Valentine’s Day Restaurant Promotions

By Dana Krook

Cake, champagne, a love letter, spaghetti, and a gift displayed in a row on the screen.

It’s the week before Valentine’s Day and Dave is behind when it comes to arranging swoon-worthy festivities for the object of his affection. His suit needs to be dry cleaned, every flower shop in his area is at capacity, he’s up against a sixty hour workweek and, by some cruel twist of fate, the custom heart necklace he ordered online is delayed. His Valentine’s Day Plans are in flames. But just when he’s lost all hope, in comes an email from you, dear restaurant owner: “A Romantic Booth for Two: Join Us on Valentine’s Day for a Special Three-Course Meal.

Last minute lovers exist and they’re looking for last minute Valentine’s Day restaurant promotions. In fact, 50% of gifts are purchased the week before Valentine’s Day. So if your restaurant is delayed in creating a Valentine’s Day promotion, reservations are thinner than expected, or you want to add one more pièce de résistance to separate you from the herd of pink and red, don’t fret.

Thankfully, there’s an enormous opportunity to take advantage of Valentine’s Day restaurant promotions for a boost in sales. Valentine’s Day is the second busiest holiday for restaurants (just behind Mother’s Day), with about 25% of Americans dining out. That means millions of couples will be looking up heartwarming deals – it’s time to get your dishes noticed!

To help you traverse the fine line between last minute and just in time, we’ve done our best to provide you with a list of un-cheesy promotions with a fast turnaround. So get out the candlesticks, bust out the roses, dim the lights, and cue John Mayer – these strategies will help you effectively reach last minute lovers and entice them to choose you over the competition.

Create a Lover’s Menu

Valentine’s is all about the mood and romance, but let’s not forget why everyone is really venturing out to restaurants for Valentine’s Day – the food! There are a couple of ways to fancy up your menu offerings for dine-in or takeout.

  • Offer “romantic” foods: oysters, lobster, scallops, chocolate fondue, specialty coffee – or anything with honey, avocado, arugula, and chili peppers (all known aphrodisiacs.) While these are known to warm up the love chemicals in the brain, you’ll benefit because customers will be likely to indulge in an expensive dish since it’s a “special occasion”.
  • Curate a series of dishes into a prix fixe: Everyone loves a menu that features an appetizer, dinner, and dessert. The common notion is that you’re getting a deal, and the beauty of this is, you don’t have to cheapen your offering by explicitly stating the discounted rate. The best thing about the prix fixe menu is it can be done on the fly with items already available on your menu.
  • Update your takeout specials: Just because your customers aren’t dining in, doesn’t mean they don’t want to enjoy something extra special. Consider offering Valentine’s themed takeout dishes you wouldn’t normally serve to pique interest. According to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey, two in five people say they are planning to have a special meal or celebration at home.

Create a Last Minute Incentive

The average American expects to spend an average of $142 on a Valentine’s Day present for their significant other. So whether you’re giving a percentage off the total bill, or a free appetizer and dessert, every little bit encourages diners to choose your restaurant over another. 

  • Voucher and complimentary accoutrements: Make the terms of your voucher clear and smartphone friendly, so the romance of the evening isn’t burdened by logistics at billing time. Just be sure to be delicate with your wording by using “complementary” as an alternative to “free.”
  • Taxi voucher or Uber gift card: Another small, but great incentive you can offer is to take care of a portion of guests’ taxi ride home. By partnering with a cab company and offering a discount on cab fare, or giving out redeemable Uber amounts, it’s a win-win: customers get home safe after feeling free to consume that extra glass of wine, and the upsell on their bills will be worth your investment.   

Send an Eleventh Hour Email

Don’t be shy about sending out a promotional Valentine’s Day email a day or two before the big night. It might be the best way to become top of mind with customers looking to book a reservation under the wire.

  • Write a knock-out subject line: To make this email effective, choose your subject line carefully. Remember, many retailers and restaurants will be vying for the attention of last minute lovers, so catchy is key. One study found that the words “sweet”, “ideas”, “coupon” and symbols, like the <3, performed best around Valentine’s Day.  
  • Include persuasive content: This is where you’d include a brief description of your incentive and, most importantly, where you create a sense of urgency. Include terms such as: “Time is running out”, “Cupid is just around the corner”, “Reservations are filling up fast!” and “Have you made a reservation for your lover yet?
  • Don’t forget your VIPS: If you have a loyalty program, make sure everyone knows about your upcoming Valentine’s restaurant specials. If you use a tool like TouchBistro Loyalty, you can even design personalized promotions based on guest behavior, rewards level, location, and more.

Social Media Promotion

While you may think the time has come and gone to set up some Valentine’s Day restaurant promotions on social media, it’s not too late if you do it right! Posting on social media is one of the most effective restaurant promotion ideas and the best way to get in front of hungry customers. Here are a few ways to engage last minute lovers over your social channels.

  • Contest to win a complimentary romantic dinner for two: Offer a contest for a free romantic evening. But consider that at this late stage in the game customers are still looking to lock down their itinerary at this point. To ensure you get entries and convert that into business, be sure to provide any entrant with a prize they can use after Valentine’s is over. A couple of contest suggestions could include Best Love Story (ask guests to share a photo and the story behind how they met) or Date Night Dish (encourage customers to share a photo of their meal and explain why they chose it).
  • Promote your Valentine’s offerings through social media: Just as effective as email, share your Valentine’s Day incentives over social media. And remember, don’t just market the deal point blank; make the content shareable, likeable, and something that a customer would tag a friend in.

Offer At-Home Options

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, at-home options like takeout and delivery were becoming increasingly popular options for Valentine’s Day. Now, couples have many options to order, dine, send gifts, and even have date nights – all within the comfort of their own homes. Here are a few at-home options you can offer guests:

  • Create a take-out Valentine’s menu: To help diners recreate the restaurant experience at-home, consider offering an online ordering menu with Valentine’s specials. For instance, Houston and Fort Worth’s B&B Butchers & Restaurant offered a prix fixe takeout menu for two, with the option to add a bouquet of flowers by a local florist.
  • Promote digital gift cards: The popularity of restaurant gift cards is increasing 37% year-over-year, making for a convenient gift that guests can purchase and send via their mobile phone. Plus, gift cards provide restaurants with immediate cash flow, encourage repeat visits, and can help you reach new customers.
  • Offer a virtual date night experience: One popular Valentine Day restaurant promotion idea is to give guests a meal and a memorable interactive element. For instance, a series of restaurants in Toronto offer an “Eat the City” experience that pairs meals from popular restaurants with virtual cooking classes.

Remember, the way to the last minute lover’s heart is through the stomach. Don’t be dismayed if you haven’t initiated your Valentine’s Day restaurant promotion yet, there’s still time. So go now and send that email, post that Instagram photo, and print off that prix fixe menu. You’ve got a hot date with last minute lovers and it’s going to be great.  

Photo of Dana Krook
by Dana Krook

Dana is the former Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, sharing tips for and stories of restaurateurs turning their passion into success. She loves homemade hot sauce, deep fried pickles and finding excuses to consume real maple syrup.

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