Valentine’s Day. One of the roughest days of the year for many a restaurant. Some call it “amateur night,” filled with high expectations of a quiet, romantic dinner that is at odds with the reality of barely controlled dining chaos. Look around, do you see any of your regulars? Probably not. Maybe they stopped in for a quick drink before it gets busy and then flee the scene. Most of the people you see are new faces.
Some you may be able to capture as new regulars, others are out for a very rare dinner. That’s all great, take good care of these people, it’ll give you a nice bump in an otherwise slow month but there is still so much more potential you can get out of this day.
First, why does it have to be one day? Many regular diners avoid going out on Valentine’s Day but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to have a nice evening to share with their special someone. The weekend before Valentine’s Day is typically a little busier than normal, so why not really capitalize on that? Dial up the romantic in your dining room and menu.
A prixe fixe menu makes sense on the big day but some of your regular diners might not want to get locked into a set Valentine’s Day menu on the other nights. Perhaps offer special dinners for two in the days leading up to the big day. A large roasted red snapper for two with a fennel pine nut stuffing or go classically old school with a chateaubriand sliced table-side with bouquetière of vegetables and a real, house-made béarnaise. Maybe even a full rack of lamb in all its glory. The key here is spectacle, a plate for two has the potential for much wow factor and the visuals can be just as important for making this a memorable evening.
If you do a “date night” menu (offering appetizer, entrees and a bottle of wine for a set price) to fill the tables on what is usually a slow night, the week before might be the time to step it up. A small upcharge for a slightly better choice of entrees or specials. Maybe an expanded selection of wines to choose from or something bubbly.
It’s easy to get so focused on food that sometimes you can forget that there can be more to the experience. Take a look around your dining room. Can you get different table cloths for the week? Maybe some tasteful, romantic decorations to set the mood. Even something small like broaches or buttons for your front of house staff can help to invoke the right mood for all involved.
Flowers, now there’s a quandary. Flowers can be prohibitively expensive on Valentine’s Day but deals can be had a week or so in advance and flowers do last longer under refrigeration (check your local health ordinances before putting them in the walk in with food). A flower offered to each couple is a nice touch - roses might steal someone’s thunder, consider a red tulip or a strikingly purple iris instead. If your Valentine’s Day celebrations extend for a few days after the actual date, all manner of flower can be had for pennies on the dollar…
The memories also don’t have to stop at the end of the meal. Present each couple with a small box to take home with the check. A decadent house-made chocolate truffle or delicate petit four in that box makes for a perfect closer and cements the memory of the evening in your guests' minds.
Know Your Diners
Of course, not every restaurant is quietly romantic. Some are loud and boisterous, more tuned to larger groups and less intimate dining. Valentine’s Day, or Valentine’s Week, is just another week for them. Or is it? The trendy new hamburger joint with amazing fries might not top the list for those looking for that special, candle lit evening. Neither the hot new pizza place with their VPN certified Neapolitan pies. Sure, there might be a bump in traffic and a surge of younger couples, but have you maximized your traffic for the special day? What about families?
Valentine’s Day this year falls on a Tuesday. Have you ever tried to get a sitter on a Tuesday, much less on a day like Valentine’s? Even if they did procure one, they’re going to be demanding premium rates. Wouldn’t you prefer that extra $40 or $50 in your till? Of course. So don’t forget to create a special children’s menu to go along with the adult version. And give them some real options. Not every kid lives on chicken nuggets or spaghetti. Take a few of the standard favorites and add a few that mirror your own menu. Dial down the spices but keep the taste and the quality. The gnocchi in basil pesto their parents like will fly with the kids in a more simple brown butter. Or you could change your mushroom risotto into a creamy parmesan version. Remember, parents tend to taste their kid’s foods, they’ll appreciate their children not being served food that was frozen solid a short time ago.
An expanded Valentine Week. Special menus. Romantically themed gifts. All these things will help elevate your dining service, as long as you have guests. Don’t forget to get the word out. Facebook posts announcing your plans. Instagram photos of special dishes coming out of your kitchen. Emails to your regulars encouraging them to come in. What? You don’t have an email list of your regulars to let them know about special nights and exclusive offers? Get on it!
February can be a lean time. Bad weather and holiday bills dampening demand for dining. Making the most of Valentine’s Week could be just the thing to help you make the month a positive to your bottom line.