Valentine’s Day is for lovers, sure, and it’s also a great holiday for restaurateurs. (What a win-win when you fit both categories!) As a restaurateur, Valentine’s Day offers an opportunity to attract new business, promote new items and wow guests with tantalizing specials, popular menu items, fantastic service and a romantic atmosphere.
As you know, February 14 (Valentine’s Day falls on a Saturday this year) is one of the biggest dining-out days on the calendar. For the typical consumer, it’s a day to splurge on loved ones. And that’s where you come in. Better yet, where your customers come in—come into your place for a great meal, quality service and a memorable romantic experience. Getting them in the door takes some effort on your part, of course. Here are six tips to help jump-start the process.
1. Plan ahead to get the most out of your menu on Valentine’s Day.
Put your goals in writing. We humans are visual creatures, wired so we pay more attention to things that are set down in writing. try it: jot down your goals for Valentine’s Day. Be as specific as possible. This will help you focus on what needs to be done to give you the best shot at hitting your target.
For example, you want to increase traffic to your restaurant. Now get specific: you want to increase traffic by how much? Which potential audiences will you tap to make this happen? How can you best get the word out to these target markets? Which menu items hold the most appeal for these prospective guests?
You want to see sales jump—what is your sales target? Which menu items can you feature that will enable this to happen? What kind of special offers or menus will contribute to meeting this goal?
You want to fill every table—what will that look like for you? Will you rearrange your dining space to primarily seat couples? Reserve a separate area for families with children? Will you stagger reservations? Limit reservations to, say, the first 80 couples and make an entire evening of it with music, dinner, dancing and drinks?
You want to provide your guests with a memorable experience—what specific ingredients go into your version of memorable? Music, dimmed lighting, candles, flowers, table and house decorations, a complimentary rose or carnation, a special Valentine’s Day Menu for Two? How will the experience you offer be different from other restaurants? What will you do to create a mood in keeping with your restaurant concept?
By setting clear, specific goals you help give yourself a clearer picture of what you will need to reach them. And a leg up on your competition.
If you’ve not already started the planning process, begin now. Focus on the aspects of your plan that are most crucial for you. Decide where you need to direct your efforts. Focus on the activities that will give you the biggest return on your investment of time and energy. While you’re looking ahead, look back, too. Review strategies that have worked well for you in the past, as well as those that were less than successful in helping you meet your goals. What past practices will you build on, tweak, change radically or eliminate altogether? Give yourself some dedicated time to work on this project. It’s worth your full attention.
2. Build your Valentine’s Day offerings around your popular higher-profit menu items
Many of your guests see Valentine’s Day as an excuse to splurge and treat themselves and their loved ones to something extra-special. Be sure to give them the opportunity. Look to your menu as you create a recipe for success on Valentine’s Day. Review your higher-profit and higher-dollar menu items, suitable for a special Valentine’s Day meal and already popular with your customers. Include these among your features on Valentine’s Day. It’s a great chance to offer a new dish as a special, one that will entice your guests’ appetite and imagination. If it does well, you might consider running it again or adding it to your menu as a regular item.
To keep your kitchen from being overwhelmed with a variety of orders, consider offering a limited menu. Include several of your higher-profit entrées as well as appetizers, soups, salads and desserts.
Or offer a prix fixe or fixed-price menu. Include a glass of champagne, appetizer, soup, salad, entrée, dessert and coffee or tea, all for a set price per person or per couple. Let your guests choose among two or three appetizers, a couple of entrées and a host of desserts (including something with loads of chocolate—it’s a well-known aphrodisiac). Call it “Our Special Valentine’s Day Dinner” or “Valentine’s Day Gourmet Dinner for Two,” something fancy.
3. Promote thyself.
You have to let your regular guests and potential customers know what you’re doing for Valentine’s Day. Promote your store’s offerings through all the advertising channels that make sense for you: your restaurant’s website, social media, email blasts, print media, radio and/or television. Promote your special celebration to the guests in your restaurant right now. Use table toppers, posters and other displays to encourage them to make plans that include you on February 14 (or the 13th, or 15th.) Invite them to make reservations now. Consider offering some give-aways to sweeten the deal: roses for the ladies, two-for-one dinner specials, complimentary champagne or a free dessert.
4. Do. Delegate. Outsource.
Do what you do best. Delegate the rest. Outsource what makes sense. You can’t outsource the personal relationships you build with your guests. And with your staff. You can’t outsource the professional service your staff provides your guests. Or the staff training it takes make sure that happens. But there are plenty of tasks you can outsource.
Put someone in charge of decorations, music, flowers, candles and more. Outsource advance advertising: radio, print ads, table toppers, posters, banners, flyers and the like. Got a point person for social media? Let your customers know what you’ll offer on Valentine’s Day via Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. Send reminders a couple days before the event. You may want to outsource your specialty menus to get a professional look that will add to the event.
5. Put your plan into action.
Come Valentine’s Day, make sure you’ve adequately staffed both the front of the house and the kitchen. Use your best servers—seasoned, experienced staff who know how to suggestively upsell items, who can manage multiple tables at once and keep the evening running smoothly. You want your guests to relax, enjoy and experience your restaurant at its best.
After the event is over and while the experience is fresh in your mind, take a few moments to evaluate your experience.
• Did you meet your goals?
• Why or why not?
• What actions or strategies paid off for you?
• What does the experience have to teach you?
• Based on your experience this year, what will you do the same again next year?
• What will you do differently?
• In what areas can you improve?
We’ve outlined some basic steps for getting more out of your Valentine’s Day efforts—more money and customer good-will, that is. The love part is up to you . . . .
• Take time to plan your strategy.
• Look at your menu: what are your popular higher-profit items? Consider featuring these on Valentine’s Day, perhaps on a limited menu or a set-price menu.
• Promote your event in many different channels.
• Do what you must; delegate all you can; outsource where it makes sense.
• Staff appropriately.
• Afterwards, take time to evaluate. Use what you learned to refine your strategies for upcoming holidays.
We’d love to hear about what’s worked and working for you. Leave us a comment below.