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Cha Cha's Restaurant Sangria

Talk about the perfect match. At a time of year when restaurants sales are the lowest, online dating is actually at its peak. What does that mean for restaurant owners? If you court these couples looking for fun and memorable date spots, you’ll fall in love with the increased cash flow.

First, the bad news: New data from restaurant management platform Upserve reveal that January is the toughest month of the year for restaurant sales. An analysis of thousands of Upserve customers that included millions of transactions indicate that the sharp decline in sales after New Year’s Eve doesn’t pick back up again until Valentine’s Day.

‘No one wants to be embarrassed by their choice of meeting spot.’ – Scott Simpson, executive chef of the Depot

Upserve’s data, set to be released in February as part of a 2018 forecast report, indicates that the first six weeks of the new year traditionally see as much as a 38 percent decrease in overall sales.

But here’s where it gets sweet: Match.com data reveals that this period of time, from late December through Valentine’s Day, is when dating apps see the most action. So what can restaurants do to make a love connection with guests when they decide to meet up IRL?

First, start with assessing your spot’s existing reputation.

Scott Simpson, executive chef of the Depot seafood restaurant in Auburn, Alabama, points out that, since dates can be stressful enough, the restaurant choice should be a reliable winner.

Happy couple having lively conversation on their first date having joyful and carefree expressions looking at each other and laughing. Man in white t-shirt sharing positive news with woman in shades in restaurant

“If you expect to flip a switch and suddenly promise great service, food and value for a holiday, but your previous reputation is untrustworthy, you have eliminated yourself from most first date lists,” Simpson says. “No one wants to be embarrassed by their choice of meeting spot. If you don’t have a proven and highly recommended reputation for attentive service and high quality food and beverages, then I think guests will save that adventure for a time when they feel up to taking a risk.”

Feeling confident? Here are some ideas that will have your guests swiping right (and hopefully returning for date number two).

Look beyond the prix fixe, and offer up amazing specials instead

Simpson says he is often thanked for not offering up an expensive prix fixe menu for holidays.

“Where most restaurants limit their menus and raise their prices to maximize the number of guests they can cram through, we hold onto all our regular menu items that we can confidently deliver day after day with the highest quality, and then we augment that with rare, highly seasonal, indulgent and visually stunning specials,” Simpson says. “These premium treats are guaranteed to be discussed the day after the date among friends and coworkers, and make a more indelible impression, often showing up on Instagram and Facebook posts.”

Offer date-night promotions on slow nights

A first date on a Friday or Saturday night can put a lot of pressure on two people just getting to know each other, which is why many would-be lovers first choose to meet up for a casual weeknight hang.

Don Myers, co-owner of Cha Cha’s Latin Kitchen in Brea and Irvine, California, takes advantage of this market by hosting Date Night Monday. “Our goal was to develop a promotion that not only attracted couples, but also offered them a great deal on one of our slower nights,” he says. “Every Monday night, guests are encouraged to bring their date and take advantage of the buy one entree, get one complimentary entree special.”

Plan special events with single guests in mind

Whether it’s a happy hour deal, a singles-only mixer or a theme night (hunting season, anyone?), creating special events offer built-in fun for guests looking to meet someone special, or have a memorable first date. Don’t know where to start? Consider hosting a traffic light party where guests wear red if they’re taken, yellow if it’s complicated, or green if it’s a go for love. Other ideas include karaoke or trivia nights, speed dating events, masquerade parties, paint night events, or a Wine Wednesday promotion where couples can split a bottle of wine and two entrees for a special price.

Carnitas from Cha Cha's Latin Kitchen Restaurant
Carnitas from Cha Cha’s Latin Kitchen

Create shareable dishes

Kevin Gregory, creative director of restaurant consulting firm AllDay Industry, notes that atmosphere is just as important as the food, so think about how your guests might want to enjoy their meal.

“When planning a menu, focus on offerings that are small and flavorful, but designed to be shared,” Gregory says. “A shared plate will encourage a joint experience that can serve as an ice-breaker. More than that, try and avoid ‘menu anxiety,’ that moment when you are overwhelmed by the breadth of offerings, as it can create a break in attention between customers that can often feel awkward.”

Show an app, get an app

Hook the online dating crowd by offering exclusive perks for those who met by swiping right. Have guests show off their Bumble match to receive a special deal–a free appetizer, perhaps?

Embrace technology

Since this is the peak of online dating season, make sure your internet isn’t a blocker for guests. Whether they’re searching for future dates during a girls’ night, or calling an Uber to grab a nightcap after a successful first date, make sure your WiFi is ready to go and easy to use. Also consider creating a special hashtag for your spot.

‘A shared plate will encourage a joint experience that can serve as an ice-breaker.’ – Kevin Gregory, creative director of AllDay Industry

Collaborate with neighboring businesses

Guests will appreciate not having to do any of the heavy lifting with their date-night plans.

Sulmona Restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts, partners with the nearby Kendall Square Cinema to offer its Dinner and a Movie package. Guests who enjoy Sulmona’s Italian entrees from 4 to 6:30 pm are able to purchase a discounted movie ticket ($8 instead of $12.50) for the film of their choice.

Further south, Atlanta’s Iberian Pig entices lovers to make goo-goo eyes over a meal of Spanish dishes and charcuterie boards by partnering with an area hotel to offer a dine-and-stay package. (Looks like they’ll be taking dessert to-go.)

What are some of your best strategies for attracting the first-date set? Share here!


Do you want to split the check four ways? No problem. Do you want to split the bottle of wine between two people? Too easy. Enhancing the guest experience is the business of Upserve POS.

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Meghan is an award-winning journalist and content marketing manager who lives to tell stories. Her favorites include highlighting all things restaurants, from front-of-house hospitality to back-of-house grit. When she's not writing about them, you can find her eating her way through Providence and Boston searching for inspiration with a rye Old Fashioned in hand.
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