The following is a guest post written by Julie Gregg, director, market insights and competitive intelligence at Toast.
Valentine’s Day has long been the second-most popular day on the calendar for Americans to dine out at a restaurant. Cupid’s holiday holds big potential for restaurant operators, offering a once-every-year opportunity to drive sales, enhance profits and gain new, loyal customers.
To help restaurant operators take advantage of the opportunity this year, Toast analyzed its 2023 Valentine’s Day platform data to help restaurants understand what food, drinks and deals piqued diners’ interest last year. This data can provide insight into how restaurants can maximize revenue across dine-in and online ordering for the holiday in 2024.
Last year’s V-Day was a big win for restaurants, with a lucrative 34% lift in food sales compared to the daily average for the year. With that in mind, here are a handful of menu and performance insights from Toast’s research that can help restaurant operators plan for the upcoming holiday.
BOGO wins hearts
The research delved into effective meal promotions and marketing strategies that entice guests to choose a specific restaurant for Valentine’s Day. The 2023 survey of 970 U.S. adults who order from restaurants three to five times per month found that 40% of respondents had a strong inclination toward buy-one, get-one (BOGO) promotions — in fact, it was their top incentive.
Fast casual brands such as Chipotle, Baskin Robbins and Auntie Anne’s have used BOGO deals on Valentine’s Day recently, offering inspiration for restaurants in 2024 with similarly priced menu items. Bigger-ticket restaurants can also offer BOGO deals, particularly for appetizers and beverages, while still yielding a strong return on investment with guests who order entrees, drinks and desserts.
Additionally, restaurants can achieve their desired ROI for V-Day by using digital tools to accurately estimate the margins for BOGO deals and other specials. These tools enable robust reporting, price-tracking ingredients, recipe pricing and inventory management, helping optimize ROI and letting restaurant operators take profitability into their own hands.
Loyalty programs foster long-term relationships
According to the research, buy-one-get-one-free isn’t the only marketing concept Valentine’s Day diners find attractive. BOGO was closely followed by preferences for restaurant discounts on menu items (36%), special tastings (35%), prix-fixe menus (34%), and exclusive discounts on the day for loyalty program members (33%).
Restaurant operators who want to run discounted menu items can use digital tools for price-tracking ingredients and recipe pricing to establish a strong ROI. Such tools are gaining popularity among various kinds of chain brands and independent eateries.
The popularity of loyalty programs also stands out as an effective way to drive Valentine’s Day visits. Here’s why: Loyalty programs integrated with a point-of-sale platform are quick and easy to set up and can make a big difference in customer engagement. Successful loyalty programs can also help restaurants embed themselves more deeply into the fabric of the community and build lifelong customers.
Wine flows in mid-February
According to the alcohol research conducted on Toast’s platform, wine was the most-ordered V-Day meal beverage last year. Wine orders saw a whopping 242% increase over the daily average for the entire year. This means that on Valentine’s Day, nearly three and a half times more wine was ordered compared to an average day throughout 2023.
Notably, the surge in wine orders seemed to impact other beverage categories. Beer and mixed drinks experienced a decline on Valentine’s Day in 2023 when compared to the daily averages for the entire year. The data suggests a shift in preferences, with wine taking center stage as the beverage of choice for Valentine’s Day celebrations.
Given our culture’s association between romance and wine, restaurant operators can look forward to wearing out a few more bottle openers this Valentine’s Day.
It’s a time for tomahawks, sirloins, and t-bones
For many Americans, celebrating anything — birthdays, graduations, a new job, you name it — can mean ordering a steak for dinner. And they appear willing to open their wallets on V-Day, in particular.
Guests doubled their spend (108%) on steaks on Valentine’s Day overall compared to the annual daily average, according to Toast data. This trend can help drive restaurants’ revenues, as the average Tomahawk steak meal runs between $100 and $200.
Restaurant operators in Miami should especially take note. Magic City saw nearly twice as many steak orders on Valentine’s Day 2023 compared to the annual daily average.
Desserts menu prices trend up
Valentine’s Day is a holiday for “sweet tooths.” So, nothing finishes a romantic dinner like a dish of tiramisu cake, lemon souffle, raspberry cheesecake and/or double-chocolate mousse.
With that in mind, Toast researchers found that desserts, baked goods, and pastry items witnessed a remarkable 54% surge in gross merchandise value per item sold on Valentine’s Day 2023. This indicates a noteworthy trend where guests are opting for higher-priced desserts and baked goods, or restaurants are pricing these items more lucratively — or it could be a blend of both factors.
All said, these V-Day insights can help restaurant operators prepare for the holiday with not only their marketing efforts but also food and ingredients ordering. With such business intelligence, eateries can hit their sales goals while watching Cupid take aim in the front of the house.