Every year on February 14th, White Castle restaurants around the country take dinner reservations for a special, romantic White Castle dining experience.
The degree to which your local White Castle participates in this Valentine’s Day tradition may vary (some locations offer candles and music, some … do not), but most get in the holiday spirit with pink and red balloons, tablecloths, streamers, and more. Sliders are ordered off a printed menu from a server, and prom-type pictures can be taken in front of a heart-lined photo wall. These are available online two weeks after Valentine’s Day, and, if you want, you can order your photo on a White Castle coffee mug.
We, coworkers and platonic friends Katie Heaney and Arianna Rebolini, made our Valentine’s Day dinner reservations for 5:45 pm at the East Williamsburg White Castle in New York. Here are all the things we felt about it.
1. Giddy Anticipation
One of us (Katie) had never been to a White Castle before, and what an introduction! Before we actually went inside, we basked in the empty transgression and muted thrill associated with doing something “as a joke.” These feelings carried us across the entire tiny driveway area.
2. Pride And Belonging
On the door to the White Castle we were coming to think of as “ours” was affixed a sign that read: “Due to Overwhelming Demand Dining Room For Reserved Seating Only.” There had been an overwhelming demand. We had been among that clamoring crowd. This was most evident when we called 10 days earlier to make our reservation (on the New York headquarters reservation-only line, open 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. strictly), and our request for a seat at the Midtown location was met with sympathetic laughter and the suggestion of a different borough. But we had made it in. We were on the list.
3. The Inevitable Letdown Of Unmet Romantic Expectations
When we were shown to our table (the one next to a young-ish couple, the only other people there at 5:45), one of us said “I weirdly thought this would be … nicer?” and the other one said “Me too!” It is hard to say WHY we expected to feel genuinely impressed and moved by the romantic overtures of a White Castle restaurant. Actually it is not that hard to say: this is what Valentine’s Day does to people.
But it does look pretty nice.
4. Reconfigured Optimism And Appreciation
On our table sat a festive sprig of shiny red hearts and a wooden sign holder reading “Kiss.” The paper menus have hearts made of sliders on them. This is gross and cute at the same time. The woman acting as our server this evening (whom we gather is actually the manager) has a very impressive Valentine’s Day-themed manicure. An elderly couple walks in shortly after us, and they sit down together on the same side of a booth. Normally I hate when couples do this, but with them it’s okay.
5. Existential Dread
Just behind our table were a few framed safety documents, including the one that specifies where resuscitation masks are located within the restaurant. This was briefly panic-inducing. What if one of us choked on a french fry, and the other could not get to the resuscitation masks in time because they’re located at the front register and we were sitting sort of near the back, and then the deceased’s obituary had to read: “She choked to death on a french fry while reporting on the Valentine’s Day traditions of a low-end fast food restaurant chain”? I think we both chewed more carefully than we would have had this sign not been so close.
6. The Unmistakable Blend Of Hunger And Nausea
Between the two of us we order four sliders (two with cheese), an order of french fries, a chocolate shake, and a Diet Coke. Both of us had been feeling slightly motion sick from an unusually shaky subway ride over, which is the exact digestive atmosphere you do not want when visiting a White Castle. The food neither helps or hurts. It just Is. Katie (who, again, had never been to a White Castle previously) will never forget the smell of a slider so long as she shall live.
By the time we finished, several other pairs and small groups of diners had come in and sat down to eat. There were two sets of young couples with children and two other married couples. Everyone looked pretty happy, even us, which you can see in this picture. We tried taking one in front of the Valentine’s Day photo board, and were told it’ll appear on the White Castle Facebook page sometime in the next two weeks. So we also took a selfie at the table. We were there for approximately 45 minutes, and our bill came to $9.69. Our receipt also says that we saved $0.27, and neither of us knows how or why, but it’s nice to know.