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Valentine's Day is the second-most popular day to dine out in America, second only to Mother's Day. And although 2022 still looks different than normal years — with takeout, delivery, and bundled-up outdoor dining being the safest ways to celebrate — there are still many creative ways to provide a Valentine's experience with great food and hospitality.
For many couples, families, and friend groups celebrating Valentine's, a special meal is the best gift. To capture a piece of the millions of dollars set to be spent in restaurants this Valentine's Day, try one of these unique approaches to make your restaurant stand out — even in this non-traditional year — with great marketing, menu ideas, and special offers and promotions.
Valentine's Day Restaurant Ideas
1. Non-traditional themes for a non-traditional year
This year, it's a good idea to keep a close eye on what guests are turning to for comfort during these strange times, and see if you can provide a dinner experience to match. For example, back in 2017, Found Kitchen and Social House in Evanston, Illinois built their prix-fixe menu around classic romantic comedies.
Courses included a mini pastrami sandwich on rye and a side salad with “dressing on the side,” inspired by When Harry Met Sally, and a grilled steak al forno with pasta, which Cher makes for Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck, among others, according to The Chicago Tribune.
Another theme that's easily implemented is Take-Home Romance. In 2021, Tucker’s Silk Mill offered a full dinner-kit feast for two, featuring strawberries, short rib ragu, and chocolate cake.
COVID-friendly tip: A theme can extend to takeout and delivery just as easy as it does in house. Make sure that your themed menu is available and translates well to takeout to include as many guests as possible.
2. Class it up: host an online or in-person cooking class
Couples cooking classes are a fantastic way to celebrate love and offer a shared experience — with your brand at the center. Last year, Red Lantern hosted a (socially distant) sushi-making class for couples. The class offered step-by-step sushi instruction along with appetizers and sake pairings.
COVID-friendly tip: Turn the in-person sushi-making class into a take-home box with everything included and a virtual class. The class could be a pre-recorded video with the link included, or a live Zoom class for several couples at once.
3. Cater to the kids
Married couples with kids may not feel comfortable calling a babysitter this year, so spread the love and make a celebration event for the whole family. Offer a family meal special, a kid-friendly dessert, or a free kids entree with the purchase of an adult one as your gift to busy parents.
COVID-friendly tip: Offer a takeout family pack meal with your Valentine’s Day menu that is super-sized for the whole family.
4. Set up an outdoor pop-up
With restricted indoor dining, set up an outdoor pop-up, if the weather allows. As long as it's not raining or snowing, guests are willing to brave frigid temperatures to experience a special meal. The Barn Steakhouse in Evanston, IL, for example, hosted a Valentine’s Day tented ticketed dining experience with limited seating.
Even having a few patio seats open for those willing to dine out while super bundled up to celebrate Valentine's will keep your guests and staff safer.
COVID-friendly tip: Make sure that the tables are socially distanced and well ventilated if using tents, and limit tickets to avoid overcrowding.
5. Celebrate at-home happy hour
Pre-COVID, happy hours were always a great way to bring customers and highlight special days. Now, many states are allowing take-out alcohol, so the happy hours can continue… they just look a little different. Try offering reduced prices on takeout appetizers and drinks, or even add a specialty Valentine's Day cocktail or two.
You can also switch it up by creating make-your-own-cocktail kits, and turning the happy hour into a fun activity. It's a great opportunity to share your recipes with your guests, and they'll see just how much effort — and special ingredients — goes into your drinks.
6. Valentine’s Day gift card program
Gift cards are a great way to generate short-term revenue and promote repeat visits to your restaurant. At Valentine’s Day, they make a great present, as they're a promise for future dates and dinners.
Promote your gift card availability in the context of a gift. Or think bigger than a one-off sale and promote a long-term program, perhaps with special pricing.
One idea: Promote a gift card with messaging tied to the (hopeful) end of the pandemic and return to normalcy, perhaps with copy like “I’d Follow You to the End (of the Pandemic).” Then, offer a multi-month gift card buying option.
You can also do a social media campaign that explains how gift cards are like mini-investments in your business getting through this tough time.
COVID-friendly tip: Along with physical gift cards, offer e-gift cards that guests can buy on your website.
7. Time your email campaign
For the best chances of success, make sure your customers know how you might fit into their 2022 Valentine’s Day plans — and make sure your messaging get to them at the right time.
Email is a great way to do this. Many people are going to make a last-minute decision, so send an email a few days before and one the day before letting your guests know what you have planned for the holiday.
Remind them to order from your special Valentine’s menu, buy gift cards, or offer a discount code for the 14th only.
COVID-friendly option: Make sure the discount code extends to takeout as well, to include all potential Valentine’s Day diners.
8. Engage your social media following
Holidays are an excellent opportunity to raise awareness for your restaurant’s social media accounts.
Restaurant chain Mimi's Cafe has found a way to increase traffic to their both Facebook page and their restaurant on Valentine's Day. One year, those who declared their love on the Mimi's Facebook page got a free entreé for their efforts.
“Love is in the air at Mimi’s and also online,” said Mimi's CMO Steward Slocum. “We embrace the opportunity to provide a free entrée offer to those who share their love on Mimi’s Facebook page leading into the lovers’ holiday.”
COVID-friendly option: Again, make sure that your promotion extends to takeout and delivery as well as in-person dining.
9. Build loyalty love
Your most loyal customers are always going to want to hear from you, so make sure to reach out to them and let them know what you have in store.
You can offer double points for guests using your loyalty program on Valentine's Day, or a free dessert if they sign up. This one helps you in two ways: you bring in guests on the holiday, and build your loyalty base and email list for the future.
10. Run ads on facebook and google
If you have a bit of money to spare, Facebook ads and Google ads can go a long way. On these ads, make sure your restaurant name is front and center along with a clear call-to-action, like "Reserve today!" or "Book now!".
The Russian Team Room in New York was able to secure the top ad spot "Manhattan Valentine's Day reservations”, and direct customers right to their website.
When you click on their ad, you're redirected to a prix fixe menu for their Valentine's Day event, as well as a prompt to download the PDF menu or book a table immediately.
Spread the Love
Valentine's Day is sure to be a good day for both restaurants and diners.
If you haven't gotten started on your Valentine's Day marketing plan yet, download the Restaurant Holiday Handbook for more ideas and check out the Marketing Plan Template below to get some more ideas.
Learn how guest marketing tools can help you get your customers coming back.