Tables for Two

Gramercy Tavern combines tradition and innovation on Valentine’s Day, one reason some guests return each year to celebrate the romantic holiday at the New York City landmark restaurant.
Gramercy Tavern combines tradition and innovation on Valentine’s Day, one reason some guests return each year to celebrate the romantic holiday at the New York City landmark restaurant. Ellen Silverman

It’s the second-busiest day of the year and diners are ready to splurge on spending and decadent diets, but savvy restaurateurs build on the passion of the moment to create lasting emotional connections with their guests.

On Valentine’s Day, even the nation’s most romantic full-service restaurants understand there are decadent profits in the details. The National Restaurant Association estimates 25 percent of diners will splurge for something special on February 14, which has operators ramping up their offerings with everything from unique menus to rose petals to parting gifts. Similarly, the National Retail Federation found, in a 2015 study, that last year consumers planned to spend a collective $3.5 billion on going out for Valentine’s Day. For restaurants, finding a way to stand out from the crowded field, and capitalize on the second-busiest day of the year (following only Mother’s Day), can be key. Oftentimes, it’s a matter of elevating a fine-dining experience to an unforgettable one.

At Blantyre, a Relais & Châteaux hotel in Lenox, Massachusetts, the ever-romantic dining room, with its pink tablecloths and candles, is taken up yet another notch. Out come rich, velvet burgundy tablecloths and delicate lace napkins. Antique plates—different styles on each table—are pulled out of storage, and each table is adorned with a vase of black roses, “which our florist has to search for,” says Christopher Brooks, the general manager. “The whole atmosphere of the dining room changes that night.”

“We get a lot of repeat business so we want to make this night different,” he adds. And because of this, on Valentine’s Day, guests—who are mostly from the hotel—tend to stay longer and tables typically aren’t turned.

Valentine’s Day isn’t a day to play it safe, either, says Gregg Rapp, a menu engineer in Palm Springs, California. There’s profit in the romantic details, from the décor to the drummed-up ambiance. “It’s a great time to package meals and experiences,” he says. “Being creative will help your guests remember you year-round for romance. Valentine’s Day gives you permission to push romance buttons and better position your restaurant as a leader in the field.”

Sepia, a restaurant in Chicago serving upscale American fare, also dolls up its dining room for Valentine’s celebrations, putting floor-length ivory overlay tablecloths on the usually bare tables, adding flowers and candles to adorn each two-top, and serenading diners with jazz.

Diners have certain expectations for Valentine’s Day, says New York City restaurant consultant Arlene Spiegel. “They expect the restaurant to put them in the mood for romance,” she explains.

Setting the Mood

In addition to dressing tables with more romantic finery, some restaurants reconfigure the dining room to set the mood for an intimate meal. Petrossian, in West Hollywood, California, reduces the number of tables on Valentine’s Day “because I’d rather guests have a fabulous experience than have those two extra tables come in,” says general manager Christopher Klapp. This way, he explains, there’s more room between the tables.

Canoe, in Atlanta, does the same. This modern American restaurant seats 190 on a typical night but just 160 on Valentine’s Day because several four-top tables are converted to deuces. “Sometimes you’re better off making less money to have people enjoy the experience and want to come back,” says executive chef Matthew Basford.


Add new comment