This article was written by Jenny Simmons and featured in RESTAURANT DIVE.
Though COVID-19 case rates are still high this winter, it seems diners still want to celebrate the holiday of love. The National Retail Foundation reported that American consumers planned to spend $23.9 billion on Valentine’s Day in 2022. Even better, 31% of respondents are planning to gift “an evening out” this year, which equates to $4.3 billion. This percentage is higher than in 2021 (24%).
“While traditional Valentine’s Day gifts like candy and flowers seem to never go out of style, gift-givers and recipients alike are more comfortable heading out for a special meal or participating in a new experience than they were a year ago,” Prosper Insights Executive Vice President of Strategy Phil Rist said in a statement in NRF’s release. “This is especially true among younger age groups.”
Valentine’s Day is known for being the second busiest holiday for the restaurant industry, giving good reason to make the effort to get customers in your door.
But how can you prepare your restaurant to excel on this high-traffic holiday weekend? Here are some tips to set you up for success.
Get a head start
Update your website and social media pages to promote your Valentine’s Day specials and events. Hang signs and put table tents out to promote the holiday. Also, be sure to check that your contact information is up to date on your social pages as well as pages on Google, Yelp, OpenTable and Urbanspoon.
Send customers a personal invitation
Send a personalized email with your upcoming promotions. Also, have your servers mention the upcoming specials and events when dropping off guest checks in the week to come.
Offer Valentine’s Day-themed specials
If the old saying “the way to a person’s heart is through the stomach” is accurate, you’ll want to be sure that Cupid is in your kitchen this month. Personalizing certain items during the week of Valentine’s Day is a great way to get into the spirit of love. Think heart-shaped pizza, heart-shaped desserts, or arrange a caprese salad into a heart shape.
Consider a prix fixe menu
If you are one of the millions of businesses affected by the current employment crisis, this idea can be key to pulling off smooth service on a historically busy night. Limiting orders to a prix fixe menu will make ordering, prepping and serving more efficient.
Create a romantic atmosphere
Decorate for the occasion to make it special. Dim the lighting, put out candles and make sure that the music is appropriate and at the right volume. You’ll want to make sure guests can talk and connect with their loved ones.
Add warmth and romance to your patio
From portable space heaters and heating fans to overhead heaters and fire pits, there are budget-friendly options to create a warm and cozy outdoor experience. Many operators also offer comfy blankets for those who might want to snuggle up and get cozy.
Appeal to those seeking alternatives to just dinner
Host a paint-and-sip or cookie decorating event where guests can enjoy a fun activity and leave with a handmade creation. Mixology classes are a fun way to boost your liquor sales while your bartenders demonstrate how to make fun cocktails, too. Whether it’s a romantic date between partners or a platonic evening between friends and family, pairing fun activities with great food and drinks is always a hit.
Encourage social media engagement
A big part of any great experience is being able to share it with friends and followers on social media. Create an experience that’s worthy of sharing by setting up a love-themed photo backdrop or providing props. Create a catchy hashtag or platform-appropriate prompts and post them around the restaurant, making it easier for customers to share their experiences. These tactics can turn your customers into an army of marketers for your restaurant.
Step up your to-go game
Offer a few to-go specials for those who plan to have a romantic dinner or even family night at home. Setting up a special prep area to speed up the packaging process will help ensure that everything is warm and on time for each pickup.
Expand offers to include pre and post-Valentine’s Day specials
Because COVID-19 is still a risk, not everyone is going to want to face the large crowds that come with a Valentine’s Day out. There is no need to limit your specials to just one night! With Valentine’s Day falling on a Monday this year, you could offer promotions for both the week before and the week following to accommodate everyone’s preferences.
Plan an “anti-Valentine” night
Does your restaurant not scream “date night?” With the amount of single people still planning on going out, that may not be a bad thing! Promote yourself as a fun alternative for those who don’t want to sit at home by throwing a “love stinks” party complete with an appropriate playlist and perhaps a heart piñata to really drive home the theme.