This year, Cupid picked a real winner.

Valentine's Day falls on a Monday, not exactly the most romantic of nights to wine and dine your amour. In fact, it's normally the slowest traffic day of the week, according to the National Restaurant Association.

But local restaurant owners remain hopeful that love will prevail. And if love isn't a sufficient motivator, maybe fear will be.

"Valentine's is like Mother's Day you have to go out or else you'll be in trouble," said Jean Francois Meteigner, chef and owner of La Cachette in West Los Angeles.

Meteigner said that based on expected dining duration times, La Cachette will serve about 250 people on Valentine's and about half those slots have been booked.

Romantic spots such as Valentino and La Boheme say they are already booked solid.

Other celebrants prefer to avoid the crowds at L.A.'s well-known romantic restaruants and explore other alternatives.

"(Valentine's) happens to be my birthday, so we don't like to go where everyone else is going," said Dana Slatkin, president of Beverly Hills Farmers Market Inc., maker of a food product line. "We like to try Thai or Indian food. It's less conventional, less crowded and more low-key. We can make our own romance at home."

Eager to step out

Although a number of popular restaurants, including Patina and Ciudad, say they don't start filling up until the first week of February, some say that inquiries began pouring in before Christmas.

"This year they started much earlier and I'm not sure why. We didn't even have our menus ready," said Joe Luby, manager of Il Cielo in Beverly Hills, which is about half booked for Valentine's. "Since a lot of people stayed home for New Year's, maybe they are anxious to really go out."

Jim Butler, a partner at the law firm of Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro LLP, agreed that he and other Angelenos are eager for a festive night out after L.A.'s ho-hum New Year's. "After the (lighting of) the Hollywood sign, I would think we'd want to tone up the excitement a bit," he said.

Butler added that he plans to treat his significant other on Sunday instead of Monday, and he's not the only one. Restaurateurs say they are seeing some spillover effect for lovers who want to celebrate on the weekend, rather than wait until Monday. A few spots, including those at the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey and Regent Beverly Wilshire hotels, are introducing their Valentine's menu a day or two early, on the weekend.

"It actually works better for us. On Fridays and Saturday we have to turn people away anyway, so now more people can come out and make it a four-day celebration," said Jennifer Worthley, Valentino's director of catering. "Normally we're closed on Sunday, but we're open because of Valentine's. If people can't get a Monday-night reservation, they will settle for Sunday."

Tradition reigns

For Valentine purists, the only proper day to celebrate is the 14th.

"People have preconceived ideas of romance, which is why most people prefer that day to go out," said Judith Sherven, a relationship expert who co-authored "Opening to Love," released this month. "People have got to have that romantic experience on the 14th and not the 12th."

It's a tradition that civil litigation attorney Mike Erlinger plans to uphold.

"I think you want to celebrate on that day, and since this is the first Valentine's Day for my girlfriend and I, we feel a special connection to it," said Erlinger, 30, who has a table reserved at La Boheme.

For Sheryl Craig, who co-owns a public relations firm, this year's observance of love may be muted, but it will be on Monday as well.

"It seems a little less exciting, a little less special on Monday because you've worked all day and carry home work stuff on your shoulders, but it's nice to know that you'll go out to dinner," said Craig, who plans to make restaurant reservations soon for her husband and herself. "It actually makes Monday a day to look forward to, which is sometimes hard to do."

And besides the romantic elements, there may be a pragmatic advantage to celebrating on Monday: It might be less expensive. "During the week, you can do something simpler," he said. "There's an expectation to do more on the weekend."

The night might be briefer as well. "We find that people don't linger that long anyway, they don't dine for hours and hours," Meteigner said. "They go home pretty quickly."

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