Valentine’s Day isn’t just for flower shops, cupcake shops, and jewelry stores. In fact, many of today’s non-traditional consumers (those millennials everyone is always talking about) often reject tradition in favor of more inspired gifts, adventures, and creations.

The proof is in the chocolate pudding, or even better – in the numbers. People spend more money on Valentine’s Day than any other Saturday night – and you want them to spend it with you.

One of the best ways to prepare for Valentine’s Day 2016 is to take a look at the stats from Valentine’s Day 2015.  Did you know that 82% of Valentine’s Day reservations were booked by first-time diners?

As a restaurant, try to inspire great Valentines Day dates or anti-dates (those are popular too) to capitalize on the desire for experiences.

Here are a few Valentines Day ideas to get the ball rolling:

1. Create a Valentine’s Day Food Promotion with Aphrodisiacs

On Valentine’s Day, some restaurants like Whisk Boston are putting together an Aphrodisiac-inspired tasting menu. The night is sure to have traditional tastes, like oysters and strawberries, along with lesser-known aphrodisiacs like asparagus and avocados. They haven’t divulged the whole menu publicly, but have leaked that their signature asparagus and avocado tartare will be on the menu.

It’s no wonder, considering the date and perfectly aligned promotion, that their special dinner sold out weeks in advance.

Why? Well, people want to do two things on Valentine’s Day – eat and spend quality time with their significant other. Just not at the same time.

So, without further ado, if you’re still trying to book reservations for your Valentine’s Day dinner, here are a few aphrodisiac ingredients you can highlight in your promotion, according to About.com, Alternet, Huffington Post and AskMen.

  • Honey
  • Oysters
  • Asparagus
  • Almonds
  • Avocado
  • Strawberries
  • Bananas
  • Chocolate
  • Figs
  • Caviar
  • Ginseng
  • Hot Chilis

AskMen clarifies a little, before this list gets out of hand, saying, “Many different foods are considered aphrodisiacs because of their sexually suggestive nature. Eggs and caviar remind us of the reproductive system. Asparagus, bananas, onions, carrots and…oysters, also remind us of sex organs, and have therefore been categorized in many cultures as erogenous foods.”

Business People Lunch Dinner Meeting Restaurant Concept

Whether you believe in the power of aphrodisiacs, or just want to create a fun menu, here are some suggestions, triggered by SuperCook:

2. Drive Valentine’s Day restaurant reservations with a prix fixe menu

Even if you haven’t offered a prix fixe menu in the past, it’s perfectly acceptable to use for special occasions and often appreciated if you throw in a couple glasses of wine and dessert with the meal.

Creating a Prix Fixe Menu

The fine-dining experts (and #UpserveFam) at Altamarea Group can offer a little menu planning inspiration. As far back as mid-January they had their Valentine’s Day menus on each restaurant’s website. Click through to see the V-Day menus of Ai Fiori, Due Mari, and Marea.

Across the board Altamarea group has emphasized two key elements: simplicity and luxury. The Valentine’s Day menus were all extremely easy to find and often the default menu on the site, reminding viewers right away about the upcoming holiday and tempting them with a great selection.

Speaking of selection – there is a definite emphasis on luxury on each menu. On Valentine’s Day, patrons want to feel pampered which means more high-end proteins. It’s the day of love, after all, and customers want to feel they are treating their loved one (and themselves) to something extraordinary.

Want to see what top restaurants are promoting on Valentines Day? Get our lookbook for even more ideas.

3. Play up the Valentine’s Day experience

Partner up with some of your other neighborhood businesses to design an entire experience that’s about more than just the meal. If you have a spa nearby, maybe work with them to put a package together that includes a couple’s massage before dinner. Have a hotel in your neighborhood? Plan a package that includes an overnight there following dinner. Incorporate extra elements for diners who purchase these packages such as a flower on each plate, or a special dessert to share. Working with your neighbors also allows for a lot of cross promoting in the lead-up to the big day.

Valentines day restaurant promotions Lookbook Cover

Valentine’s Day menu ideas and marketing campaigns are more than the prix fixe. We’ve compiled more than 50 of the best ones across the country into this year’s Valentine’s Day Lookbook.

