Marketing

With Valentine’s Day and Super Bowl a day apart, restaurants are covering all bases

The upcoming extended weekend can turn out to be a blockbuster or a bust, depending on the whims of consumers.
Super Bowl and Valentine packages
Photo courtesy of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises/L. Woods and Shaw's Crab House

Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day fall on the same long weekend this year, which complicates what can be two of the most-lucrative events for restaurants.

In the pre-pandemic month of January 2020, Open Table reported that on average, restaurant dinner reservations on the network surged 500% for Valentine’s Day. Although the pandemic didn’t measurably ruin business that year, 2021 numbers were way down for romantic dinners inside a restaurant.

Even with vaccinations more widespread, 2022 may not be much better, according to Morning Consult’s food and beverage analyst Emily Moquin. Although half of Americans plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, restaurants shouldn’t count on a rush, she said in a statement. Only 43% of celebrants plan to go out to dinner compared to 69% who said that pre-pandemic.

The other complication—the day before Valentine’s Day is Super Bowl Sunday, another traditionally big sales day for restaurants. Casual-dining chains like Applebee’s and California Pizza Kitchen market both holidays, but will diners seeking romance really want to be surrounded by screaming fans chugging beers?

“Logan’s Roadhouse understands that these two events bring in different guests, so we are catering to each guest profile with unique offerings,” said Kristen Hohl, director of marketing for parent company SPB Hospitality. “Plus we’re offering to-go options for both Valentine’s and Super Bowl, and by extending the timeline for each offer for the whole weekend, we believe it will still be a successful weekend despite the combined celebrations.”

“Plus, who wants to cook at home Monday for Valentine’s after hosting Super Bowl celebrations Sunday?,” she added.

Until Sunday, Logan’s is offering a Buy Two Get One Free Party Pack Roadhouse Tailgate Special filled with watch-party favorites such as potato skins, hand-breaded chicken tenders, Original Roadies (mini burgers), spinach and artichoke dip, boneless wings and ribs.

Overlapping this promotion is a holiday Valentine’s Prime Rib dinner and cocktails, on offer from Friday through Sunday. It features hand-carved prime rib and two sides, plus a festive red or pink drink, such as the Rockin’ Strawberry Groupie and Prickly Pear ‘Rita.

Logan's Prime Rib dinner

Photo courtesy of Logan's Roadhouse

Like Logan’s, other restaurants are extending the celebration into a multi-day event, spreading it over three days or even a week. And there’s still a big marketing push—and a market—for Valentine meals to-go.

Morning Consult reports of those consumers who said they’re not going out to dinner, 63% plan to make a special meal at home and 35% plan to order takeout.

Two years into the pandemic, Valentine to-go options have increased in number and scope. Sure, there are plenty of heart-shaped pizzas, with Papa Johns, Donatos, Jet’s, Mountain Mike’s, California Pizza Kitchen and more operators menuing this iconic item. But full-service restaurants are offering a more-varied menu for carryout couples.

According to Applebee’s, Valentine to-go orders have surged 80% higher in the last four years, with items such as Shrimp N’ Parmesan Sirloin and Bourbon Street Chicken and Shrimp among customer favorites. This year, the casual-dining chain is celebrating the holiday throughout the month of February, adding two new $5 Smoochie Sip cocktails—the vodka-based Tipsy Cupid and the mango-strawberry Date Night Daiquiri. The cocktails will be available to go at participating locations that allow off-premise alcohol sales.

applebee's smooch cocktails

Super Bowl Sunday, on the other hand, has long been a major takeout and delivery occasion for fans celebrating at home. While certain brands, including Buffalo Wild Wings and Hard Rock Cafe market themselves as dine-in destinations on Super Bowl Sunday, nearly 59% of U.S. households are likely to order food for delivery for the big game, according to Nextbite, a virtual restaurant company. 

And that number is increasing. A recent Nextbite survey reveals that 78% of respondents are somewhat or much more likely to order food for for delivery than last year, with millennials (68%) and males (64%) the most likely customers.

Tall Boy Tacos Super Bowl to go

Photo courtesy of Tall Boy Tacos

Super Bowl is typically all about off-premise for barbecue chain Famous Dave's. “We don’t draw the big in-house crowd for the Super Bowl, so we’re following the same game- day strategy we have in the past,” said COO Al Hanks. “We bundle food items into feasts for ease of ordering and execution and promote fan favorites." These include slider packages with chopped pork, brisket and buns and meaty platters with wings, tenders, ribs and fries.

In the past, Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day came at least a week apart, and Famous Dave’s put its marketing clout behind both holidays. But Hanks admits, “it has proven difficult this year to market these events separately with the calendar change with the Super Bowl. It’s inevitable that with the Monday timing of Valentine's Day, and Super Bowl falling on that Sunday, it’s going to negatively impact sales.”

Famous Dave’s anticipates Super Bowl Sunday to be much slower than a Sunday during a typical Valentine’s weekend. “Takeout will be a big part of our promotion, and our Valentine’s Day specials will be carried over a longer period of time than we historically do to accommodate the scheduling complexity this year,” said Hanks.

Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, the multi-concept operator with restaurants ranging from fast casual to fine dining, does not expect that complexity to impact Valentine dinner reservations on Super Bowl Sunday.

“We’re looking forward to being very busy with dine-in guests, as at many of our locations, we are doing Super Bowl packages for carryout and delivery,” said Kelly Clancy, managing partner for LEYE’s RPM Restaurants. These options include sushi platters from Sushi-san, barbecue packs from L. Woods and Bub City, a taco bar from Tallboy Taco and wing trays from RJ Grunts—all restaurants on the more casual side.

The more upscale spots are promoting “experiences” for Valentine’s weekend, targeting their dine-in clientele.

“At RPM we have found that guests are looking for unique and memorable nights out,” said Clancy. “They are more willing to join us for events such as our Sommelier Experience at RPM Italian and RPM Seafood, or our Master Sommelier Experience featuring Veuve Clicquot champagne at RPM Events.”

Even so, LEYE is returning one of its COVID-era successes for one day only. On Sunday, “The Best of Lettuce Delivered” gives consumers in the northern suburbs of Chicago the chance to order from 17 Lettuce restaurants, picking from each location’s top sellers or special packages. From rich pasta dishes at Il Porcelino to Mediterranean-style grilled branzino at Ema, there’s something for everyone.

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