It’s Valentine’s week – the week the world divides into two camps. You either love V-day and all the heart shaped doughnuts that come with it, or you hate every second of it and think it’s a big pile of commercialised poo. 

Despite harrowing memories of the popular girls at school wrestling with armfuls of roses while I cowered in the corner praying that nobody would send me a bogus love note as a joke, I’ve grown out of my hatred for Valentine’s Day. Mr TBG and I don’t personally celebrate it, but if you take joy in doing so, then go you.

What I want to look at this week is the classic Valentine’s Day restaurant special. A fiesta of set menus and “glass of bubbles on arrival”, these specials tend to be sales speak for ‘the cheapest and easiest dishes crammed into a smaller menu to save us on stock for the week, and a glass of the cheapest sparkling we can find to let you believe you’re getting good value.”

So naturally, I crunched the numbers on three specials in Melbourne, to see just how much the offerings are marked up.


Restaurant 1 (one of multiple restaurants owned by a well-known chef)

Valentine’s Menu: 6 course chef’s selection menu, $170pp
At first glance, you could be led to believe this is a good deal, since their usual chef’s menu is $170. BUT, on an ordinary day, it’s 8 courses, not 6. When I looked closer at the menus, I noticed there were some major changes to the menus. Not only did they cut two courses out, they’ve subbed out a vacherin dessert for sorbet, ditched the chocolate delice for strawberries and cream, and removed the cheese course all together. Ouch.

Restaurant 2 (moderate-high end chain)

Valentine’s Menu: 3 courses + glass of champagne + 2 oysters, $129pp
Ok, so they’re serving up Chandon Brut as the glass on arrival, which is fairly cheap for them to serve en masse. You kick off with two oysters, which conveniently isn’t priced on the regular menu, making comparison of value more difficult. This theme continues through the starter and main courses, with two of the three options items that aren’t listed on the main menu. In their favour, the steak offering for main course was their Shorthorn range, which is $59 on the main menu. What you’ll notice in their chosen dishes, though, is a frequency of the same ingredients, making it easier for them to take advantage of economies of scale. They’ve conveniently created a starter that’s made of the same ingredients as one of the mains AND the mandatory side dish option. As for desserts, the usually extensive range of 10+ deserts has been cut to three, one of which is a pavlova – notoriously cheap to construct.

Restaurant 3 (independent restaurant)

Valentine’s Menu: 3 course menu with wine match, $120pp
Hello, wine matching – although it’s probably added to boost the illusion of value here. When I picked apart the set menu, I noticed again that it was peppered with dishes that stray from the usual menu – a sublime cheat to avoid value comparison from those who’ve dined on an ordinary day. This reeks of tiny portions! Looking at the main menu and adding up the cost of similar dishes, a starter, main and dessert would cost around $60pp. That means it’s an extra $60 for the wine matching, which you perhaps wouldn’t have ordered anyway (and I highly doubt they’re a full serve, either).

Want to stash your cash this Valentine’s Day and beyond? Grab 20% off my “Be Better With Money” eBook with code VALENTINE. Ends 15th Feb.