A major holiday always calls for special marketing attention, but Valentine’s Day is the World Series or Superbowl event for restaurants. It’s one of the busiest days of the year, and in 2018 consumers spent $3.7 billion on Valentine’s day dining experiences.

Having a lackluster holiday weekend can hurt more than one restaurant, it can impact an entire chain. However, with a smart strategy for marketing leading up to Valentine’s Day, you can be sure to have a full dining room. Use ads along with unique Valentine’s Day promotions to stand apart from all the other restaurants that are trying to stay busy on that weekend.

Make your restaurant the easy choice

With prime visibility and online reservations, you can make your restaurant the easiest option for diners. Visibility around Valentine’s Day is vital, and with proper location-based marketing efforts, you can stand apart from the countless other restaurants trying to grab attention during the holiday.

Use a combination of your guest’s data captured through your POS system along with location-based insights to create a high-impact digital marketing plan. Make sure that your ads send people to your reservations or bookings page and that it’s easy to navigate from social media to your reservation system.

The National Restaurant Association found that in recent years about 50% of Valentine’s Day reservations were made on mobile devices. That combination of people searching for restaurants and booking online means you need to ensure that your site and reservation platform is optimized for mobile use before you start mapping out your promotions.

Yelp’s reservation system handled 5.6 million diners during the 2019 Valentine’s Day week with its wait-list and reservation software. Consider working with Yelp’s OpenTable system or make online reservations available through your online platform.

Adopt a limited menu for the holiday weekend

Fine dining establishments use Prix Fixe menus frequently, but even fast-food and casual dining restaurants can partake in limited menus for the holiday. With the proper systems in place, your menu development team and store managers can easily transition from the standard menu to a special limited menu easily.

Create marketing materials such as table tents and printed menus to ensure that every location is offering the same experience.

Using a set menu allows kitchens to operate more efficiently, and reduces waste, while also improving consistency and quality. In the dining room, these menus reduce guest’s decision fatigue, leading to quicker orders and, ultimately, faster table turns.

On a limited menu, you can offer your guests three choices for each portion of the meal including appetizers, entrees, sides, and desserts. Or, with an authentic Prix Fixe menu, you will provide one appetizer, one soup, salad, an entrée, and dessert. Advertise your menu ahead of time on social media, and through your website so those most likely to visit your restaurant will know what to expect.

Encourage couples to start their romantic evening with a fan favorite

Olive Garden has their breadsticks, Outback has the Bloomin’ Onion, and now Popeye’s has their (in)famous chicken sandwich. Your fans have a favorite menu item, and if you don’t know it already, you should look through your POS systems’ data to identify the most frequently ordered menu items.

Then put your fan favorite in the spotlight of your Valentine’s Day marketing plan. Post through Facebook and Instagram with witty puns, sassy messages, or romantic insight revolving around the menu item that could start a night out. An Italian restaurant with a well-loved anti-pasta sampler might promote an anti-couples day knowing that their community has a lot of single people and encourage them to celebrate anyway.

Boost your engagement with a good love story

Stories can be 22 times as memorable as simple facts or quick messages, which has brought storytelling to the forefront for marketing teams. You need your store and your promotion to be memorable, and you can use storytelling to execute one of these Valentine’s Day marketing strategies.

Hosting a social media contest is the first option. Invite people online to share their love story with a particular hashtag such as “#[Restaurant]2020CutestCouple” and then select a winner through a “judge” or randomly for a grand prize. Make sure to offer a participation prize to everyone else. Contact the winner a few days before Valentine’s Day to confirm their dining plans.

The alternative to a contest is to have a store manager select a local couple that regularly visits the restaurant. Conduct a short interview with them, obtain any necessary permissions, and take a few professional pictures. Then use that content to make a series of small ads to tell their love story. One ad could be about how your restaurant plays a role in keeping their spark alive. Pair each post or ad with the promotion you’re running for the weekend of Valentine’s day and encourage people to follow the love story by following your page.

In either version, you’ll be using hashtags and promoting engagement by encouraging people to follow a love story or by sharing their own with the world.

Create an unexpected atmosphere

While Valentine’s Day seems to be full of clichés, it’s a time when couples want a mix of novelty and spontaneity. You can accomplish this with minimal effort but still, make a huge impact locally by emphasizing your presence in your community or communities.

Have you heard of Waffle House’s self-proclaimed, “bucket list” experience? It happens once a year on Valentine’s Day when they trade their typical greasy spoon look for white table cloths, candles, and roses. They take reservations and have become quite the spot for couples because it’s something so normal but also out of the ordinary. Waffle House has been managing this massive transformation between lunch and dinner for the last 12 years!

Use decorations, limited menus, and entertainment changes to deliver something welcome but also unanticipated.

Offer big rewards for the big question

In 2018 Panera took the few days leading up to Valentine’s Day to spread the word that couples could receive free catering for their wedding. The catch was that the proposal needed to happen in a Panera, and it had to happen on Valentine’s Day. This fast-casual chain isn’t where most people would finish a romantic evening, but sales still skyrocketed for the day.

But, be sure to avoid the possibility of social media backlash when making these bold offers. Panera was subsequently roasted on Twitter when couples realized that the promotion was a sweepstakes entry with many detailed requirements for the five winners.

When planning out holiday marketing, always focus on making a massive local impact. With a well-developed strategy, you can boost holiday foot traffic and cultivate customer loyalty. Rely on targeted ads built on real data from your stores to hit peak ad performance and even reach people who have visited separate locations or similar businesses recently.


By Mercedes Diaz, Independent content creator for business and food service niches, contributor on Poster POS Restaurant Business Blog. She provides content aimed to build relationships between customers and companies.