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Erick Hernandez, 25, has a “special Valentine’s basket” in the works for his 24-year-old girlfriend, Andi Silva, and he’s thinking about taking her out to eat on Sunday as well.

“She’s been craving sushi, so we might try that,” he said as the masked couple, together for about a year, sat outside in the sunshine earlier this week at the Pearl with their chocolate lab Charlie.

For most couples worried about the coronavirus, Valentine’s Day in the midst of a pandemic is kind of like a big box of chocolates – you don’t know what you’re going to get.

“Yeah, we will probably go out to eat,” said Hernandez, a recent graduate of Angelo State University who is in the National Guard and served in Washington, D.C., during the presidential inauguration. “But you have to be careful. I worry more for her than for me, because I’ve already had [COVID-19]. Nothing major – headache, fever, loss of taste and smell – but I recovered.”

Silva, who lost her job as a benefits consultant for an insurance company a few months back because of the pandemic, said she’d “like to do something really big” for her Valentine.

“But I’m not really in a position to do that,” said Silva, who’s now working on a master’s degree at Texas State University. “He deserves it. I’ve had a really tough year, and he’s always been there for me.”

Just over half (52 percent) of U.S. adults plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, spending a total of $21.8 billion – an average of $165, $32 less than last year – on Valentine’s Day gifts and celebrations, according to an annual survey released this month by the National Retail Federation.

And while Valentine’s Day – a Western Christian feast day honoring one or two early Christian martyrs named St. Valentine – is traditionally the second busiest holiday for restaurants (behind Mother’s Day), just 24 percent say they will celebrate with an evening out this year. That’s down from 34 percent last year and the lowest in the survey’s history.

At the same time, numbers for cooking at home or ordering takeout are up.

“I’ll get some flowers for my wife and chocolate for the kids,” said Herbey Maldonado, 34, who runs his own commercial interior design firm. “Then, I’ll probably get some really good steaks and barbecue out in the backyard.”

Just being together is the most important thing, said Savannah Famiglietti, a 34-year-old architectural specifications consultant. 

“This year especially, it’s more about being together wherever you can,” she said, adding that she and her boyfriend of three years, Nick, would stay at home. “I’m just thankful that I have a loved one.”

It’s important for couples to “get creative,” said local marriage and family therapist Krista Miller. 

“Valentine’s Day is not just a Hallmark holiday,” she said. “It’s important, especially during a pandemic, for couples to maintain these ritual connections. Date nights are important because we’re in this sort of sensory vacuum right now. I would urge couples to get creative – get takeout and go to a park, sit in the car if it’s cold. The important thing is to plan a conversation and ask each other great open-ended questions, not just talk about your day. Trying to connect is more important than the location.”

Despite the uncertainty, many restaurants, like those under the Jason Dady Restaurant Group umbrella, are reporting brisk reservations.

“At this point [Monday], counts are more than what we expected,” said Margeaux Alcorta, director of culinary operations for the restaurant group, whose venues include Tre Trattoria at the San Antonio Museum of Art, Jardine at the San Antonio Botanical Garden, and the Range downtown. “We’re at full capacity, with zero capability of taking any walk-ins. We’ve noticed a shift since the vaccine has come out, and I think the Valentine’s holiday – and the fact that it’s on a Sunday – is bringing people out. People want to feel a little normalcy and go out on a date, get dressed up. Obviously, we are going to provide a safe atmosphere for our guests.”

Dady expects to prepare 200 meals – a surf-and-turf menu with special cocktails and desserts – at the three restaurants over two seating sessions at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

“Our chefs are very excited about plating on actual plates rather than to-go boxes,” Alcorta said. “But our takeout dining is flourishing, too, and we have a high-end package with truffle mac-and-cheese and strawberry shortcake and bubbles that we’ll deliver straight to your door. So, yeah, I feel excellent about Valentine’s Day this year.”

Steve Bennett

Steve Bennett has written about arts and culture in San Antonio for more than 30 years.