For restaurants, Valentine’s Day is a big deal, bringing 25 percent of all Americans out to eat (according to the National Restaurant Association). Even more so than other special evenings, Valentine’s Day is about getting all the little details right — from the food to the playlist — and going the extra mile to make your guests feel special. Learn how to best capitalize on this busy holiday, from the weeks before to the night of.
1. Incentivize mobile payments. There’s nothing less romantic than volleying over the check on Valentine’s Day. With platforms like OpenTable Tab, your diners can pay directly on their mobile phones, avoiding the hassle of the check and making for a more seamless dining experience.
2. Offer other add-ons for early bookings. The earlier someone books a reservation, the better a handle your restaurant managers will have on the evening. Encourage diners to book at least two weeks out by offering up specials like a free glass of wine or dessert on the house if you make your reservation by a certain date.
3. Create a special student menu. Located near a university of any kind? Chances are, there are lots of college couples eager to find a place to eat on Valentine’s Day that’s won’t totally break the bank. Have a special set menu that’s slightly scaled back and more affordable that you can advertise to students. Don’t forget: word of mouth on college campuses can be particularly strong, so this sort of offer can go a long way in building a customer base.
4. Give departing guests a special treat. Valentine’s Day is a big gifting holiday, so what better way to leave guests with a lasting impression than to send them off with a thoughtful token of appreciation? Whether it’s homemade chocolate truffles, granola for breakfast the next morning, or simply some flowers — get creative, and make sure it is a memento that exemplifies your restaurant to the T.
5. Partner with other local businesses to cross-promote your offerings. Get to know the neighborhood florists, jewelers, and musicians, and come up with ways that you can each advertise for one another. For example, give out roses from the neighborhood florist to all outgoing guests, and in exchange, ask your florist to include a special discount card for your restaurant in each flower order in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day. Both parties benefit, and you won’t even have to spend a cent.
6. Set the mood. Creating the right atmosphere, particularly on Valentine’s Day, is vital. And we’re not just talking about dim lighting. Make sure that every aspect of your restaurant — from the flowers on the table, to the music playing, to the attire of you servers — captures your desired tone. Go the extra mile in making a custom playlist, or add special tablecloths just to make sure that your guests are getting the best possible vibes when they come in for dinner.
7. Get to know your guests. When guests make a reservation, encourage them to add in details about their likes and dislikes in the notes section; you can even go a step further and send your guest an email to ask about any special preferences, whether it be related to wine, dessert, or specific interests. It means a lot when a server shows up at a table already prepped with a selection of Napa cabs because he or she knows they are a favorite — little gestures like this pay large dividends.
8. Make sharing easy. On a night like Valentine’s Day, it’s common for couples to want to split dishes. If you’re offering a tasting menu, make sure everything is easily shareable or comes in multiples of two. If you’re sticking with a la carte, think about serving half portions, or samplers, to allow guests to split lots of different plates.
9. Be ready for proposals. Valentine’s Day is — no surprise — one of the most popular nights for proposals. It’s likely that a guest will tell you in advance if a proposal is going to happen, but if he or she doesn’t, be prepared to send out a champagne toast, flowers, or a special gift to the couple. And have everything out and ready before service, whether you know a proposal is happening or not — don’t be scrambling at the last minute to come up with something special.