First and foremost—do not order the tasting menu.
As if proposing to someone weren’t terrifying enough, doing so in a public place like a restaurant raises the stakes exponentially. Not only could fifty strangers witness your rejection, but a “no” is guaranteed to ruin your expensive, delicious meal. You can never get that untouched short rib back.
Even the most carefully-planned proposals can falter when executed in the chaotic, unpredictable environment of a restaurant. We spoke with chefs, servers and people who’ve been proposed to in restaurants to compile this list of seven things you should know if you’re planning on popping the question over dinner.
1. Do not propose at the beginning of the meal.
A server at an upscale NYC restaurant says she’s never seen anyone flip a table, get slapped or say “no” during a proposal, but she has witnessed egregious miscalculations, especially when it comes to timing.
“We knew there was going to be a proposal because he told us when he made the reservation,” she says. “He ordered a bottle of Champagne and a bunch of food off the bat. Before the snacks even hit their table—BAM—ring. It was very emotional; everyone clapped and cheered. But more dishes started arriving, and they were eating nothing, overwhelmed in premarital bliss. He shouldn’t have proposed at the beginning of the meal. They ended up getting everything to-go. I was like, ‘Go have sex right now.’”
2. Seriously, eat all the food you ordered, or you’ll regret it later.
Jenny Witthuhn, a New Yorker whose fiancé proposed to her at The Roundhouse in Beacon, N.Y., suspected nothing when she arrived at the restaurant, even though the staff knew, seated them at the most picturesque table and watched them the whole time. Witthuhn was insistent on trying the seven-course tasting menu, even though her fiancé, Marcel, kept trying to dissuade her so he wouldn’t have to nervously sit through seven courses before asking the question. (He couldn’t wait; he proposed after the third course.)
“Halfway through his proposal speech, I thought to myself, ‘Wow, someday when Marcel proposes, I don't know how he's going to beat this speech,’" she says. “It was such a beautiful setting. The food there was delicious, but for the rest of the meal I was so shocked and full of adrenaline that I couldn't eat the next four courses. I woke up in the middle of the night hungry. I should have taken something to go.”
3. It doesn’t matter if your proposal is original or not.
Restaurant proposals tend to adhere to a pretty obvious format—but that doesn’t make them any less magical for the couple.
Chef Laurence Edelman, owner and executive chef of Left Bank in the West Village, says that the three proposals that have taken place at his restaurant were almost identical.
“Here’s how it goes,” Edelman says. “There's a note in the OpenTable reservation labeling it a ‘special occasion.’ They show up together in a taxi, dressed for it. The guy pops the question soon after the entrées hit the table, and at that point, you realize how strangely they've been acting the whole time. There's an electric field buzzing from them, but you can't put your finger on it. He, in full knowledge of what’s about to happen, can't sit still and makes best friends with the servers and bussers, and she, sensing what is probably inevitable at this point, is elated.”
Edelman says there’s nothing like it.
“Everyone around can feel it,” he says. “It raises the energy in the room. It’s very likely they will be back that same day next year.”
4. Bring tissues. Lots of tissues.
The new fiancés aren’t the only ones guaranteed to ugly-cry during a restaurant proposal; sometimes the cooks and servers can’t hold back, either.
Chef Antoine Westermann, of Le Coq Rico, says that a woman who was proposed to two months ago in his restaurant was joined in her sobbing by two cooks on the line. This, of course, made it a lot harder to kick the couple out.
“We needed the table back, but we just couldn’t ask them to leave after 2.5 hours sitting there,” he says. “We offered them a dessert with ‘Congratulations’ written on it. Then they happily left, in love.”
5. Consider choosing a personally-meaningful location, even if it’s low-brow.
You don’t need to book the most expensive restaurant in town for the proposal to be meaningful. Even a chain coffee shop will do the trick.
Ethan Knapp first met Kenna Rusk when he applied for a job at the Starbucks where she worked. Years later, long after they'd left those jobs, Knapp flew Rusk back to the Seattle store and asked her to be his wife.
Be careful, though. When one man proposed to his girlfriend by slipping an engagement ring between the buns of her McDonald’s Crispy Chicken Deluxe, she did not take it well, sobbing on camera, “You can’t ask me to marry you in a chicken sandwich.” Fair.
6. Coordinate with the restaurant—they’re happy to help plan.
Often, the staff will go above and beyond.
After putting on the ring, the bride-to-be asked, quite reasonably, “Where’s my cupcake?”
At Benjamin Steakhouse, owners Benjamin Prelvukaj and Benjamin Sinanaj say they’ve had over twenty marriage proposals, and they’ve always been told in advance by the one proposing for planning purposes. They send out Champagne and dessert once it all goes down.
7. Be emotionally prepared for a “no.”
“No”s do happen, however rarely.
“We’ve only seen one couple not get engaged after a proposal,” say Prelvukaj and Sinanaj, who also own Sea Fire Grill. “It was two women, and the one proposing waited until almost everyone left the restaurant on a Sunday evening. We all felt very bad for them when the woman said ‘no.’ She left in a hurry, and it was heartbreaking.”