Valentine’s has been celebrated as a day of romance since the Middle Ages. And while the National Retail Federation (NRF) may report a slight decline in the number of people observing the day, it’s also witnessed a rise in the individual dollar amounts being spent by those who do choose to celebrate, with a quarter of them planning to give experiences to their loved ones.
One of the biggest bonuses for operators this year is the fact that Valentine’s Day falls on a Friday, opening additional opportunities to capture the all-important weekend and tourist crowd. According to the NPD Group, restaurant receipts have been historically higher when Valentine’s Day falls on a weekend. Similarly, OpenTable reports that a quarter of diners want to try something new on V-Day and therefore opt for an out-of-town restaurant.
Additionally, over the past few years reservations have been growing in the days surrounding the holiday, with OpenTable finding that reservations increased 16 percent in the days before and after Valentine’s Day 2018.
To make the most of this potentially lucrative day, restaurants around the country are offering promotions that best fit guests’ schedules.
The Melting Pot, with more than 100 locations, affords several ways to celebrate the whole week around Valentine’s. While most stores serve a prix fixe menu, others also go a step farther.
In 2019, the Maple Shade, New Jersey, location of Melting Pot ran its special Sweetheart Menu from February 8 through 18. A Little Sweetheart Lunch, a date reserved for parents and children, was set for February 10. And on February 28, women could enjoy a three-course set menu for Galentine’s Day.
In Seattle, Melting Pot’s 2019 offering included five days of romance along with nine packages to choose from, ranging from rose petals scattered on the table for an $8.95 upcharge, to the Ultimate Night of Romance, with dinner, a dozen roses in a vase, rose petals, candles, bubbly, six chocolate-dipped strawberries to-go, and unlimited nonalcoholic beverages for $275.
According to Earnest Research, a data firm that tracks consumer spending, promotions like the ones offered by Melting Pot make a big difference in the bottom line. Consumers are open to spending more during special occasions like Valentine’s Day, and it shows. Earnest Research reports that in 2018 the Melting Pot’s average ticket increased by 31 percent for Valentine’s week and by 158 percent on Valentine’s Day.
Sometimes a week or two isn’t enough time to celebrate. Firebirds Wood Fired Grill, with 49 restaurants in 19 states, highlights the entire month of love with a lunch and dinner sharing promotion built for two, starting at $29.95. Guests share a starter and dessert while enjoying their own entrée from a selection of filet mignon, blue cheese filet, or crab-crowned filet. “We’ve been running the 28-day promotion for the past three years,” says Stephen Loftis, vice president of marketing for Firebirds. “There’s about a two-week period in the month of February where folks are celebrating with their significant other. We’ve also seen them celebrate at lunch and dinner.”
Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse is also a popular Valentine’s Day splurge (American cuisine is the favored cuisine for the occasion, according to OpenTable). This year the chain is offering two specials from February 7 to 16: a celebration Surf & Turf, starting at $49.95, and a 40-ounce Porterhouse for Two, starting at $129.
Seasons 52, a Darden Concepts restaurant with nearly 50 locations, extends its holiday offerings to the 5 Days of Valentines. On the first day, children under 12 get a free dessert; on the second day, there’s a wine and flatbread promotion; the third day has $5 mini bottles of prosecco for Galentine’s Day; day four is endless prosecco at a set price; and day five culminates into Valentine’s Day, where guests with proposals on their mind can get engaged at Seasons 52 and enjoy a free champagne toast each time they dine in the coming year.
But no matter how appealing V-Day specials may be, consumers sometimes crave a cozy night in. Therein lies a new off-premises opportunity for restaurants. Firebirds’ Loftis says that Valentine’s Day is one of the biggest takeout days of the year. “Our Valentine’s Day promotion is available for delivery and to-go orders, and we’ll be marketing it that way,” he says.
Most of the Melting Pot locations also offer to-go fondue kits for Valentine’s Day, which include items such as chocolate fondue, rose petals, a code for a complimentary movie, candles, and a teddy bear or Valentine’s balloon.
Gift cards can also help capture business, especially from guests who refrain from dining out in February. “We do a three-day gift card flash sale prior to Valentine’s Day,” Loftis says. “For each $100 spent, the guest gets $20 free; so they can use it for Valentine’s month or later.”
Whether restaurants extend promotions, expand their offerings, or upcharge for special experiences, embracing V-Day is the perfect way to cushion the bottom line amid a winter sales slump.