Get The Lookbook

Mulberry Wine Bar

4. Offer take-out options

You can’t necessarily expand the dining room to fit more tables, but maybe you can tap into the crowd of people who like to stay in on romantic nights. Come up with a special take-out package and offer special options to go. It’ll increase your revenue for the evening, without increasing the number of tables on the floor. Just be sure the kitchen is appropriately staffed to accommodate these additional meals. Upserve customers can easily incorporate online ordering into their website for no additional cost, which means no third-party commission cut!

5. Offer an anti-Valentine’s Day menu as an alternative Valentine’s Day promotion

Want to collect some food-loving singles? Theme that menu with kiss-repellent items like garlic, onions, and spinach. Throw in a free drink for anyone single. Couples shouldn’t be the only ones catered to on this holiday. If you want to encourage your patrons to go home with a date, try speed-dating. A traditional “ladies night” theme works just as well.

6. Valentine’s Day Proposal Packages

Valentine’s Day is a wildly popular proposal day. Help those lovebirds along by promoting proposal packages. Think about what you can include to make someone’s proposal go smoothly and be remembered forever. Design a package that includes details such as an arrangement of special flowers, a champagne toast after the “yes!” and a photographer onsite to capture the moment.

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7. Bring in live music to enhance the mood (and your reservation count)

If you’re used to having live music in your venue, maybe pivot to something more romantic? A crooner singing classic love songs or a jazz ensemble is a great way to drive a unique experience and an uptick in reservations.

8. Promote “Galentine’s Day” instead

Popularized by the TV show, “Parks & Recreation,” many ladies, single or not, choose to spend Valentine’s Day with their best friends – aka “Galentine’s Day.” Last year at The Winchester, they went all out for the single ladies with tarot card readings, massages, chick flicks, cosmopolitans and makeovers. A serious commitment for a serious restaurant and bar. In fact, check out FluidLondon for all the crazy anti-valentines day stunts that restaurants pulled in London last year.

An OpenTable survey of over 3,000 people showed that 76% of diners would go out with friends on Valentine’s Day instead of a romantic partner – it’s likely that means several people already have done that or are planning to!

9. Create Valentines Day Slogans

Here are some of our favorite quotes about restaurants and food, from some of our favorite people:

  • ”Love comes from the stomach.”
  • “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” — Virginia Woolf
  • “People who love to eat are always the best people.”  — Julia Child
  • “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”— Charles M. Schulz
  • “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” — Fanny Fern
  • “My weaknesses have always been food and men — in that order.” — Dolly Parton

10. Promote it via email, social media, and in-store collateral

We recently held a webinar on Valentine’s Day promotions and asked attendees about their special event marketing. Here’s what they said: 

  • 71% said they use email marketing to promote special events.
  • 100% said they use social media as a form of promotion, although they struggled to track it’s effectiveness. Pro tip- Upserve has a tool for that!
  • 50% say they use in-store collateral

Sure you know that your spot is the best place to spend a romantic evening, but newcomers may not be aware…yet. Sharing original photos on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram is a great way to introduce your brand to a whole new audience. Set the scene with a romantic table or a snap of each course on the menu. The idea is to do the imagining for them, so all they need to pictures is themselves relaxing the night away.

For some inspiration check out Rolfe and Daughters and Forequarter – they have beautiful platings and intimate table settings.

Bonus: Be Inclusive by Eliminating Gender Pronouns

Valentine’s Day has historically been marketed to men as a holiday where they need to kick the romance up a notch for their special lady. But while some of your customers are guys, many of your customers don’t think exclusively in terms of old-fashioned gender roles.

Not only will some ladies be the ones who are making the reservations for their man, but some ladies will be making reservations for their special lady. There is no reason your marketing should be aimed at only one gender, or only one type of relationship. It’s simple to eliminate the pronouns in your promotions and that way, you won’t exclude anyone.

Love is all around at the Duck and Bunny, with 7 courses for you and “someone you love”!

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As part of Upserve’s family of more than 10,000 restaurants, The Chef is Restaurant Insider’s secret weapon in the kitchen. As a restaurant expert in all things marketing, menu building, management, training and more, restaurateurs trust The Chef and the award-winning Restaurant Insider to dish out the ingredients needed to make your business a sweet success.