It started as a customer suggestion – one that management actually implemented. In 1991 White Castle franchises in St. Louis and Minneapolis offered sit-down dining service to customers on Valentine’s Day. The promotion was a hit. That is why today, if you live near one of the 420 White Castle franchises in the Midwest and Northeast, you can make a dinner reservation for Feb. 14 at White Castle. Managers decorate restaurants. Customers make reservations. A maitre d’ greets people. Waiters take orders. It’s just like a real restaurant, only it’s White Castle.
Because White Castle is regional and family-owned, its annual Valentine’s Day promotion is not well-known. Vice president of corporate relations Jamie Richardson swears by the experience. “It creates a memory that lasts a lifetime,” he told me over the phone. “We have all done the fancy-shmancy dinner and we have all been disappointed by it. The Castle never disappoints.” FYI: Richardson speaks mainly in Middle Ages lingo. I think he snuck a “Verily, I beseech thee” in our interview at one point.
Richardson’s White Castle Valentine’s Day spiel sounds good, but is it true? Is The Castle, as Richardson assured me, really able to “cook up romance” for customers who want a “steamy date” with a “fair maiden of virtue true”? Can a slinger of small, square burgers (known as Slyders) really satisfy champagne tastes on a burger budget? After I spoke with Richardson, I called one of the most famous restaurants in the world – Spago Beverly Hills. I spoke with general manager Tracey Spillane, a pleasant woman with a velvety British accent. I asked her to share the details of the Spago Valentine’s Day experience so that I could juxtapose them with the White Castle Valentine’s Day experience. After laughing for 15 seconds straight she complied graciously.
Is White Castle romantic? And is White Castle more romantic than Spago Beverly Hills? This is my report, which I present to you in classy menu form.
I know what you are thinking. This Spago must be the pits. That is not the case at all. The Michelin Guide gave Spago two stars in the 2008 Los Angeles edition, making it one of only three restaurants in the city to earn that distinction. Spago general manager Spillane told me, with her sexy British accent, “I think Spago is a special, magical place, for a dining experience. The quality of food and the service – we have a really warm and friendly and inviting atmosphere. If you’re looking to take someone you care about, you love or you want to love, you can check the box on all of those.
“It’s a culinary experience people will remember in two months. I am sure people will remember their White Castle visit, too. I trust it will be extraordinarily memorable, in a different way, perhaps.”
See, there you go.
Spago is good, too.