Hell’s Kitchen Minneapolis is one of the most-booked restaurants in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, and the restaurant certainly doesn’t slow down on Valentine’s Day. The American restaurant with an all-day menu (it’s open 7 am to 10 pm daily) takes great care to make Valentine’s Day special for its guests.
As restaurants strive to prepare profitable set menus and milk Valentine’s Day marketing for all that it’s worth, we chatted with Hell’s Kitchen general manager of ten years Kjersti Granberg to hear her advice for how to create a memorable holiday for guests and successful one for the restaurant.
1. Keep Valentine’s Day inclusive…and extended
Hell’s Kitchen purposely keeps its Valentine’s Day celebration going for multiple days so everyone can get a chance to experience it — especially those who work in the service industry. “We try to keep it as inclusive as possible because it’s hard just to secure a reservation on that night,” Granberg says. “We try to always push a weekend-long one because we have 140 employees who are in the restaurant industry but also still celebrate Valentine’s Day. We try to capture individuals who are in the restaurant industry that have to work Valentine’s Day and bring them in all weekend, treat them, and make them feel special.”
The holiday falls on a Friday this year, so this tactic is especially smart. Marketing your restaurant as a Galentine’s Day destination and a spot for couples to drop in all weekend long can increase covers.
2. Don’t bite off more than you can chew
A restaurant open for eighteen years and counting is bound to have some cautionary tales to share. There’s something to be said for taking a risk and trying something new, but unpreparedness can lead to chaos. “One year, we tried to do a menu where Chef actually came out with little carts and made the Caesar salad in front of [guests], and that was a disaster,” Granberg says.
“That’s not something that we normally do, ” she explains. “We didn’t set the table turns long enough, and it just got to be chaotic. We have a really big restaurant, and we underestimated how many chefs we would need to keep things on schedule. We got through the night, but it was one of those moments where we thought, ‘Let’s just focus on what we do and do it really well.’”
That wasn’t the only misfire they’ve had over the years. “One year, we tried to do a tomahawk steak that was meant to be shared by two,” says Granberg. “We underestimated the amount of time that it took to cook those steaks, and everybody coming in wanted them. We ended up having to apologize publicly and giving away more than we probably took in that night.”
Once again, that experience reminded Granberg and her team to stick to their strengths.
This year, Hell’s Kitchen will serve its regular menu plus a few specials crafted by the kitchen, including a pheasant entree (in celebration of downtown Minneapolis’s National Pheasant Fest) and a play on a PB&J dessert with a sugar cookie, peanut butter ice cream, and blackberry ginger jam ice cream. A guest favorite that’s on the menu year-round but is especially popular for Valentine’s Day is the Bleeding Heart Brownie with “raspberry juice caviar splatters.”
3. Market early, market often
Hell’s Kitchen sent its first email blast a month before Valentine’s Day to start encouraging reservations. As a popular restaurant, it can rely somewhat on regulars and word of mouth, but extra marketing never hurts. “We get pretty lucky because we’re downtown and we’re a well-known name; we don’t have to push too hard,” Granberg says. “But email blasts and social media are our best friends in those instances — Instagram more so now than Facebook.”
“We’ve got a lot of people in our contacts that we send that email blast to, and we have a pretty successful open rate, so we really hit that hard,” she says, adding that they have three more emails scheduled before Valentine’s Day. Hell’s Kitchen also updated its website early with a banner promoting its “intimate, romantic Valentine’s celebration each evening” from February 14-16, which links to a page with all the V-Day details.
Our takeaway: small things make a big difference
4. Think about every detail of the experience
The Hell’s Kitchen team thinks of something small to showcase every Valentine’s Day to add a special touch. This year, it’s a photo booth they’ve dubbed a kissing booth. If guests know to mention the booth to the staff, they get a free token. It’s a fun and crowd-pleasing activity that also sends people home with a memento.
Small touches such as adding extra candles and ensuring staff are dressed up a little bit are some of Granberg’s other tips for small things that can make a difference. Should a proposal take place, the staff will give the couple a champagne toast — or a dessert toast for underage lovebirds. Additionally, Hell’s Kitchen will have live music all weekend long, as it usually does.
In terms of providing the best service that night, Granberg says, “ it’s really [about] the interaction between the server and the guest and the attention — or the lack thereof.” She encourages her staff to find the sweet spot between paying enough attention so people feel special and giving them enough space to enjoy the evening as a couple.