Parties of two make up the bulk of reservations on Valentine’s Day, but not every diner is part of a couple, and restaurants are increasingly finding ways to make this ever-romantic occasion inclusive for all guests. After all, that’s what hospitality is all about.
In fact, nearly one-fifth of Valentine’s Day reservations* in 2019 were for parties of more than two people. We asked restaurants how they leverage a festive season to attract groups and singles, from Galentine’s Day celebrations to brand partnerships. Try these tips to win over guests and fill your books beyond the 14th.
Encourage communal dining
Like many restaurants, Chicago’s Sunda New Asian is filled with couples on Valentine’s Day, but the most energized areas of the restaurant are the communal tables and sushi bar, says director of operations Brett Shane. “Communal-style dining allows large groups to still enjoy the evening interacting with other diners next to them,” he explains, adding that “single diners are a fan of our sushi bar.” There’s entertainment for everyone: Communal seatings sparks conversation and engagement, and singles at the bar can watch sushi masters at work.
Show off shareable plates
Restaurant operators agree that when it comes to group celebrations, shareable dishes are key. Charleston’s Parcel 32 chose Bubbles and Pearls as their 2019 theme, serving Champagne specials (half-off select bottles) and $1.50 oysters. This time around, they will pair half-bottles of wine with cheese plates. “Smaller, shareable plates make for a much more social experience,” says Brittany Miller, the group’s director of marketing.
At Sunda, the kitchen developed new dishes specifically for sharing, including baked oysters with uni lobster butter. For Washington, DC’s Urbana, last year’s Galentine’s Day included $10 pizza and prosecco. “Instead of bottles of wine, offer drink specials or large-format cocktails that can be shared with friends,” advises Ryan Brewster, the restaurant’s general manager.
But don’t forget your regular hits
In addition to Valentine’s Day specials, many restaurants offer their full dinner menu on Valentine’s Day, so single and group diners don’t feel limited by the set menus that tend to rule on holidays. “If you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day, great. If you’re not, we have you covered, too,” says Brewster. Shane swears the format (something familiar, something new) pays off: “Year after year, Sunda has always been booked by couples and large group parties.”
Miller recommends highlighting relevant shareable dishes from your regular menu instead of developing an entirely new repertoire for Galentine’s Day—especially if your kitchen is already learning a new Valentine’s Day menu.
Make it playful and fun
Whether as singles, couples, or groups, guests are out to celebrate the week of Valentine’s Day – themes and gimmicks are welcome. Along with Parcel 32’s Bubbles and Pearls, the restaurant served decadent chocolates and petit fours. This year, Sunda will serve a Bleeding Heart sushi roll and “umelicious” pink plum sake. “These dishes are not just for couples, they’re great options for large groups and single diners as well,” says Shane.
If over-the-top romance isn’t on brand, consider the opposite extreme: Bar Pilar in Washington, DC, offered an anti-Valentine’s Day menu with offal dishes and bitter cocktails.
Alternatively, consider a female-centric approach. This Galentine’s Day, Urbana’s lead bartender will create three themed cocktails using spirits from Republic Restoratives, a local small-batch, women-owned distillery and bar. A DJ will spin from a power-themed playlist while guests make memories in a photo booth and everyone who visits the bar gets a complimentary glass of bubbles. [Read more…]