It's one of the holidays that doesn't require the entire family to head out. Valentine's day is nearly here, and that means date nights and full restaurants. Couples celebrate Valentine’s day dinner in a restaurant to get a romantic experience, and as a restaurant manager, you can make that experience extra special.
One of the Busiest Restaurant Days of the Year
Table reservations and waiting in a lobby can kill a romantic night out, but that’s exactly what most people experience on Valentine’s Day. Why? Because after waiting too long for a table, couples will head home for a not so romantic dinner or plan a dinner at home to avoid restaurants altogether. Dining at home is not a wrong choice, but it does lack the opportunity to wear something beautiful and enjoy a night out away from the house.
Restaurang.org estimates that about 104 million Americans will visit a restaurant this Valentine’s day. That’s 34% of couples, most of which are in their mid-20s to early 40s.
While there are many things to spend on for the holiday such as chocolate and greeting cards, date night spending averages out at about $3.5 billion annually, restaurants can't ignore that number. Hosting Valentine’s restaurant specials can ensure your busy for the holiday, but more importantly, it can make many couples have a truly magical evening.
As one of the busiest days of the year, you need to deliver a top-notch experience. Give your guests a special atmosphere, excellent food, and just the right amount of entertainment. But, be sure to get the word out about your deals, offers, and promotions well in advance. Use this list of marketing ideas to help prepare for one of the industry's busiest holidays.
1. Create a Special Menu for the Night
These holidays are a great way to explore what your kitchen staff can really do. Turn to your head chef or kitchen manager for a new menu with festive dishes. Keep in mind that it's Valentine's day and that usually means sweet desserts and a bit of alcohol on the menu. Make sure that your Valentine’s day food specials have a good range of desserts, and alcoholic beverages such as champagne.
To make your menu fun and flirty. One of the good Valentine's day menu ideas for your restaurant would be designing a few drinks for the night with exciting names such as a “Romance-Tini,” “Chocolate Cherry Cha Cha,” or a “Kiss on the Lips.” As you're creating your promotional menu, you should consider a Prix Fixe menu or a fixed price menu. The concept is designing a menu with limited options for appetizers, soup/salad, entrées, and desserts.
A Prix Fixe menu is perfect for restaurants for Valentine’s day dinner because:
Allows your kitchen to work with hyper-efficiency because of the small menu.
Gives your kitchen staff the chance to serve higher-quality dishes more consistently.
Makes remembering the menu and explaining it easier for serving staff.
Management has control over average cover per seat and easy to track the average seat cover.
Creates a feeling of exclusivity because it's only for one night or weekend.
A Valentine's day restaurant menu is a great way to give a small range, reduce decision fatigue, and keep couples happy at their table. Reliable Restaurant POS software should make creating and switching between these special menus easy. Ideally, you can hide them when they're not in use, and then activate the menu and change your prices whenever it's necessary. Making holiday transitions such as menus and changing your table layout should be as easy as possible.
2. Redesign your Floor Plan to Maximize Your Tables of Two
It’s no surprise that guests expect a level of privacy on Valentine’s day dinner. A romantic dinner in a restaurant calls for tables set for two, preferably that aren’t near large parties. Create as many tables of two as possible, but be sure to have some large tables set aside for families or friend groups. Go over the floor plan changes with your serving staff and guide them on how to seat large parties away from couples.
Changing your floor plan can also reduce the number of empty seats, ultimately increasing capacity. When you start taking reservations, keep this in mind. Poster POS provides a feature within the management console to completely redesign a floor plan and manage reservations conveniently.
3. Establish a New Atmosphere
Restaurant ideas for Valentine’s day should go past the menu and seating arrangements. An atmosphere calls for decorations, staff personality, and entertainment. Even your regulars should experience a "wow" moment when they walk in for their Valentine's reservations. As you do this year after year, you can begin to advertise your promotions with small insights into the once a year experience.
When creating an atmosphere, you'll want a general theme. Choose between fun, flirty, romantic, or something that fits in seamlessly with your restaurant's concept. Then consider how you will execute this theme. Think about your staff’s appearance. Will you allow them to wear tiny cupid wings, pins promoting the holiday, or will you require a more upscale look.
If you're considering changing your uniform or providing accessories to your staff for Valentine's day, make sure it fits within your budget. Stay true to your concept too. A fine dining establishment will not be donning heart-shaped glasses.
