No Reservations: Gut Check's Valentine's Day Fast-Food Experiment

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Travis Pitts
It's Valentine's Day, and love is in the air. But also burgers. Love and burgers. And fries. And does Gut Check detect a hint of waffle? We do!

This Valentine's Day, both White Castle and Waffle House are capitalizing on the romantic holiday by offering a (comparatively) upscale couple's dining experience. White Castle debuted its "Love Castle" two decades ago in a few locations and has since expanded the gimmick across the nation. Franchises require reservations for Valentine's Day, and couples that manage to get in are greeted by hearts, flowers, candlelight and romance in a locale best known for drunken chow-downs at 2 a.m.

"When you come in on Valentine's Day, it's just like you were walking into a steak house," says Joy Riley, a local White Castle employee since 1999. "There's a hostess who greets you, you're seated and everything, we take your meal to the table, and we just basically take the fast-food atmosphere away."

Last year Riley's White Castle was equipped with a photo booth; couples could take pictures, then download them later from the White Castle website. She says the servers dress up for the occasion in red shirts and slacks, and attendees tend to get fancy as well.

"People who love White Castle really, really love White Castle," Riley tells Gut Check.

We couldn't find any local Waffle Houses that were doing anything special for the holiday, but locations in other parts of the country are hosting candlelight meals complete with cloth napkins and "alcohol-free champagne" (sooo...grape juice?). Many WaHos will also offer special menus featuring rib eye, pork chops and the like.

All this got Gut Check thinking about love and fast food. What if Taco Bell staged a Valentine's Day fiesta? What if Sonic encouraged diners to roll up their windows and get steamy after indulging in Chili Cheese Tots? What if Long John Silver's served up oysters on the half-shell?

We called a handful of local fast-food joints, just to see if we could get them in the mood. Our methodology was straightforward: We invented a scenario wherein we're an executive assistant (you can call us Catherine) whose boss has saddled us with the task of arranging a special Valentine's Day meal for him and his special someone at the purported site of their first date -- only this time, he intends to pop the question. The transcripts of what transpired, lightly edited for your enhanced reading pleasure, follow.

To all the eager-to-please employees who pledged to go out of their way to make our Valentine's Day special: We salute you.

And to the dude at Sonic who sussed out our fake British accent: You, friend, are corporate-management material.

Papa John's
Papa John's: Thanks for calling Papa John's, this is _____. Would you like to try any large one-topping for $10?

Riverfront Times: No, thank you, I'm actually calling on behalf of my employer. He would like to make a reservation for himself and his girlfriend on Valentine's Day, and we were wondering if you have any openings around 7:30?

[Silence] Um, can I ask where you're trying to call?

Papa John's.

I mean...we...it's not a...we don't have an eat-in service.

Oh, you don't? Well, he said they had their first date at a Papa John's.

I'm sorry?

He said they had their first date at a Papa John's, and they wanted to -- there must be some that are eat-in? I thought it was this one.

Um, no, this one is not an eat-in location. I actually don't know of any eat-in locations in the St. Louis area.

Oh, really? I wonder why he said that. Well, do you have any Valentine's Day specials?

We have a heart-shaped pizza.

Are you using any, like, aphrodisiac ingredients? Like oysters, or chocolate pizza, or anything like that?

Noooo, we're not quite that upscale.

Oh, well. If I brought a photo of my boss' girlfriend, could you do her face in pepperoni or something?

I don't think we have anyone that talented here, I'm sorry.

Well that's all right. I'll try a different Italian restaurant, I guess. But here's an idea: He does want to propose on Valentine's Day. And he was wanting to, like, hide an engagement ring in something. If I brought the ring to you, could you bake it into the crust?

I'm gonna...you might want to talk to my general manager. I can't OK that. I'm sure he wouldn't really have a problem with it. His name is _____ and he'll be here tomorrow night at the same time.

Lovely! I'll call back then. Thank you so much.

Thank you.

Next..."Hello, Wendy's? Can you hide an engagement ring in a Frosty?"

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