Navigating COVID-19’s New Normal For Restaurant Operators
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Consumers in the U.S. alone spend $3.7 billion dollars on dining out on Valentine’s Day.
As a restaurant, this becomes a huge opportunity, but competition is fierce to capture this revenue.
Below are 13 Valentine's Day marketing ideas to stand out from the crowd and draw in diners.
82% of guests would rather receive an experience than a gift from their significant other.
Which is why you need to adjust your menu to make it something your usual dinner menu isn’t.
Like offering a foie gras lollipop hors d'oeuvre:
Or pink tortillas for tacos:
Or a “Strawberry Blonde” cocktail:
Pro Tip: Let these menu items speak for themselves; include pictures of them in your marketing emails, ads, and social posts to promote reservations for Valentine’s Day.
Sometimes, you can dress up an appetizer, entree, or dessert that’s already on your menu.
Whether it’s arranging the food into a heart-shape:
Or simply adding a “love”-themed chocolate or caramel drizzle onto a dessert.
Pro Tip: Ask your chef to plate a dish with the heart-theme late January or early February to include a picture in your marketing promotions to guests.
Pictures aren’t the only way to dress up the ordinary.
Words are another ingredient to create a special experience and entice guests.
We like this restaurant menu that renames appetizers, first course, second course, and dessert as the phases of a relationship: “courtship,” “first kiss,” “rapture,” and “sweet surrender.”
It also takes the first course with salads in it and adds “Leaf us alone,” and then separates dessert options into “7 deadly sins for two.” Very clever!
Pro Tip: Include a picture of and/or link to your menu in your Valentine’s Day email invite.
Does your reservation system let you set the default date you choose (in this case February 14th) for your reservation-booking link in your email promos? Check out SevenRooms — we do.
Make your guests feel special with a gift that costs you less than the “surprise & delight” value it delivers to them.
Remember, delivering unforgettable experiences is what drives 60% of repeat visits.
Some marketing ideas for Valentine’s Day gifts are:
Promoting these things in advance attracts the person in a couple who books the dinner reservation, because it makes it easier for them to make their significant other feel special.
Pro Tip: If you don’t want to add any additional cost to your operations, you could make a simple tweak so that something you already provide feels more special — like making heart-shaped dinner rolls.
Whether it’s calling, emailing, or uploading email addresses to trigger an ad, your repeat guests should be the first audience you invite to your dinner seating.
Here’s why: It’s 7x more expensive to acquire a new guest than it is to retain an existing one.
In other words, it’s easier to convince a past guest to come back than it is to convince a new guest to try you out.
Pro Tip: Try a low-budget ad campaign from February 1-7th targeting email addresses for guests who have dined with you in the past 6 months. Use language that drives emotion in your ad, like creating FOMO with the question “Have dinner plans for Valentine’s Day?”
Receiving a truly personalized email from a restaurant can be rare for many guests.
So segment out your guests and send them an email that feels like it’s targeted just to them.
This could mean hitting repeat guests all-time with a “come back” message, or telling guests who have dined in the past 6 months that you want them to have early access to seating.
Here’s an example of an email from NYC-based restaurant group Altamarea:
And here are 3 email templates for you to copy/paste right now.
Pro Tip: Wait until the beginning of February to send your email. Many guests don’t follow through with deciding on and booking a reservation until then.
This one is a trick that’s overlooked in marketing emails over 90% of the time.
Too often, restaurants send a email promoting a specific occasion, only to bring guests to today’s date. This makes it harder for guests and could hurt your booking conversion rate.
The solution: A simple tweak to your widget URL. You just add a custom parameter (starting with “?”) that tells the widget to set a new default date.
SevenRooms customers can learn exactly what parameter to use here.
This is an easy way to automatically advertise add-ons and capture revenue before guests even arrive on-site.
Many restaurant reservation platforms like SevenRooms allow restaurant operators to easily set this up on their reservation widget and integrate with payment providers like Stripe.
Here’s a sample of upgrade options that you might offer your guests:
The result: incremental revenue for you and less no-shows from your guests, because they’ve already committed payment.
See how your restaurant can use Upgrades to capture revenue right when guests book online — schedule your demo of SevenRooms today.
Starting at the end of January, you should be advertising to guests already on your website the fact that your book is open for Valentine’s Day.
How to do this: Add text on top of a Valentine’s Day themed image.
