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How to ensure a smooth-sailing surprise meal for your long-distance partner

by | May 26, 2022 | Fun & Activities | 0 comments

When my husband and I were located in the same city, every occasion always meant that we would be enjoying a nice meal together. If we were celebrating his birthday, this meal would likely be a surprise planned by me, whether it was a homemade meal or a plan to go to a nice restaurant somewhere.

Hence, when he started working overseas, it wasn’t long before I started thinking of ways to recreate this tradition of sorts. After a few surprise meals and a ton of mess-ups, I have learnt how to minimise the chances of a massive screw-up to perhaps just a small one once in a while.

Be on the lookout for some possible unpleasant surprises

Planning a surprise meal long-distance can be frustrating
Expect to lose some hair after tearing them out in frustration if you fail to plan well!

The last time I organised yet another surprise dinner for my husband’s birthday unfortunately ended up becoming an unbelievably messy affair, at least on my end! I had thought I did a pretty good job with the planning, but let’s just say… anything that can go wrong, will likely go wrong. You cannot cater for everything that might happen, but there are some pretty common gotchas that you can plan for to allow you to pivot pretty quickly.

Here are some unexpected surprises that I’ve learnt you should plan around:

  1. Making the order outside of opening hours

    It may sound like a no-brainer, asking someone to ensure that they make their order during the restaurant’s opening hours, but it’s surprisingly easy to mess up. This may happen due to a variety of reasons:

    (a) You may have researched and even simulated ordering what you wanted, but you had done so in the afternoon, when your meal was going to be in the evening. And of course, that perfect restaurant just happens not to be open for dinner.

    (b) Perhaps you remembered the closing time wrongly or lost track of time, and orders for the restaurant had just closed minutes before you were about to place your order.

    (c) The time for last orders typically end some time before the closure of the restaurant, so even if you had tried to make the order 20 minutes before closing, the time for the last order may have already passed.

    As this happened with the bakery I was going to order my husband’s birthday cake from, I ended up having to multitask during dinner to find and order the cake from another shop. Save yourself the pain and double check the opening hours of the restaurant, as well as confirm when the time for the last order is. Make sure you’re not cutting it too close!

  2. Unexpected closure of the restaurant

    For the main meal, I had double checked the restaurant’s opening hours to ensure it was going to be open, even setting an alarm for when it was reopening for dinner to ensure I made the order with ample time for delivery.

    However, for reasons unknown, the delivery service was not available at dinnertime that day, and after half an hour of constant refreshing, I switched to the backup restaurant I had prepared prior and ordered from there instead. It required a change in one of the menu items, but it was a small inconvenience compared to the panic I would have been in if I did not already have a “Plan B” in place.

  3. Delivery logistics

    Let me first preface this point by saying that my husband is located in a country where he has challenges communicating in their primary language. Also, delivery personnel may or may not be able to arrive at the door of his unit due to security reasons.

    This year, the day I planned the surprise meal was one of the days where the delivery man was unable to make the delivery all the way to his apartment unit. My husband received a call from the deliveryman that he could not understand, but thankfully, he was able to guess that the call meant that the food was arriving, if it had not already arrived. He therefore made his way downstairs to the security counter about 10 minutes later when no one turned up at his door, and found his food waiting for him there.

    Have a conversation with your partner to see whether there are any such restrictions or practices that you may not be aware of, to prevent any nasty surprises. I imagine your partner would prefer the evening to be filled with pleasant surprises, not nasty ones!

5 things you should do to ensure your surprise meal goes perfectly

Long-distance surprise meals are possible!
Imagine the perfect meal together in each other’s company… Now go make it happen!

  1. Plan in advance and communicate what is necessary to your partner
    Unlike in real life, some things cannot be kept as a surprise for practical reasons. You can keep the details around the menu secret, but there are a few things you should not, unfortunately including the fact that there is going to be a meal planned for your partner:

    (a) The date and time of the meal – you should tell your partner that you will be handling their lunch/dinner for that day, and ensure that they put that time aside for you! The last thing you want is to plan everything with no one around to receive it.

    (b) When their food is arriving – keep your partner updated when you’ve made the order, and let them know when they can expect the food to arrive so that they can be prepared to receive it.

