You might as well start ordering champagne and strawberries now.
Like so many holidays, Valentine’s Day presents a unique set of hurdles to those of us in the hospitality business. It’s a day unlike any other in the year -- and certainly one of the most chaotic (and often tedious) nights imaginable. And this year, it falls on an already busy day: Friday. The influx of two-tops can create a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ sort of situation, wherein your staff is stuck spinning a thousand different plates at once (metaphorically or not). On top of that, Valentine’s Day is often regarded as the second busiest day of the year for restaurants, trailing only Mothers’ Day in volume. Some estimates even have 25% of the total population eating out on V-Day. With all that in mind, we’ve put together a handy cheat sheet to help you minimize stress and maximize profits on this year’s V-Day.
First, though, we should look at the risk versus reward on Valentine’s Day. It’s not all bad news, really. It’s a fantastically profitable day on which diners are more than willing to splash out a few extra dollars in celebration. With the right preparation, Valentine’s Day can be a veritable field goal for your establishment. That said, we all know that it gets busy, but just how busy…? Well, last year, OpenTable reported that reservations on Valentine’s Day increase by a gigantic 433% compared to non-holidays. In addition to this staggering number, bookings for tables for two are expected to increase by 764% (yes, you read that right). As we mentioned, this can create an atmosphere of chaos if not handled properly. But if executed well, the holiday guarantees to be one of your most profit-heavy days of the year.
As with any service (holiday or otherwise), proper preparation is more than a good idea -- it’s crucial to success. Without sounding too dramatic, your service is going to live or die by the days leading up to it. On a day so hectic as Valentine’s Day, this is going to be doubly true. Make sure your employees know what they’re up against, and be sure to keep all of the usual Valentine’s Day libations and ingredients in good stock. If ever there’s a day to run out of sparkling wine, for example, Valentine’s Day is not it. Order more champagne flutes. Order more strawberries. And trust us -- don’t be stingy. In the weeks running up to Valentine’s Day, be sure to stock up on any perishable ingredients that may be considered typically romantic: chocolate desserts, champagne, and the other usual V-Day suspects.
Lastly, on a day that promises chaos, we definitely advise an ‘all hands on deck’ strategy. Valentine’s Day is not the day to cut staff or try to run a skeleton crew. Schedule more people than you think you’ll need -- trust us, you’ll thank yourself during the rush.
Promo, promo, promo. And we’re not just talking about the day of here, either. A poorly-timed or late promotion does little for your customer, and even less for your business. People are going to be looking to book their Valentine’s Day table weeks (maybe even months) ahead of schedule, so it’s important to start getting the message out earlier rather than later. Use social media to spread the word on any special menus (more on that later) or promotions you may be running for Valentine’s Day. You want to establish yourself as a V-Day option early, right when people are beginning to plan for the holiday.
And don’t be worried about repeating yourself on social media or other promo channels -- the more you can get the word out, the better (generally speaking). We strongly suggest beginning your promo cycle right after New Year’s, when people have finished entirely with their end-of-year holidays. This gives everyone (yourself included) ample time to plan for the big day.
If you’re looking to go even further this Valentine’s Day, we think special menus are a fantastic option. They’re really a win-win. Not only can a Valentine’s Day menu make the occasion feel more special for your patrons, but it can also expedite the entire evening for your staff. For example, a prix-fixe, four-course menu with a chocolate dessert is going to be a no-brainer for 90% of your guests. What more could you want as a diner on V-Day? Meanwhile, if optimized for easy production, it can make the night an absolute breeze for your kitchen staff. The more structure like this that you can provide, the better.
The same can be said for cocktails and wine as well. Consider creating a special, Valentine’s Day themed cocktail menu of batch-able, easy-to-make drinks. Put two or three wine options on the menu as well, and your bar staff will be on easy street. They’ll be busy, sure, but manageably busy. With nearly every customer ordering the same two or three drinks, your employees can focus on getting their orders out quickly and accurately. If you feel your customers need another push towards your special menu, consider offering discounts. Half-pricing all of that champagne is going to be a surefire way of steering patrons in that direction.
By now, you may have sensed a theme amongst our strategy, and that theme is structure. Creating some semblance of order on a hectic day like V-Day is a huge key for success. There’s really no way around it: Valentine’s Day is madness for the restaurant industry. There’s nothing you can do to entirely prevent that, but you can absolutely mitigate some of the chaos, and that should be the plan.
Limit options where you can and create a plan for any scenario that you think may arise. Not only is this going to make for better execution from your point of view, but preparing and optimizing the flow of your service is obviously going to create a fantastic experience for the guest. That in mind, Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to make regulars out of first-timers!