Valentine’s Day is a big deal for restaurants, bringing 25 percent of all Americans out to eat, according to the National Restaurant Association. Even more so than other special evenings, Valentine’s Day is about getting all the little details right — from the food to the playlist — and going the extra mile to make guests feel special. Learn how to best capitalize on this busy holiday, from the weeks before to the night of.
1. Offer other add-ons for early bookings. The earlier someone books a reservation, the better prepared your restaurant managers will be. Encourage diners to book at least two weeks out by offering specials such as a free glass of wine or dessert on the house if you make your reservation by a certain date.
2. Give departing guests a special treat. Valentine’s Day is a big gifting holiday, so leave guests with a lasting impression by sending them home with a thoughtful token of appreciation. Whether it’s homemade chocolate truffles, granola for breakfast the next morning, or you get more creative, make sure it’s a memento that exemplifies your restaurant to a T.
3. Partner with other local businesses to cross-promote your offerings. Get to know the neighborhood florists, jewelers, and musicians, and come up with ways that you can each advertise for one another. For example, give out roses from the neighborhood florist to all outgoing guests; in exchange, the florist could include a special discount card for your restaurant in each flower order in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day. Both parties benefit, and you won’t have to spend a cent.
4. Set the mood. Creating the right atmosphere is vital. And we’re not just talking about dim lighting. Make sure that every aspect of your restaurant — from the flowers on the table to the music playing and the attire of your servers — captures your desired tone. Go the extra mile in making a custom playlist or add special tablecloths to guarantee guests pick up on the best possible vibes when they come in for dinner.
5. Get to know your guests. When guests make a reservation, encourage them to add in details about their likes and dislikes in the notes section; you can even go a step further and send an email to ask about any special preferences, whether it be related to wine, dessert, or specific interests. It means a lot when a server shows up at a table already prepped with a selection of Napa cabs because he or she knows they are a favorite — little gestures can pay large dividends.
6. Make sharing easy. On a night like Valentine’s Day, it’s common for couples to want to split dishes. Design your tasting menu with that in mind, making everything easily shareable or in multiples of two. If you’re sticking with a la carte, think about serving half portions or samplers to allow guests to split lots of different plates.
7. Create a special student menu. Located near a university of any kind? Chances are lots of college couples are eager to find a place to eat on Valentine’s Day that’s won’t totally break the bank. Have a special set menu that’s slightly scaled back and more affordable that you can advertise to students. Don’t forget: word of mouth on college campuses can be particularly strong, so this sort of offer can go a long way in building a customer base.
8. Be ready for proposals. Valentine’s Day is — no surprise — one of the most popular nights for proposals. It’s likely that a guest will tell you in advance if a proposal is going to happen, but if he or she doesn’t, be prepared to send out a champagne toast, flowers, or a special gift to the couple. Have everything out and ready before service, whether you know a proposal is happening or not — don’t be scrambling at the last minute to come up with something special.