By Mark Plumlee
Now that Valentine’s Day has passed, it’s time to celebrate anniversaries and date nights for the rest of the year. Many couples struggle to find time to plan a special evening, but your restaurant can help with easy and romantic options, while also promoting and building your business.
With tougher competition than ever in the foodservice industry and a shaky economic forecast in 2023, date night can be a great way to stand out from the crowd, increase your revenue, spread brand awareness, and improve customer loyalty.
If you don’t focus on date nights at your restaurant, this could be the right time to give it a try. Here are some of the elements you need to consider to make date nights the perfect night out:
Set the mood
To make your date nights unique, give your restaurant an extra special mood. Dimming the lighting can create a cozy, intimate, and romantic atmosphere. You can use a combination of dimmer switches, fairy lights, and candles to achieve this effect.
Choose a playlist of romantic or instrumental music. If you want to make it feel like an event, you could even hire a musician or band. Whatever you choose, be sure to avoid loud or energetic music, which can work against the vibe you are going for and can disrupt conversation.
You can also decorate with flowers; a little can go a long way here, especially with your romantic lighting and music.
Design a date night menu
Consider offering something different on your date night menu to help attract couples who want to taste those exclusive dishes.
When it comes to the actual menu, you have a couple of options. You could offer a selection of small plates or tapas-style dishes that are perfect for mixing, matching, and sharing. Small plates allow your kitchen to offer something for everyone, as your guests sample different dishes and flavours.
Alternatively, you could try offering a date night package with a fixed-price meal, champagne or wine, and a dessert to share. This could take a little stress off your kitchen on extra busy nights.
When it comes down to it, there isn’t a right or a wrong choice. You will want to pick the one that makes the most sense for your business, your brand, and your kitchen.
It’s also a great idea to design a date night menu. While this can be a lot of work, there are services that can help make menu design a breeze. With hundreds of professionally-designed and eye-catching restaurant menu templates available, it’s quick and easy to launch a new date night menu.
Offer cozy seating
Setting up tables or booths with more comfortable and plush seating will make couples cozy and create a more luxurious, relaxing atmosphere. This might work best if you reserve a specific area of your restaurant for date nights.
On warm nights, your patio could make an excellent date night section. You could remove your larger tables and replace them with smaller and more intimate two-person options. Though it may be tempting to try and maximize traffic, be careful not to just cram a bunch of smaller tables into the space. Your customers want to dine with their loved ones, they won’t want to feel like they are sitting on top of other guests.
Give your guests some privacy
While you’re thinking about your seating, you should do your best to offer a bit of privacy to all of your date night tables. What this looks like will be different from restaurant to restaurant, depending on what your space has to offer.
If you have a big dining room, a big patio, and a private dining room or two, giving your couples more privacy should be easy, but it can even work in a smaller restaurant.
If real estate is at a premium, you can set up partitions or screens to create some privacy, or you can strategically place plants between tables for a sense of separation. You can also use water features to create privacy and provide a romantic atmosphere. The sound of falling water is relaxing, adding a bit of background noise, making it harder for tables to eavesdrop on other conversations.
If you need more room, you could always remove a few tables to create more space in your dining room. From a revenue standpoint, this might not sound like a great idea, but removing tables can create more privacy, and it can make your date night feel more exclusive and upscale, attracting people to your event. You may even be able to make up for the loss of tables by increasing your relative margins on your date night menu.
Personalize the experience
To give your date night an extra personalized touch, consider offering handwritten notes or special dessert presentations. You can make this work by training your staff to gather important details about your guests when they make their reservations. They can ask guests’ names, what occasions they’re celebrating, specific likes and dislikes, and more.
Writing a quick note of congratulations to customers celebrating big milestones or whipping up a special birthday dessert shows your customers you care, can up your cheque totals, and can make your restaurant stand out as a date night hotspot.
Promote, promote, promote
You could plan the best date night around, but that won’t matter if no one knows about it. You can advertise date night with posters, flyers, table tents, and more, and don’t forget to use your website and post about it on social media.
Including details on your menu and in your restaurant can be a great way to spread the word to your existing customers, but social media attracts a whole new crowd.
A good rule of thumb for your digital marketing is three to four posts per week. This is enough to spread brand awareness and drive business, but not enough to annoy followers with constant contact. If you want to highlight your date night, consider dedicating one or two posts per week for a few weeks before the event. After you’ve established it, consider promoting it once a week, or once every other week, to generate a little buzz and keep customers interested.
If you don’t consider yourself a social media expert, have no fear! You can find a ton of free restaurant social media posts online. These customizable templates can help you fill your Facebook or Instagram feed, boost business, and promote any of your restaurant’s events or specials.
Drive romance, drive business
One last pro tip: use your date night to drive customers on those traditionally slower nights like Mondays or Tuesdays. A well-designed and well-marketed date night can turn an otherwise quiet dinner service into a romantic and busy one.
Once you plan the perfect date night, watch the couples shoulder through your door, ready to celebrate their love in your restaurant.
Mark Plumlee is the Sr. Editor for MustHaveMenus, a DIY design and digital marketing service for restaurants, and has written for CRFN and many foodservice publications on food industry trends and technology.