody wants to hold hands with someone whose fingers smell like old shellfish.

If taking her out for a cocktail or two, do go the classy route. Try a glass of wine or two from Santé Wine Bar’s (http://www.santewinebar.com) new keg-wine system, or a glass of sparkling wine at the sexy 5 Walnut (http://5walnut.com), where you can people-watch through the big windows that open to the sidewalk.

If it's warm enough, take her to the rooftop bar at Sazerac (http://ashevillesazerac.com) and try one of the cocktails from the "Nine Muses" section of the drink list. May we recommend the Thalia with fresh basil, lime, pineapple and bitters?

Unless you know each other well, don’t start off the date with tequila shots. Perhaps there's bonding to be done — eventually — over a solid night of getting plastered, but first dates make for nervous stomachs that, when coupled with a stout shot of booze, can result in embarrassing situations, indeed.

Do let her know what she’s getting into. If Valentine's Day is a little cold and you insist on dining at a food truck behind a brewery, make sure she’s well-bundled and not wearing high heels.

And while garlic and onions are healthy foods for the cold season, do try to keep the stinky members of the allium family off your plate — or at least out of your mouth. Should you choose to order the bulgogi at the new south Asheville Korean restaurant, Stone Bowl (http://stonebowlkorean.com), perhaps stay away from the dish of raw garlic cloves served on the side (by the way, you're supposed to throw those on the hot plate).

With that being said, don’t turn into a persnickety diner, embarrassing your date and putting strain on the restaurant during what is likely to be one of the biggest dining nights of the year. Yes, you're paying for it, but resist the urge to micromanage and adjust everything you see on the menu to your liking. The chef has (hopefully) put every dish on the menu together in consideration of balance in texture and flavor. If you don't like an important element of a dish, probably best to skip it altogether.

This should also go without saying, but don’t be aggressive or stern with your server, or any other member of the restaurant staff. It doesn't make you look good — in fact, it looks like just the opposite to your date and everyone around you. DO remember that tipping is part of going out to eat. The standard for good service is 20 percent. Your cell phone will usually have a calculator on it to help you figure out what that works out to.

Do stay loose, enjoy yourself and (to reiterate) support local restaurants. And don't leave the doggie bag on the table.

— Send your food news to food@mountainx.com

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