Valentine’s Day is the most popular day for restaurant reservations. Though this year is far from typical, you can probably still expect a busy night, even if you’re limited to takeout and delivery or dealing with capacity limits. By creating a Valentine’s Day prix fixe menu, a few romantic specials, or a memorable experience, you can still get a lot of mileage out of the holiday. Here’s how to approach Valentine’s Day this year in ways that will delight your diners, get people talking about, and help you build on your success.
Extend Valentine’s Day beyond the 14th
It’s a good strategy to start the Valentine’s Day theme going a few days before the holiday so everyone can get a chance to enjoy it. “We try to capture individuals who are in the restaurant industry that have to work Valentine’s Day and … make them feel special,” says Kjersti Granberg, general manager of Hell’s Kitchen Minneapolis. Healthcare workers and other essential workers have evening or overnight shifts even on holidays, so extending Valentine’s Day can help them celebrate and feel included, too.
The holiday falls on a Sunday 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 or order takeout from all weekend long can increase covers.
Play to your strengths
“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.” That Valentine’s Day experience reminded Granberg and her team to stick to their strengths. And it’s more important than ever this year to lean into what’s been working.
Market early, market often
In 2019, Hell’s Kitchen sent its first email blast a month before to start encouraging Valentine’s Day reservations. As a popular restaurant, it can rely somewhat on regulars and word of mouth, but extra marketing never hurts. “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,” Granberg says. Now is the time to start communicating with your fans about what you’ll be doing to celebrate the holiday.
Offer shareable plates
In 2021, it’s likely more households will be celebrating Valentine’s Day together, skipping babysitters or overnight visits to the grandparents’s in favor of a patio four-top for the family or a takeout spread to enjoy with a rom-com at home.
Consider highlighting family-friendly shareable dishes from your regular menu instead of developing an entirely new repertoire for the weekend. Or add one or two tried-and-true family-style specials to honor love this year. Make-at-home cocktail kits and festive drinks like Hell’s Kitchen’s “Purgatory Punch” sangria kit can make it feel more like a special occasion for the adults.
Partner with another brand
Double your Valentine’s Day marketing reach by teaming up with other community businesses that share a target demographic. Partnerships give diners an extra incentive to come in, and restaurants enjoy access to another brand’s audience.
In past years, Urbana in Washington DC, has partnered with local beauty shops to give out gift bags with product samples. You could team up with a local florist to include flowers for people to add to their order or offer their date at dinner. Urbana has also used the occasion to give back to the 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.”
Invite diners to become regulars
Special occasions may attract first-time guests, but a bit of effort can turn them into regulars. Post signs or print menus asking Valentine’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 their visit, and invite them to special events big (wine pairing dinner with the winemaker) and small (dessert on the house Tuesdays) throughout the year. 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.
Close the loop on marketing campaigns
Restaurants using OpenTable’s marketing tracking can measure reservations and revenue back to digital marketing channels and campaigns. If you’re tracking already, see how many guests booked as a result of a Google Ad or email send. You can also track ROI on email campaigns with OpenTable’s relationship management features. Whether you promoted a special Valentine’s Day menu or targeted your VIPs to welcome them back, check in to see how many covers and how much revenue was generated directly from your email marketing efforts. (If not, be sure to set up tracking for Mother’s Day!)
Dig into the data
Review the books to see who dined with you on Valentine’s Day. Make note of first-time guests and repeat ones, locals and out-of-towners in guest notes. Integrate your OpenTable and POS systems to analyze the most popular and profitable menu items (from a regular or set menu) and beverages, such as cocktails or bottles of wine.
Thank your guests
Say thank you. Create an email campaign to thank guests who celebrated the holiday with you and invite them back in. If you served a special Valentine’s Day menu, showcase standout items from the regular menu to pique their interest. Consider an incentive for those who come back, such as a complimentary dessert. Don’t forget to add marketing tracking, so you know exactly what worked.