What to Serve When Love is in the Air

Guests expect something special – not only compared to what they regularly eat at home, but compared to what they’d normally eat at a restaurant.

For many restaurants, February 14 is the busiest day of the year.

From high school sweethearts looking for as much of an impression as can be made with limited income to older couples who have gone to the same restaurant every year for the past several decades’ worth of Valentine’s Days, it’s a day for couples to go out and enjoy each other’s company.

“One of the big things with Valentine’s Day is that people usually go out to treat themselves and each other,” says Jackie Oakes, Marketing Manager for Flanagan Foodservice.

Most restaurants put in a bit of extra effort to attract customers for Valentine’s Day, and customers in turn recognize this and are more likely to revisit a restaurant that made them feel special.

Oakes says that the effort should start from the moment the customer walks in the door. “As customers arrive, have the hostess greet them with a glass of wine,” she says. “Have flowers or candles on the table to help set the atmosphere.”

When it comes to food, many restaurants already provide special Valentine’s Day menus, and with good reason. Couples are looking to make the dinner special – not only compared to what they regularly eat at home, but compared to what they’d normally eat at a restaurant. Spending a bit more than usual is common, and restaurants can take advantage of this by offering some more gourmet options, knowing that their patrons will be interested.

“It’s a very common day for indulgence,” notes Oakes. “Think outside the box and change it up with some variety.”

Surf-and-turf combos are a popular option with Valentine’s Day diners, though there’s still plenty of room for variety. Oakes suggests that only offering one combination of seafood and steak isn’t enough, as it doesn’t take into account the differences between female and male eating habits.

“Women and men eat very different meat,” she says. “Women will have the tenderloin steak, versus a man who likes a rib-eye. Proportionately, you can get a five-ounce tenderloin. Five ounces of beef is a lot. But when you put it next to a five-ounce lobster tail, that’s 10 ounces right there. That’s a lot of protein. Men will eat the 10-ounce or 14-ounce rib-eye plus the five-ounce lobster tail. For some people, though, that’s just too much.”

At the end of the night, most Valentine’s Day diners will be looking for a little something sweet – even if they normally wouldn’t be. And more often than not, they’ll also be looking to share.

“Consider a special dessert menu for two,” says Oakes. “A very popular trend right now is mini-desserts, they’re a perfect solution for someone looking for a sweet treat to finish off their meal. They’re attractively priced, and customers enjoy sampling two or three different desserts.”

Even those customers who might opt to skip dessert will likely be tempted by a specialty coffee.

Spaghetti in a heart shapeBeyond the menu, Oakes says that with Valentine’s Day competition fiercer than ever, restaurants can stand out from the pack by partnering with local businesses to offer holiday packages (think spas and theatres), providing strong advertising on outdoor signage and social media, and maybe even running the menu for a couple extra days on either side of February 14th.

“It’s one of the busiest days for restaurateurs and some people will shy away from the crowds,” she says. “Extending your Valentine’s menu for a weekend or a couple of days prior to the actual holiday can bring more people into your establishment. Make sure you get the word out. Draw as much attention to it as possible.”

Above all, though, it’s important for restaurants to remember that while they’re expecting the busiest night of the year, their customers are expecting the exact opposite.

For most Valentine’s Day diners, the night represents one of the few times all year when they can get away from the normal hassles of everyday life. Childcare has been arranged, other commitments have been set aside, and most couples are simply looking forward to a nice, slow-paced evening of enjoying spending uninterrupted time with their significant other.

The last thing they want is to feel is like they’re being rushed through dinner so that the restaurant can make more money by putting a second couple at their table. If that happens, it’s a sure bet that they won’t be back the following year – and neither will anybody they talk to about it.

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