The folks at restaurant ratings guide Zagat say spending on a dinner out jumps from $70 for a typical dinner for two to more than $146 on Valentine's Day. Overall, the NRF says Valentine's Day dinner spending will jump from $3.36 billion in 2011 to $3.58 billion this year. On that night, there's no such thing as an old favorite or a hidden gem.

That place with the great roasted chicken you go to every year for your anniversary? Yeah, it's taken the fowl off the menu for a $45 filet mignon. The bistro with the great tomato and basil soup you sneak into on date night? It wants a reservation a week in advance and is swapping out your soup for an iceberg salad. "Special" Valentine's Day menus ease the burden on kitchen staffs, but turn charming restaurant favorites into lobotomized husks of their former selves for the stay-at-home masses who emerge from DVR-driven hibernation for this one winter's night.

And boy, can those saps spend. Restaurant reservation site OpenTable ( OPEN) says 93% of the Valentine's Day reservation holders they surveyed plan to either match last year's dinner bill or increase it. Among all diners, 54% plan to shell out $101 to $200. Another 10% plan to clear that $200 bar easily. Unfortunately for regulars, but booking a table the weekend before doesn't drive down cost or demand, either.

"With this Valentine's Day falling on a Tuesday, we are going to see two spikes in restaurant reservations," says Caroline Potter, "chief dining officer" for OpenTable. "About half of diners surveyed anticipate booking a romantic evening on the 14th, while another 26% are choosing to celebrate on Saturday night, Feb. 11."

Unless your last name is Yossarian, though, this isn't a Catch-22. You know the easiest way to show someone you love them on Valentine's Day? Putting some actual thought into it. Being original. Paying attention the other 364 days a year. Want to give someone a special dinner on Valentine's Day? Find out their favorite meal and cook it. Want to make a romantic gesture? Stay away from the roses you awkwardly buy once a year and make a playlist of songs they love or that remind you of them. Buy or rent a copy of the movie you saw on your first date. Take a walk to the spot where you proposed. You know, try.

It's called effort. You can't buy it at a markup, but it yields premium returns without putting you in the poorhouse.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post,, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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