How To Propose In A Restaurant

The dos and don'ts of restaurant proposals

You there, sitting there at the table with a ring box in your pocket and butterflies in your stomach—she or he is going to say, "Yes!"

That's why you decided to take your proposal public, isn't it? To let your fellow diners bask in the glow of your sure-to-be-eternal love, because there's absolutely no chance that your schmoopy-schmoo will turn you down and make everyone in the joint avert their eyes and pick wanly at their tiramisu. Right?!

There are rules to the restaurant proposal—and especially for those planned for February 14. The first one of these would be: Don't.

Or at least not before seriously considering all of the potential pitfalls. Colicchio & Sons general manager Scott Sozmen is a 17-year veteran of the hospitality industry (including tenures in the haute dining empires of Thomas Keller and Jean-Georges Vongerichten), so he's seen a proposal—or 200—and has helped to facilitate many of them.

"It's not hard to stack up horror stories or successes," Sozmen says, "but most people in the industry would say don't propose in a restaurant." It's not that they don't want to be a part of your special day—quite the opposite. Hospitality pros want to help you create a memory that will last a lifetime (and keep you returning to their restaurant), but there are random factors they can't control: a quarrelling couple, a baby screaming, an unannounced proposal at another table.

Yup, some people are totally happy to leave one of the most significant moments of their life to chance. Not only do some question-poppers neglect to clue the staff into the life-changing event that's about to occur, some even don't float the notion by their intended before that very moment. And that can lead to soul-crushing scenarios like, for instance, your would-be fiancée leaving the table after the ring was presented alongside the first dish of a 12-course tasting menu at one of the swankiest restaurants in town.

"Well, nobody died," Sozmen grimaces. "The staff couldn't let it show, but we could tell that it wasn't clear to him that she wasn't coming back." The crushed man soldiered on alone for about half the meal before calling it quits.

But while a public rejection might make some Romeos retreat under the table, never to woo again, it didn't daunt one loyal patron of Eiffel Tower Restaurant. Chef/owner Jean Joho sees five to 10 proposals a week at his Strip-facing, très romantique Las Vegas restaurant—thousands in the 15 years that it's been open—but he's only seen one man go back for seconds, with a different woman, after an initial rejection.

"He called us again," Joho says, "asked for the most expensive bottle of Champagne again, said, no, that's not expensive enough. Asked up how many ounces of caviar per person. We told him one or two, but he wanted the whole can, which is 2.2 pounds. He got down on his knee again, and she said no, too! I felt terrible for him."

(The twice-jilted man did eventually find happiness. The chef ran into the patron some years later at a mutual friend's party, and he introduced Joho to his wife. "I think he proposed to her in a bar," the chef laughs.)

Sozmen responds to this story with a knowing nod. When he sees a nervous suitor trying to stack the deck with luxury items, he does his best to talk him down. "They're reaching," he says. "You're trying to trick the other person. A couple who's going to work doesn't need these things."

What they do need: a reasonable chance of a "yes"—and maybe a little privacy. Sozmen suggests the added precaution of retiring to a separate room for the actual asking. That way, if all goes well, the couple can emerge newly affianced, and the ring recipient will also be given the gift of a moment of public glowing.

"That way, it's not loud, but it's shared," Sozmen says. "I buy Champagne for all, and I see the whole momentum of the room shift. People come over to congratulate them, and someone (usually an older, married couple) will often pick up their meal. People are smitten with the idea of love."

The Rules of Restaurant Proposals

Do: Select a unique scenario at a place you'd both like to return to. "You're giving this person an opportunity and a chance to share their story in the future," Sozmen says. "Think what you want that to be. Show that you know them best of anyone in the world, and then you can relive that moment every time you come back."

Don't: With that in mind, consider not popping the question on a holiday that everyone else has a stake in; make your own. Sozmen jokingly refers to Valentine's Day as "the circus of love." He says, "What you're saying to this person is that they're the most special person in the world. On Valentine's Day, there are 50 special ladies in the room." Joho agrees, "It's a forced holiday, and then you have to share it—like people with a Christmas birthday. It needs to be warm and unique."

Do: Get the question out of the way. "They're always so nervous! It's torture," Joho says. In addition to Eiffel Tower, the chef facilitates several proposals a month at his restaurant, Everest, in Chicago. "I tell them, leave everything to us—we can take out the ring at the right moment, have wine ready, everything. But we can't ask them for you." He advises popping the question along with the amuse or the first course, so the hopeful party can actually eat and enjoy the moment.

Don't: Sozmen urges nervous suitors not to get too cute with the food. "They all want to do something clever with the ring, but then you end up with someone missing it or choking on it." Or, in one memorable near-miss, the dish with the hidden ring almost being served to a neighboring table.

Do: Let the staff help create this moment for you, from seating to service to presentation of the ring. They've done it before, and they're on your side. While Sozmen wouldn't necessarily suggest that most people opt for the restaurant proposal, he admits, "I stay away from judging, but it's so ridiculously adorable. In the end, I want to be a part of it. Let me share the risk."