As you know, Valentine's Day is one of the biggest nights of the year for restaurants. Last year saw a new Valentine’s Day record spend of $20.7 billion, with 34% of that spent on an evening out. With a strong economy, and the holiday falling on a Friday this year, Valentine’s Day 2020 is likely to be another record-breaking year.
At this point, your Valentine’s Day book should be filling up, your staff scheduled, and your special menu ideas starting to crystallize. But if you still have availability, fear not: 40% of Valentine’s Day reservations are booked in the week leading up to the holiday. On average, guests typically make their arrangements just 11 days in advance.
As a leader of Resy’s Restaurant Success team, I’m going to share some insights from my 10 years of experience in the restaurant industry to help you navigate the logistical challenges and heightened emotions that Valentine’s Day brings. We recommend you take the below steps to ensure a successful night of service, leaving your guests swooning and your reservation book as packed as a box of chocolates.
Fill Your Reservation Book
To ensure that you get as many people in the door as possible, make sure that your tables are all available for booking. This means double-checking that your website, Instagram, Facebook, Google Business page, and any other mediums are displaying the correct availability. You may want to create a special floorplan with more two-tops than usual given that it’s date night. Breaking up your larger party tables to accommodate more two-tops and even swapping out physical tables in your restaurant so you can fit more parties can make a big difference in maximizing covers.
No restaurant operations on Valentine's Day playbook is complete without email marketing. This can be a quick and effective way to drive additional reservations and fill the book. The key here is twofold: First, set aside some inventory for your regulars and create an exclusive booking link for online reservations. If you are a Resy restaurant partner, the Exclusive Booking Channels feature is your best friend here. Just be sure to set availability to automatically open to the public after the exclusive booking window expires. Second, segment your mailing list by your most frequent guests — these are the guests you want to reward with the first opportunity to book Valentine’s Day tables before the general public. Then you’re ready to hit send.
If you’re already fully booked, now is the perfect time to lean on your technology. Resy restaurant partners can email guests and remind them to add themselves to your Notify list. Notify is a virtual future waitlist that sends guests a push notification when a table comes available, like if there is a last minute cancellation. Notify is the best way to manage your Valentine's Day waitlist, saving valuable time for your hosts and reservationists. If you’re not a Resy restaurant partner, it’s still worth trying to use the technology that you do have to manage table backfills.
We took a look at the historical Resy data from Valentine’s Day 2019 and saw that more than 15,000 reservation cancellations occurred less than 24 hours before the reservation time. The lesson? Confirm reservations early in the week leading up to Valentine's Day to help reduce instances of no-shows and cancellations. Many guests double-book, so it’s essential to verify your list early to ensure a full book.
Providing a pre-pay option is another tool at your disposal. Pre-payment streamlines the experience for both you and your guests, adding an element of hospitality for guests who want to skip the check. If you aren’t keen on requiring a pre-pay, consider adding a cancellation policy on this busy night.
Ensure a Soigne Guest Experience
Enhance the romance at your Valentine's Day dinner by creating a unique, memorable evening for guests. This can be as simple as a special menu, or you can consider more hospitality-driven options, like greeting guests with a glass of Champagne. Surprise dishes and drinks, special flower arrangements, photography services, and tasteful take-homes can set the evening apart and create an unforgettable experience for guests.
Other than empty seats, unhappy guests should be your biggest concern this Valentine's Day. The first step is acknowledging that this is no normal Friday night — the level of hospitality that guests expect is higher than usual. Given this reality, any hiccups in service may be met with heightened negative emotions, and these emotions could lead to trouble. The best way to avoid these situations is thorough planning, training, and communication with your staff. Post written notices in the BOH (back-of-house), create handouts for servers, and review your plan during your pre-shift meetings. Service should appear smooth and effortless to guests, but you and your staff will know how much went into prepping for the big night.
Since good restaurant strategies on Valentine's Day include special floor plans, menus, and more, you should give guests a heads-up where applicable. For example, let guests know how you plan to handle late arrivals, any pre-pay expectations, special menus, and anything else that makes sense. These communications not only set the right expectations with guests to ensure a smooth experience from search-to-seat, but they have the added benefit of surfacing potential last minute cancellations so you can fill those seats with guests from your waitlist.
Extend the Love in Creative Ways
In 2019, the week of Valentine’s Day had 50% more covers than any other week in February. Creating unique events before and after the big day can extend the traffic spike and enable you to leverage the same (or similar) menu and featured items.
Extending the love beyond couples can be beneficial, as well. For instance, you can host a “Singles Celebration” or “Galentine’s Day” on another night this week or next. Similarly, a kid-friendly menu for a Family Valentine's Day on the following Sunday is a great way to accommodate those who could not find a babysitter, or those who prefer to celebrate with a family outing. Some restaurants try a cheeky “Valentine's Day Redux Package” in the two weeks following for those needing a do-over. I’ve even seen restaurants offer a “Married Couples Valentine's Day Package” option for those preferring to avoid "amateur night" on the 14th.
Iterate, Rinse, Repeat
Now that you are ready to rock your restaurant operations on Valentine's Day 2020, remember to reflect on the other side of the big night to capture any learnings from service. Huddle with your staff to debrief on what went well, and also where you can improve. Document these learnings and revisit them in advance of other holidays and events. Our Resy partners can simply add these notes right into their Resy Calendar for later reference!
It’s almost time to start planning for the next big event: Mother’s Day!