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.
Partner with another brand
Get the word out about group-friendly festivities by teaming up with other community businesses that share a target demographic. This year, Parcel 32 plans to partner with a local barre gym or spa, so guests can enter to win a giveaway for treatments or a class package. Partnerships give diners an extra incentive to come in, and restaurants enjoy access to another brand’s audience.
Similarly, Urbana has partnered with local beauty shops for makeovers, giving out gift bags with products. They also used the occasion to give back to their community, donating a dollar from every item sold to No Kid Hungry and accepting clothing donations for the local nonprofit N Street Village. “We had a great turnout,” Brewster says. “Our donation box was full of clothing for N Street Village.”
Debut a new space
Parcel 32 opened The Parlour, their second-floor cocktail lounge, on New Year’s Eve of last year, so it was still brand new to the public when Valentine’s Day rolled around. A bold floral wall and soft colors give it an ideal vibe for Galentine’s Day, says Miller.
The restaurant hosted a special February 13 event in the new space, giving groups and singles a perfect place to toast. “It’s a chance to go out and celebrate with the other loves in your life – your friends,” Miller says.
Prepare to staff up
Last year’s Galentine’s Day event was even more successful than Miller’s team anticipated. “It was a lot busier than we had expected. People really responded to it, and we were packed the whole time,” she says. This year, they will staff up more to accommodate party-goers.
“The dining experience, interaction between guests, and service provided can have an impact on this busy day,” adds Shane. Put the right talent in place to deliver the kind of hospitality guests will rave about.
Invite guests back in
Special occasions may attract first-time guests, but the effort truly pays off when they become regulars. Post signs or print menus asking Galentine’s Day guests to tag your restaurant on social media, then leave comments and ask permission to re-post.
Giveaways and other promotions give you a chance to collect email addresses, thank them for the visit, and invite them to special events throughout the year (dessert on the house!). Record memorable moments and dining preferences in OpenTable’s Guest Notes, and target repeat diners using OpenTable’s digital marketing. You can recognize guests who come back and treat them to more of what they loved.
*Based on seated online reservations made through OpenTable.
Photos courtesy of Parcel 32 and Sunda New Asian.