This article was written by Katie Fairchild and featured in QSR Magazine.
COVID-19 cases continue to plummet and consumers are ready to get out and make the most of Valentine’s Day. In fact, Valentine’s Day spending for 2022 is expected to be nearly back to pre-pandemic levels. This puts an enormous amount of pressure on operators who are still dealing with the ongoing fallout left behind by the pandemic.
Ahead of Valentine’s week, restaurant owners will need to plan in advance for any potential COVID-19-related complications, such as staff shortages, limited access to popular menu items, and reduced indoor seating.
Below are a few fresh ideas that are sure to attract new guests and offer unforgettable dine-in or takeout experiences this Valentine’s Day.
Promote, promote, promote. Virtual promotions via social media, email, and the web can be run simultaneously with physical promotions such as putting up signs and table tents to promote the holiday. Remind servers in pre-shift meetings to mention upcoming food and event specials to every table.
Offer special incentives. A single rose, a chocolate-covered strawberry, or a glass of champagne for each guest is a cost-effective way to greatly increase their Valentine’s Day dining experience.
Consider pre-packaged deals. Contact a close by movie theater, bowling alley, or escape room to see if they are interested in partnering to create a date night package that is fun for guests and beneficial to both businesses.
Extend the promotions. There is no need to limit specials to just one night. With Valentine’s Day falling on a Monday this year, extend promotions for both the week before and the week following February 14th to accommodate everyone’s schedule.
Create the right ambiance. Make sure that guests have an opportunity to connect with their loved ones. Dim the lighting, light candles, make sure that the music is appropriate and at the right volume.
Add some privacy to outdoor dining areas. Separating diners with partitions creates a sense of privacy for outdoor patrons. Depending on the space and budget, these partitions can be made with Plexiglass, tents, pergolas, and even potted shrubbery. Remember that the outdoor space is an extension of the restaurant’s brand and should reflect the ambiance that those seated inside enjoy.
Prepare for to-go orders. Offer a few to-go specials for those who plan to have a romantic dinner or even family night at home. Create a pickup schedule with pick-up times spaced in 15 minutes increments to minimize wait times. Also, consider creating a temporary prep area to speed up the packaging process, ensuring that everything is warm and on time for each customer.
Provide Valentine’s drink specials. Get into the spirit of romance with Valentine’s cocktails. Signature drinks make the guest’s experience more memorable and are also a sure way to increase alcohol sales.
Try a few healthy twists on comfort foods. Many diners are still going strong on their New Year’s resolutions of a healthier lifestyle. Offering dishes that cater to specific diets such as Whole30, Paleo, Low-fat, etc. can be just the incentive needed to capture the attention of those who are looking for lighter alternatives. Turkey Sheppard’s Pie, Low-Fat Clam Chowder, and Paleo Swedish Meatballs with Mashed Potatoes (Whole30) are a few ideas for inspiration.
Schedule staff wisely. While the expected surge in sales is great news, it can also be a scary thought with the employment crisis still lingering. Long ticket times and poor service on one of the restaurant industry’s biggest nights can damage future sales. While no operator wants to purposely overstaff, creating a little padding in case an employee was to be out sick can make or break the customer’s experience.
Streamline service. If staffing is tight, consider food and drink specials that can be batched for quick prep and service. Providing a specialty menu that includes steaming winter soups, stews, and chili is a great way to warm up chilly guests with delicious seasonal options. Batched alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages such as hot chocolate, coffee, mulled wine, and cider will please just about any palate and can be delivered quickly to the table.
Order with precision. The key to success on any given holiday is accurate sales forecasting because running out of guests’ favorites is sure to disappoint hungry diners. Review data from previous Valentine’s Day to determine which dishes and drinks were the most popular and order accordingly.
Conclusion. Holiday sales can be tricky, especially with the uncertainty that comes along due to the pandemic. Planning, promoting, and delivering a special holiday can impress guests and encourage repeat visits.
Katie Fairchild is the Senior Vice President of Marketing at Restaurant365. In her role, she is a growth driver, customer champion and capability builder, enabling interactions that deliver on Resturant365’s brand promise. She has 15+ years of leadership experience and is skilled in driving measurable, predictable growth through integrated marketing efforts. In her free time, she enjoys frequenting the Chicago dining scene, traveling and spending time with her husband, two daughters and dog.