If your dining room has TVs, then it's the opportunity to turn off the game or late-night entertainment and stream romantic films. Play romantic movies that complete your atmosphere. If you're creating something fun, then you might decide to air Sleepless in Seattle rather than Casa Blanca.
There’s also the option of live entertainment. Restaurants with Valentine's day specials will often play subtle and smooth music over their speaker system. You can do one better with a live performer or band. But make sure you have sound control in place and that any performer is aware the music should be background noise-level, not the center of the guest's attention.
Finally, the devil is in the details. Change your lighting by swapping your “daylight” lightbulbs for a “soft white” and be amazed at the difference. It will feel more romantic right away. While candles are a fire hazard, you can get very realistic battery-operated candles to fit into your decorations as table settings.
4. Decorate Your Heart Out
The atmosphere comes together successfully with well-planned décor. You can always collaborate with a professional decorator, but if that doesn't fit within your budget, don't be discouraged. Whether it’s paper hearts hanging from the ceiling, or dozens of roses on display, a little decor can make the experience something that your guests will tell all their friends about.
When considering your budget and temporary décor, think about elegance and a "less is more" approach. You can DIY simple décor, or simply incorporate the red, pink, and white Valentine’s Day palette into your restaurant’s color scheme.
Romantic decorating ideas for Valentine’s day can include:
Comfortable heart-shaped pillows or plush seat covers
Exclusive candlesticks you can DIY with bead garlands, candles, and candle holders
Garland for the windows, archways, or banisters
Scattered rose petals
Valentine's dinner table decorations should be subtle, refined, and not get in the way of eating or conversation. Ideally, you'll be able to visually break up your dining area, while creating a romantic atmosphere that will last the entire evening.
5. Setup Speed Dating
What if your diners don't know each other? Can you still make a romantic meal, something special that can last for hours? Start advertising that those without a date can find love in minutes to get people in the door early on Valentine’s day.
You don’t have to host a speed dating event on your own. Get in touch with a local matchmaker to ensure that you're giving people an authentic experience. It's a great marketing opportunity for them, so haggle for a reasonable price.
Just after your lunch rush, you can set up tables for speed dating in a "U" shape. Make sure the tables are for two, and the seats are easy to get in and out of. Offer speed dating attendees a one-of-a-kind Valentine’s dinner special or promotion where "successful" couples from the event can enjoy dinner together with a nice discount or incentive such as a free dessert.
Be sure to document the experience thoroughly. Use it on your social media afterward and give each attendee the chance to take a fun photo or two. Overall, speed dating should be fun through the entirety of the experience.
6. Pictures Worth More than 1,000 Words
Is your space “gram-worthy” or unique enough to get content creators and social media users to take and post photos? Create a specific photo area so enticing that no one can walk by without getting a professional photo taken. Because of selfies and phone cameras, a professional photo is rare these days. Bring in a professional photographer if it's in your budget, but always be sure to give guests a picture on their phone as well.
Use a massive heart-shaped arch, head-in-hole stands, comical props, or subtle lighting for a flattering effect. Don't be afraid to move away from purely romantic themes, give guests a chance at fun or a romantic picture with a versatile photo zone and optional props.
When providing photo opportunities, be sure to make your guests aware of your social media presence. Ask them to tag your restaurant, use a specific hashtag, or include the restaurant's geolocation when they post their fabulous picture. Social sharing has made paying for a professional photographer worth it as a marketing strategy. You can make Valentine’s dinner at restaurants jump from that 34% of couples even higher by getting people talking about it online.
While your photo zone might play a role in your marketing after Valentine’s day, be sure to employ other strategies that are promotional for the big day. Interactive events are becoming a popular attraction for restaurants.
7. Play Host as Matchmaker
There's speed dating, and then there's matchmaking. Among the best Valentine's day event ideas is being the go-to spot for blind dates. With Tinder users collectively going on about one million dates per week, it's very reasonable to expect to have a lot of first-dates happening in your restaurant on Valentine’s day.
Dating season hits its peak between December 26th and February 14th. Use New Year's Resolutions and personal goals to help your guests end the dating season with great success. Play up common dating goals, and values that people frequently seek in partners on your menus, table decorations, and more to lead blind-dates in a long-term direction.
