January 2007 Edition
Romancing Customers

Making the most of Valentine’s Day

           

By Patricia Nicholson

 

Valentine’s Day is one of the most popular occasions of the year for dining out. According to the Retail Council of Canada, 48% of Canadians will partake in a foodservice occasion on February 14th. Make the most of the opportunity to showcase your restaurant and give guests an evening to remember.

 

It’s important to outline exactly how you can maximize your seating, says Adrian Caravello, academic coordinator for George Brown College’s Food and Beverage Management and Food Concept programs.

 

“You need to have your reservation book or computer organized in a fashion that you can put as many bums in seats as possible and still maintain your level of service,” he says.

 

 However, trying to book more customers than you can attend to with your usual standards of quality and service can be a false economy.

 

“You have to know the capacity of your kitchen and your service team, first and foremost,” Caravello says. That means knowing how many guests your staff is able to handle in a given period of time while still providing the level of food and service that will persuade that customer to come back to your restaurant for successive visits.

 

Caravello also suggests looking at your floor plan. How many bookings for six or eight people are you going to get? The majority of your customers will be looking for a table for two. Rearrange your tables to accommodate that.

 

Many restaurants will also want to offer a special menu for couples to savour or share. Caravello has used a prix fixe menu with choices centred on Valentine’s Day and romance: lobster, oysters or beef tenderloin, for example, with a shared chocolate fondue for dessert. These menus can be accompanied by thematic drinks, from champagne to special cocktails with names like Lover’s Delight and ingredients that echo flavours and colours associated with Valentine’s Day, such as cinnamon, chocolate, strawberry or passion fruit.

 

But menus and ambience must be dictated by what works for your restaurant and your clientele.

 

Reza Alavie, professor of advertising at Seneca at York University’s School of Communication Arts and founder of the Small Business Advertising Company, notes that the real value of Valentine’s Day is the potential for future business, not the one-day revenues.

 

“It’s a good day, but it’s not going to make or break your year,” he says. The opportunity to showcase your restaurant in a good light is more important than squeezing in another seating.

 

One of the most important things you can offer your customers on a special occasion is a memorable experience, he says. Think about what you can offer to create a romantic evening. Alavie recommends skipping two-for-one discounts or balloon and streamer decorations and giving customers something more valuable.

 

For example, rearranging tables, plants, décor items, or other features to give your customers more privacy—or the illusion of more privacy. Foods that include the customer in preparing or serving the dish, such as fondues or tabletop grills, offer an experience as well as a meal, and a shared activity for the couple, Alavie says.

 

If you’re going to offer customers a gift or giveaway, don’t give them something they’ll throw away as soon as they get home (or sooner). Give them something useful or memorable, preferably with your restaurant’s name incorporated. Alavie suggests taking each couple’s photograph at their table, and offering them a print in a folder or frame with your restaurant’s name and the date on it.

 

Be flexible enough to accommodate guests’ special requests, Alavie says. If a customer wants to have something personal added to the table setting, such as a special memento or picture, do your best to make it happen.

 

Caravello notes that you should also be prepared for early birds. While far too many people wait until the last minute to make Valentine reservations (and wind up begging for a booking), there are also those who jump the gun. If you get calls in January, don’t turn them away by telling them you don’t take reservations more than two weeks in advance.

He also points out that many of the guests that come in on Valentine’s Day may not be regulars, but new faces. That makes this an excellent occasion to impress new customers and turn them into repeat customers.

 

“Look at every guest as an opportunity, for increasing business two months from now” Caravello says.