The soft music of Argentine tango, or a live jazz ensemble playing away in the background, long-stemmed roses laid across the table, candlelight, a warm greeting with glasses of Champagne, a table by the fireplace, or near a window with a spectacular view of the sunset — these are some of the things many couples look forward to for the perfect Valentine’s day dinner.

Some of these aspirations get reflected in the requests diners make to the restaurant while making their V-day reservations. At OpenTable, we have a treasure trove of these requests dating back to 2004. When we laid them out in chronological order, we started seeing some interesting trends.

One way to interpret what we are seeing is that we are slowly moving away from the abstract notions of a romantic, immersive dinner, to a more prescribed and structured experience, built around specific expectations. The effect is subtle, but it is there.

What we found (and how we found it)

We first identified the phrases that are most frequently used while making the requests. We found all the usual suspects like booth, romantic table, candlelight, intimate table, flowers and so on. This required concept disambiguation, as people have different ways of expressing the same concept: Some would say, “We would love to have candles,” while some others would say “I want a candlelit table.”

Once we made these associations, we counted up the fraction of requests that contained that concept, and plotted it as function of time. That is when some trends started appearing.

Take for example the request for a booth, that seems to be one of the most requested features.

booth

We find a steady rise in the interest for booth seating on Valentine’s Day from 2004 to 2014 — and this trend is only evident on this specific day. For all these trends, we checked random days across the year, and found these trends are specific for February 14th.

Let us contrast the request for a booth, with the more abstract notion of requesting a “romantic table”, that leaves more freedom on the part of the restaurant to define what that would mean.

romantic

As you can see, the fraction of requests that has the ‘romantic table’ concept in them has more than halved over the past ten years. This intrigued us, and so we continued to look at the some of the more abstract concepts like “intimate,” “cozy,” and “quiet,” in contrast to the more prescriptive requests, such as “candlelight,” “flowers,” and the word “valentine’s” itself, that is used to remind the restaurant that the diners are coming to celebrate Valentine’s day indeed. Here are how these trends look:

flowers

intimate

candle

cozy

valentine

quiet

At a glance, you see how the requests are moving away from being more abstract to being more specific. Interesting, right?