With Valentine’s Day second only to Mother’s Day in restaurant visits, Mother Nature played a cruel joke last week, dumping snow across multiple regions within the U.S., just as restaurateurs were readying for Cupid’s big night.
In the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, where the populace has little experience dealing with winter’s icy grip, cities and towns all but shut down until the storm passed.
The snow, which hit Atlanta on Tuesday, February 11th and remained a concern through Thursday, February 13th, disappointed diners and caused revenue losses for restaurateurs and their staff.
By 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, reports Cliff Bramble, co-owner with chef Kevin Rathbun of Rathbun Restaurants, 50 percent of the evening’s reservations cancelled. Rathbun Restaurants, all located in the Atlanta area, include Rathbun’s, Kevin Rathbun Steak, KR Steakbar, and KROG Bar.
Determined to open on Thursday, Bramble tested the roads with a six-mile drive to Rathbun’s, the group’s signature spot. He made it without too much trouble.
“Keeping it closed Thursday, the day before Valentine’s Day, would not have been good for us,” says Bramble. “We had to be here to deal with the prep for Friday night anyway. By noon, we started confirming reservations, and again 50 percent cancelled for the night.”
However, staff was appreciative that the restaurant opened, and guests that did show up were also appreciative. “A lot of our employees needed to make money,” says Bramble.
The menu also had to be changed. “We had to go with half the menu at Kevin Rathbun Steak,” says Bramble. “It was not an issue with products, as we had enough. We could not get the staff to the restaurant, so the kitchen only had two of nine employees on the kitchen line.”
Aria, known for its contemporary American cuisine, closed both Wednesday and Thursday, although its cooking crew showed up for prep for Friday night. Fresh fish, meats, and vegetables had to get tossed. Liquor deliveries scheduled for Friday didn’t make it.
Valentine Day deliveries are tricky anyway,” says Gerry Klaskala, chef and owner, but the storm posed even greater challenges. “Up and down the supply chain there were problems,” he says.
Throughout the storm, Klaskala was in constant contact with purveyors, so he had ample warning if a planned ingredient was going to be missing. Menus are updated nightly anyway, so creating a new option wasn’t a big deal for Klaskala.
Valentine’s Day, the shining sun melted most of the show, and Aria and Rathbun Restaurants both garnered record business.
“Friday was a record, the busiest night we ever had, even compared to past Valentine Day’s',” says Klaskala. “Cabin fever brought out diners in record numbers.”
Saturday night was a repeat of Friday. “We are always busy, but this was even busier than most,” says Klaskala. Diners celebrated Valentine’s Day all weekend long.
To recoup some of their losses, both Aria and Rathbun’s stayed opened Sunday night, even though they are typically closed that day. “We didn’t have enough seats for everyone on Valentine’s Day, so this gave our guests an option to have a romantic diner with their significant other,“ says Klaskala.
“It was a great night—we filled every seat,” he adds.
“If we hadn’t opened on Sunday, we would have been down for the week,” says Bramble. “We ended up doing pretty well for the week. And the staff made money.”
Adds Bramble, “At this point, everyone is pretty happy.”
By Joann Whitcher