Restaurant owners are keenly aware how high the stakes are high on Valentine’s Day. Last year the National Restaurant Association found that about a quarter of Americans planned to dine in a restaurant on Feb. 14, ranking it number two (following Mother’s Day) as one of the most popular dining-out occasions.
Not only do more lovebirds eat in restaurants, they are ready to open their wallets. OpenTable diners surveyed last year said they were prepared to fork out an average of $139, about two-thirds more than the typical OpenTable check average of $85 per couple.
A couple of obstacles may derail Valentine’s Day restaurant sales this year: If this winter’s trend toward extremely cold temperatures continues, many couples may decide to create a cozy meal at home. And the wild popularity of the day might scare some would-be guests off as well. That negative trend has been getting traction as more media outlets tell people why they should avoid restaurants on this romantic occasion.
What’s the best defense?
• Create a compelling offer—a luxurious menu, a romantic atmosphere, sexy drinks, a thoughtful touch—something that will entice people away from the warmth of home. Keep in mind that not everyone likes a package deal. OpenTable respondents said they preferred a la carte (63 percent) over fixed-price (33 percent) menus; they were more likely to order a classic three-course meal (56 percent) over sharing small plates (23 percent).
• Consider promoting a romantic lunch instead of dinner for patrons who want to celebrate without the crowds.
• Don’t force your guests to choose Feb. 14. Extend the menu to Feb. 15, since it falls on a Saturday, a perfect date night.
• Offer alternatives to dining in, such as elegantly packaged takeout, which allow crowd-shy guests to relax at home. Chicago’s Madison & Rayne, which delivers all the fixings to assemble a home-cooked meal, is promoting a Valentine’s Day dinner with roasted chestnut soup, braised Amish chicken and flourless chocolate cake. The meal is said to take 10-30 minutes to get on the table using detailed recipes and basic kitchen tools.
• Don’t forget about gift cards and certificates. NRA research found that restaurant gift cards were by far the most desired gift item on Valentine’s Day, preferred by 46 percent of men and 13 percent of women (women were more keen on jewelry, at 37 percent).