- New research from OpenTable and Toast projects that restaurant bookings will double prior to Valentine’s Day, and sales on the actual day will jump by 32% compared to a typical Thursday evening, Restaurant Business reports.
- This year’s holiday should yield about a 7% increase in online orders from last year.
- The research further predicts that reservations will increase by 433% compared to non-holiday Thursdays. Bookings for tables for two are expected to jump by 764% compared to a typical night.
Valentine’s Day is a marketing goldmine for restaurants, and for good reason. Timing-wise, the holiday is advantageous, offering people a chance to leave their homes after an often-brutal weather month and post-holiday frugality. The allure of date-night romanticism helps too, of course. According to the National Restaurant Association, Valentine’s Day is the second busiest holiday for restaurants (behind Mother’s Day), with about 25% of Americans dining out.
As a result, restaurants pull out all the stops to attract the eager audience. White Castle has long focused on this holiday, taking reservations for its annual Valentine’s Day celebration, which includes table service and themed décor. Papa Murphy’s sells a heart-shaped pizza, while Krispy Kreme usually does the same with its doughnuts. But typically it’s fine dining that tends to benefit most from this holiday. The Open House/Toast study finds that upscale restaurants will experience a 105% jump from their normal business.
But plenty of casual dining chains step up their games for the holiday either with prix fixe menus and other two-for-one opportunities, as well. Last year for example, Houlihan’s offered a four-course meal for $50, while Joe’s Crab Shack featured a three-course prix-fixe dinner for $35. Both added drink promotions for the occasion. For operators, however, the challenge with these types of promotions is that it's difficult to upsell customers.
Throughout all segments, operators clearly need to have a plan in place — including extra wait and kitchen staff on that night — to handle the influx. Good customer service provides an opportunity to translate Valentine’s Day occasion diners into more loyal diners. At Lucy’s Restaurant & Bar in California, for example, the call staff puts private notes in guests’ OpenTable reservation to let the wait staff know whether or not a diner has a specific request.
Also, as with the entire industry, off-premise occasions are expected to increase during Valentine’s Day at a tick of a 7%. So couples will continue to rely on restaurants to do the kitchen work, but less of the service work. This could pose even more of a challenge as kitchens will already be overwhelmed to handle the dine-in inflow. This is, again, where staffing becomes critical. Extra efforts could yield strong results, however. Not only does traffic increase on Valentine’s Day, but checks tend to run about 18% higher as well.