Feb. 9, 2015

Take a Cue from Cupid

by Lena Katz

Valentine’s Day: that hectic but glorious evening when a full house is the industry norm. It’s temping to serve a price-inflated prix fixe, but is that any way to turn Valentine’s visits into a full-blown love affair?

These real-life dos and don’ts can help create repeat customers. Craft an on-brand Valentine’s Day experience that’s magical for your guests and practical for the kitchen and front of the house staff.

DO: Know and play to your audience.

A $125 four-course prix fixe works for New York’s iconic 21 Club, which caters to guests who want to pay for the classic Manhattan experience popularized on the big screen. At San Francisco’s Bisou Bistro, where Parisian transplant Chef Nick Ronan has earned the nickname “The Kissing Chef,” people delight in the sight of Chef Ronan showering them with rose petals from the second story.

DO: Partner with a local business.

It pays to be good neighbor by building a promotion with others, such as a chocolatier or jeweler, to offer Valentine's diners a notion of exclusivity.

At Ceres’ Table in Chicago, all diners walk away with boutique chocolate truffles from Veruca Chocolates and the opportunity to win a diamond necklace from Steve Quick Jeweler. In this scenario, everyone wins: Diners leave with a favorable impression of the restaurant, and local businesses receive some marketing ($65 prix fixe).

DO: Cater to more than just couples.

Every Valentine’s Day, thousands of hungry singles are looking for a place to grab a meal or drinks. Orale Mexican Kitchen in Jersey City, New Jersey, caters to a mixed crowd. Its “Friends with Benefits” promotion features tacos and tequila and encourages guests to “bring a friend or find a friend.” They can opt from the $65 prix fixe, a la carte and the open-bar-only option for singles.

Do: Extend a successful program over multiple nights.

Some couples like the idea of a Valentine’s Day dinner, but aren’t into battling crowds. Offering promotions for more than one evening appeals to these diners and expands the opportunity for increased profits and marketing. Bisou Bistro is expanding its rose petal-showering “Kissing Chef” shtick to four nights this year with at an $85 prix fixe option.

DO: Get creative with menu names.

If a prix fixe menu works for you, invent names to make the menu pop. Last year, Brucie in Brooklyn pulled off a PR coup with its Beyoncé-themed Valentine’s menu. This year the restaurant is featuring a Kim and Kanye theme. Kanye’s dessert is “Imma Let You Finish,” a catchphrase so popular it renders the actual dish almost irrelevant ($100 per person).

DON’T: Ignore the kitchen.

While it might seem extra personal for the executive chef to deliver roses, diners notice quickly when the chef's more intent on schmoozing than preparing the food.

DON’T: Rush table turnover.

Multiple seatings in an evening are bound to result in timing issues. Customers who linger will remember being pushed out far longer than what they ate.

DON’T: Aim for Champagne lifestyles in a beer neighborhood.

Forget helicopter rides over the city park and “diamond” surprises that are actually cheap rhinestones. These promotions push the envelope from memorable to overblown and tawdry.

DON’T: Implement a dress code.

You might think dressing up adds a special occasion vibe, but it also could make regulars feel out of place. Even worse, they may not take note of the switch and show up in their regular attire.

Got any tried and true ways to amp up Valentine’s Day? Share them on Facebook.

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