Make your restaurant the go-to blind date spot. In the weeks leading up to Valentine's day you should advertise on social media, and in your store, why your place is excellent for first-dates or blind dates. Use fun slogans such as "Dine and Date," and then when the day comes, have conversation cards, or ice-breaking games on the table.
For extra fun, discreetly advertise code words that guests can use to communicate to serving staff that the date is going well, or terribly. Make specific drink orders indicative that maybe a guest needs an excuse to leave, or that it'd be great to push coffee and dessert.
A restaurant Valentine’s day special doesn’t have to be exclusive to February 14th. Hold a few blind date evenings in the week leading up to Valentine's day. This type of promotion is an excellent way to boost business on weeknights and bring these new couples back for Valentine's day.
8. Create a Competitive Dining Experience
So people show up for Valentine's day dinner expecting a cliché atmosphere and find they just want something a little different. Now is possibly the best time to be quirky, different, and maybe a little goofy. Promotions don't always have to apply to everyone. A little competition can get more people in the door than you might expect.
Host a “Newlyweds” game, open to all couples at certain times of the night. Diners can choose to play or be part of the “audience” as two or three couples compete for a free meal, free drinks, or some kind of discount.
You can set up this game yourself with nothing more than a few small dry erase boards, markers, and tables for two. Or, you can go the paper route by printing off questionnaires and have diners submit them privately with both partner’s names and answers on each sheet.
Select 15 or 20 questions for each partner to answer about their significant other (and themselves as an “answer sheet”), without discussing the topics. Questions can include: What is their star sign? What’s their favorite restaurant for date night (bonus points for your restaurant), or What is their favorite junk food?
This promotion does offer various levels of engagement. Hosts can ask parties as they come if they’d like to play for a chance to win or watch, and those that don't want to do either can be seated in another area.
With so many fun questions, it's a great way to get couples talking and keep them off their phones for the night. No one will have a romantic dinner while their partner is scrolling or answering texts. Use games and competitions to set your restaurant apart from the others with these unique Valentine's day promotion ideas.
9. Make Special Moments Spectacular
Valentine’s day is the go-to day for making a relationship official and other special milestones such as proposals. Proposals happen everywhere, and your restaurant will likely see a few over the years. Give these people a hand and create an enchanting experience for this couple.
Create a promotion for guests who want to pop the question on Valentine's day. While it may not be a promotion, it is undoubtedly something they won't find anywhere else. Provide a quick-to-seat table reservation, congratulations from the staff, special champagne and dessert presentation, and romantic videos or special messages on the restaurant's TV screens. Live musicians and speaker systems can play a role if you don't have TVs in your dining room.
In 2019 there were an estimated 9 million proposals expected to happen on Valentine’s Day. 2020 will likely bring in even more as people are choosing partners more confidently and are more financially stable.
Deliver a romantic dinner that any couple would remember for years. Try to plan for as much as possible, and maybe put up a few signs inside in the weeks before Valentine's day. Post these at the hostess stand, or at the bar where they are visible but not grabbing too much attention. Explain what the proposal experience could be like during Valentine's day dinner and showcase any promotions you have running for that night as well.
10. Promoting Your Restaurant
People plan for a lovely Valentine's day dinner. It's the first holiday after New Year's, and it shows up in stores from the first week in January. Start showcasing your promotions early, both in your restaurant and on social media. Encourage guests or potential customers to reserve tables early and offer them exclusive promotions for Valentine's day.
For example, you could give the first 20 people to make reservations a 15% discount or a free dessert. Or, build your email list and host an online competition of tagging your restaurant in posts with a random winner receiving a discount.
According to totalfood.com, restaurant reservations increase 433% on Valentine's day compared to the same day of the week before or after February 14th. Most people make their reservations between January 30th and 14th, so you need to advertise your promotions and get people talking well before that first week of February.
While preparing your Valentine's day restaurant promotions, be sure to use a variety of marketing tactics. Put offers on Groupon, print ads to put up in nearby salons or companies in your neighborhood, and of course, advertise or post frequently on social media. Ensure that your restaurant and staff are ready to handle these promotions too. Your POS system should easily allow you to setup special offers, with limited-time promotions.
Use the love fever to increase your restaurant’s income but deliver a spectacular romantic dinner that will result in long-term customers. With unique and playful ideas, you can stand apart from other restaurants that give the standard Valentine's day dining experience.