Valentine's Day is one of the most stressful days in the restaurant calendar as restaurants try to deliver a perfect romantic evening. From badly timed proposals, to exploding champagne corks, to kitchens catching fire, KZN chefs have some stories to tell.
And don't forget the poor guys whose proposals get refused.
Chef Constantijn Hahndiek at Hartford House told of one experience when he was working in Fanschhoek.
"This really nervous guy came into the kitchen. He was sweating and looking pale. He asked us to write 'will you marry me' on the plate and serve the ring on top of a cake," he said.
It was no sweat for the kitchen. Once they had sent out the mains, they got to work on his special dessert.
"The waiter took the dessert and we thought nothing more of it. But the guy was so nervous he had gone to the toilet so when the waiter delivered the cake he ended up 'proposing' to one of our guests.
"While the waiter felt terrible, the guy was so nervous he was almost relieved he wasn't there. And she was blown away. They spent the rest of the afternoon walking through the vineyards."
Then there's the pressure to get the perfect booking.
Kayla-Ann Osborn, head chef at Chefs' Table in uMhlanga, told how, when she was still working at Trafford in Pietermaritzburg, there was a guy who phoned them five or six times insisting they give him a booking. They repeatedly told him they could not squeeze another table in anywhere. "Then he insisted on setting up a gazebo in the garden. We relented," she said.
"That night it bucketed with rain. Our waiters got soaked running the food out to them, but for the couple concerned, they sat there in the pouring rain as happy as anything.
"It obviously worked out. Next year they booked on time and she arrived, heavily pregnant."
Jono Dempster, currently at RocoMamas in uMhlanga, but who's been involved in the hospitality industry with Lupa and Billy the Bums, related how, as an 18-year-old waiter at the old El Turko, he was serving a couple celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary.
"They brought this bottle of Dom Perignon they'd been keeping forever for the occasion. I undid the foil and the cork just popped out, spraying Champagne everywhere.
"Fortunately they had a great sense of humour," he said.
On another Valentine's, a couple, probably "in quite a new relationship", just wouldn't leave. "They sat kissing and canoodling until after everyone had left. Eventually he calls me over and asks if we have any dishwashing liquid or soapy water."
It emerged his finger had become stuck in a steel cigar casing and he had sat around for more than an hour "too embarrassed" to say anything. "We had to cut if off with a cigar cutter," said Dempster.
Andrew Draper, of Food by Andrew Draper, and founder of Harvey's, told of the embarrassment when a proposal was refused. One Valentine's Day evening, they had three. He recounted blasting The Turtles' She'd Rather Be With Me to applause from other patrons, only for the poor guy to be told no.
Once he was asked to organise Champagne and canapes while the man proposed to his girlfriend on top of the arch at Moses Mabhida. All his friends were down on the lawns with signs that read "will you marry me?"
"Well, when she said to him 'Ag shame, some asshole is being proposed to,' he called us off in a hurry."
There was also the story of a customer who was hit by a car crossing the road to the old Goble Road Harvey's on Valentine's night. "As she was rushed to hospital, she pleaded with us to keep her table. At midnight, after all the guests had left, the couple arrived. She was high from the medication and arrived with her whole leg in a plaster cast, but we made them feel special," he says.
Draper also revealed an occasion that needed maximum discretion from the waiting staff. A customer brought his boyfriend to the restaurant for a Valentine's lunch, and his wife for dinner that night.
Marcelle Roberts of Cafe 99 told of every restauranteur's Valentine's Day horror, a fire in the kitchen, about 13 years ago.
"A duck breast was forgotten at the back of the oven, the fat ignited and jumped up the extractor. I pulled the blazing duck breast out the oven and discreetly tried to extinguish it before anybody saw," she says. "But as I looked up and saw the top of the cold room engulfed in flames.
"The fire went out by itself, but it caused a lot of smoke. We had to evacuate the whole restaurant. Then a guest from AKA (the restaurant next door at the time) came powering through with a fire extinguisher – it was one of those powder ones – and opened up inside the kitchen, covering everything!"
So how did they cope. "Well, Kim and Anthony from AKA were amazing, they fed the guests who hadn’t eaten yet. Thankfully no one was harmed and guests were very understanding.