“The only bubble in the flat champagne that is February is VALENTINES DAY!”

Once again Cupid is hauling out his bow and a quiver of arrows and takes aim at lovers in the name of Saint Valentine. For many hospitality outlets Valentine’s Day is one of the calendar’s big out-of-home events. Following a traditionally quiet January, as people count the pennies following the festive season, and the initiative which has become known as “Dry January, or just generally keeping healthy New Year resolutions – This all makes the prospect of an evening out with great food and drink an eagerly anticipated event giving operators the opportunity to capitalise!

A brief history

Valentine’s Day is celebrated around the world, but if you or any of your staff were asked to provide a little background what would you say? So, who is this mysterious saint and where did these traditions come from? There are several theories, the Catholic Church recognises at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. However, it’s a good bet that while one saint or other of three martyred Catholic saints was eventually affiliated with it, the origins of the holiday likely date back to an ancient Roman fertility ritual known as Lupercalia.

Emperor Claudius II had banned marriage because he thought married men were bad soldiers. Valentine felt this was unfair, so he broke the rules and arranged marriages in secret.

When Claudius found out, Valentine was thrown in jail and sentenced to death.

There, he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and when he was taken to be killed on 14 February he sent her a love letter signed “from your Valentine”!

Setting the scene

Nearly half of UK adults consider themselves to be romantic, and Valentine’s Day is considered the day of romantic love, often celebrated with a night out, a candlelit meal or a romantic getaway.

In 2018 Valentine sales were a staggering £650m in total, up 25% from 2015. Dining out leads the UK gift category, and last year the estimated expenditure on for dining out on Valentines Day in the UK was £391 million, making this the largest category of expenditure. In addition, £267m was spent on flowers and £193 pounds on clothing and lingerie.

And this year Valentine’s Day falls on a Friday, giving operators “two bites of the cherry”. Better still, if you offer accommodation, turning Valentines Day into a weekend stay!

A couple years ago, research by Belgian chocolate maker Callebaut. Revealed that three-quarters of consumers were willing to spend more when eating out to celebrate a special occasion, with 42% of 16-34 year olds, an important demographic for the out-of-home category – choosing to dine out for Valentine’s Day, proving there is a huge opportunity available for operators who make dining experiences memorable for consumers.

Their research also revealed 40% are prepared to pay up to £30 more per head when celebrating a special occasion. Operators who run with this and provide an exceptional dining experience are highly likely to see their customers again. Callebaut’s research identified that 94% of people would be likely to return to an establishment that had made them feel special.

People, regardless of age, are always in demand for new special or themed events and experiences, and in these highly competitive time are expecting more for their money and that is not only good food but also the appropriate setting with that added “something special”.

Valentine ‘s Day is an event when your business, restaurant, bar, hotel or pub simply must be changed into a romantic “love nest”.

If some couples regularly visit you, it means that they feel comfortable in your business and that they like specialties that you offer. Probably the same couple will decide to have dinner at your business on Valentine ’s Day so it is very important that you offer something unexpected and unusual.

It would not be nice and not fair to them to offer the same atmosphere that your business provides every day!

Plan early. If you haven’t already then now is the time, start marketing, banners, posters, table cards, website, social media, email marketing, menu planning, staffing and liaising with suppliers. Think of ideas of how to engage with your customers using your social media platforms. This could include asking them to share their stories of how they met their partner or even disastrous dates.

Make your menu special, be creative, add “one-off” dishes with more expensive offerings, dishes you don’t ordinarily have on your menu. Remember, creativity has no limits, include dishes that are romantic, attractive and unique for the day!

Create that unique romantic atmosphere. Make sure your guests feel the warm and romantic atmosphere as soon as they walk in, soft romantic lighting, candles are always a winner, as is romantic music. Red roses and petals of red roses, heart shaped decorations are symbols of love and affection.

Wine and champagne are the drinks most closely associated Valentines day, Champagne is of course an absolute must, however Prosecco has become increasingly popular in recent years. Furthermore with a bit of creative thinking on cocktails, operators could push that spirits sales uplift even higher. One way to achieve that could include sharpening the focus on fizzy, celebratory-style cocktails. Set a menu price that allows you to welcome customers with a complimentary glass of sparkling wine, and encourage staff to suggest a bottle to go with the meal

And don’t forget the non-drinkers, which is set to grow, particularly among the millennial demographic. Low and alcohol free beverages, adult soft drinks and mocktails are a fast-growing market. Offering stylish and great-tasting mocktails will go down just as well as the alcoholic beverages on your menu and offer an excellent profit margin.

It is a good time to pull in support from food and drinks suppliers too, leveraging spirits brands to theme drinks for the day. Amy Burgess, trade communications manager at Coca-Cola European Partners, said statistics show that 59% of women consume cocktails during a special celebration , meaning these drinks represent a huge sales opportunity for operators hosting Valentine’s Day celebrations.

She says: “Operators should consider putting together themed Valentine’s Day food menus, with staff on hand to recommend drinks that could complement the meal – ranging from cocktails and mixed drinks to soft drinks and mocktail options, made using well-known brands.”

With competition for market share so fierce at the moment, striking the right offer on Valentine’s Day can be a big springboard to acquiring new customers and encouraging loyalty among existing ones.
So, make sure that your offering is original and stands out from the competition. Concentrate on what your venue does best and capitalise on this.

Valentine’s Day is all about the couple. Ensure your waiting and bar staff remember this and are able to provide an effective service with with discreet recommendations and up- selling without being obtrusive. Offer the opportunity for couples to impress each other and enjoy the privacy of each other’s company!

According to a survey by matchmaking app happn:

• Men will be most likely to pick up the tab on Valentine’s night with men on a first date spending an average of £70, compared to £47 by women.
• The biggest spending region is London, with £119 spent on a first date. Yorkshire was the cheapest with £42 the average spend.

• The older generation who believe the bill should be split, with only 28 per cent saying men should pick up the tab. In the 25 to 34-year-old age category, 41 per cent expected the man to pay for the first date.

• Men take an average of 79 minutes to get their look just right, which is three minutes longer than the women surveyed.