    The first time I planned such a surprise meal, I had not communicated anything to my husband, and he ended up very confused and annoyed when the delivery man turned up at his door. He spent quite a bit of time at his door, insisting that the man had the wrong address because he hadn’t made any orders. It didn’t help that the delivery man wasn’t that proficient in English. It turned out to be an unpleasant experience for my husband, and I was almost banned from doing anything similar ever again.

    For this year’s birthday dinner, I made sure to keep him well informed, and he was therefore able to guess that the food had been delivered when the call came. However, even until now, receiving deliveries is his least favourite part of such planned evenings.

  2. Check the restaurant’s opening hours
    Realising that the restaurant isn’t open just as you’re about to place the order could be a nasty surprise. The first thing you should do when you’re assessing the place would be to check its opening hours.

    If the restaurant is not going to be open during the agreed time with your partner, and the time for your date cannot be shifted, you can strike the restaurant off your list immediately. If the restaurant is absolutely perfect and the time for your date is negotiable, then you consider tweaking the timing with your partner instead.

  3. Plan for a backup restaurant
    Even if you’ve done your due diligence, things can still go wrong, just as it did with me. Don’t skip looking for a backup restaurant (“Plan B”), because looking for a good restaurant will take some time, and trying to find a replacement an hour before the meal will not only cause you to run around in panic, you’ll probably end up ordering from a place that isn’t anything close to what you had imagined for the evening (McDonald’s, anyone?). And if you’re like me, you’ll probably end up feeling terribly apologetic the whole evening, especially if the food turns out to be less than ideal.

  4. Order in advance as much as possible
    One tip to minimise the possibility of number (2) or (3) happening, is to place your order way in advance. That way, if the restaurant isn’t open, you’d know early and have ample time to find an alternative place. Even if the order is made in the morning when the meal is scheduled for the evening, this could still take a weight off your shoulders, especially if you’re busy that day. It can be extremely stressful if you were so caught up with work that you forgot to make the order on time, or if you are still in the midst of work and have to stop what you’re doing or multitask during a meeting in order to make your order. Reduce as much stress on yourself as you can. However, don’t forget to check on the order an hour or two before your date to ensure that the order hasn’t been cancelled last minute. I ever had the misfortune of getting my order cancelled not long before the time of delivery, and I had to scramble to make another order. Trust me, that is not a fun experience.

  5. Plan sufficiently for your own meal
    Planning a celebratory meal means that you should be having the meal together with your partner. It can be easy to be too caught up in all the logistics around getting the meal delivered to your partner safely, that you neglect your own meal, or get around to it a little late. Know what you want to get, how you intend to get it, and when you are going to place the order or start preparing your meal. Set an alarm to remind yourself so that you don’t lose track of time. As much as possible, order or cook something similar, if not the same, as what you are getting for your partner. This would make it feel more like you’re sharing a meal together, as opposed to 2 people having their own separate meals over a video call.

As you can see, planning such a celebratory meal can require quite an investment of your time and effort, but if your partner is someone who enjoys such surprises and you know that such a gesture would be appreciated, the smile on their face will make it all worth it!

When delivery is a challenge

Of course, there are some pre-requisites to organising such a celebratory dinner, which is that there are food delivery services in the area that your partner is in (such as UberEats, DoorDash, FoodPanda, Deliveroo, GrabFood etc). If online delivery platforms are not available, you will need to be familiar with how to contact and arrange for delivery from the local restaurants.

However, if delivery is not an option at all, then I’m afraid you would have to plan differently for the meal that evening. Some examples could be:

  • Ordering takeaway from the restaurant and getting your partner to pick it up
  • Giving your partner the order to make from the restaurant and getting them to do it
  • Coming up with a theme for the meal, but getting your partner to obtain the meal on their own

If it is way too troublesome to organise the meal because of the region that your partner is located in, my suggestion is to let this go and look for other ways to spend an enjoyable evening together. There are always other special activities that you can plan!

If you’ve planned such a surprise celebratory meal for your partner before, do leave a comment below to share your experience. I’d like to know if you faced similar problems, or if you encountered other challenges! If you’re intending to plan a surprise meal now after reading this, I’d love to hear how it goes!

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