Here’s an excellent example from our client Spago in Los Angeles:
Not only is this image a great place to promote things like your address and phone number, but you can also use it as a banner advertisement for your happenings at your restaurant.
If you have the marketing resources to create a page on your website, it might be worthwhile.
Creating a landing page for Valentine’s day lets you put resources like your pictures, menu, and special reservation link in one place.
And it makes the booking experience easier for your guests.
Here’s a great example from our client Patina Group:
This is a group with multiple properties, but independent venues can still copy the concept of having a fun title, pictures with a short-and-sweet description, a menu link, and a reservation link.
Pro Tip: Include “valentines day restaurant” + “[your city]” as the keyword in your URL, your page title, in at least one H1 headline, and as alt image tags for any images. This will increase your SEO for any guests in your city searching for Valentine’s Day restaurant reservations.
According to Toast POS, 45% of consumers decide on a restaurant for Valentine’s Day that they haven’t been to before, that has a special menu, or that has a romantic atmosphere.
Which means you have a shot at attracting new guests with your menu and atmosphere — as long as its unique.
You can get the word out to the masses of your specific city by becoming your own PR rep. For example, a restaurant in New York City could reach out to outlets like Thrillist and Grubstreet to pitch they unique Valentine’s Day menus, or holiday-inspired decor.
Pro Tip: Google search “[city name] reservations + Valentine’s Day + 2018” to see what outlets covered restaurant options for Valentine’s Day 2018. You can bet they’re planning to do the same for 2019, so get ahead of asking them to be included.
Here’s an email template to use:
Subject Line: Covering the best Valentine’s Day restaurants? Check out [My Restaurant]
Hi [first name],
I noticed you previously covered the best Valentine’s Day restaurants, and wanted to reach out with the below in case you’re currently working on a story for this year.
Who I am: [your relation to restaurant]
Why you should feature [restaurant name] in [location] in your 2019 V-Day round-up:
- [Reason 1 - dish detail - describe what makes this dish seasonally appropriate/how it’s created]
- [Reason 2 - cocktail detail - something fun and colorful that a guest can’t get anywhere else]
- [Reason 3 - ambiance/vibe - what makes your location special/better than your competitor down the street]
Link to menu: [link]
Link to photos: [link]
Best for guests who are looking for: [romantic, menu type (e.g. vegetarian, seafood), seating types (e.g. booth, views, etc.)]
How guests can book a reservation: [contact info or tracking URL]
Please don’t hesitate to reach out if I can provide additional details! I look forward to hearing from you.
Get creative with your email! Here’s a unique and funny way to describe the “Best for guests who are looking for” at a restaurant called Annika in Brooklyn:
“If you’re a carnivore whose idea of romance is a butcher steak, but your better half is a vegan who prefers charred cauliflower”
Don’t forget: By including a tracked link as your reservation-booking URL in your email, you’re able to see which reservations are driven from this outlet
There are low-cost, low-effort things you can do for your guests that other restaurants won’t.
Like using a free tool like Canva to create a postcard to drop with the check for your Valentine’s Day dinner guests. Make it personal by including a note from the owner.
Pro Tip: Print your cards on a nice thicker paper at a nearby FedEx or other printing location, and have the owner of your restaurant personally hand-sign each card. If you want to go the extra step, you could also consider including a $20 gift card or code for their next visit.
This one’s a twofold trick.
1. It’s been proven that leaving candy can increase your tip amount by 18%.
If a guest leaves a greater tip, this implies they have a more positive sentiment toward your restaurant than they otherwise would have. They are therefore more likely to return.
2. Partnering with a local brand makes your guests feel more connected with you.
Studies show that we bond most closely with those who we find we have similarities to.
When you attract locals to dine with you for Valentine’s Day, and you give them chocolate from a brand tied to your city, you remind them that you all have the same roots.
In the restaurant world, where brand loyalty is difficult to come by, any way to bond becomes a precious one.
Don’t just get the word about your reservations; see where they’re coming from!
If you use SevenRooms, you can do this by adding a tracking parameter to your reservation URL. Grab these by logging in from a web browser and going to Marketing > Tracking Links.
Here are some examples of parameters for different social channels:
More on that here.
That’s it for now! Have tips you want to share? Tweet us at @SevenRooms!
Want to see SevenRooms for yourself? Schedule your demo today to see why how it's used at the host stand at Zuma, Cote, The Standard, and Altamarea Group's Ai Fiori and Marea.