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Valentine's Day Less Sweet For Restaurants

Thursday, 12 Feb 2009 | 3:49 PM ET

Restaurants aren't getting any love this Valentine's Day.

Photo:Doug Ellis

This year the holiday falls on a Saturday, the busiest and most profitable day for the average establishment. As a result, restaurants may not see as big an increase in sales or traffic as they would if the holiday fell on a weekday.

A Saturday Valentine's Day couldn't come at a worse time. Consumers concerned about the economy have been tightening their spending and eating out less. Restaurant operators reported a 68 percent drop in traffic in December 2008, one of the highest levels on record.

“We would prefer if it was midweek" said Dr. Peter Szende, an assistant professor at Boston University's School of Hospitality Administration. "Obviously, it's not a surprise, we budget ahead of times, and knew a Saturday Valentine's Day would bring in less revenue."

To combat the Saturday holiday, restaurant operators across the country are spreading out the holiday by offering deals and special meals the entire weekend, week or in some cases, month.

Restaurants that didn’t plan ahead and offer some kind of extended holiday special will get "hurt," said Chuck Przybylinski, regional director of operations for Levy Restaurants.

One of his restaurants, Fulton's on the River in Chicago, is offering a month-long promotion called the “oyster aphrodisiac menu” with $8.00 oyster plates. A special Valentine's Day menu will also be served on both Friday and Saturday.

"When Valentine’s Day is on Saturday, a restaurant can expect a 20- to 30-percent increase in sales since the restaurant is already at capacity during prime dining hours,” says restauranteur Bobby Fitzgerald, who runs several upscale casual restaurants in a number of states. “But when Valentine's Day is on a weekday, a restaurant can expect a 100-percent increase in sales.”

At The White Chocolate Grill restaurants, which are located in four different states including one outside of Las Vegas and another in Phoenix, Fitzgerald is offering a $12- to $15-dollar discount on a special Valentine’s Day menu, the first time he has done so. Diners will also get a 20-percent discount on a bottle of wine.

Skeeter Miller, the owner and operator of The County Line, which has a number of locations in Texas and Oklahoma, as well as Cannoli Joe's, an Austin, Texas-based restaurant, says that although specials and extending the holiday might bring in more people, it can be expensive to market. It can also prove difficult to get customers to celebrate on a different day.

“In some markets it can be quite expensive to get that promotion in front of people in order to feel a sales punch,” Miller said.

In New York City, Sam Firer, a partner of The Hall Company, a public relations and consultancy company that works with restaurants, says that he is advising clients to “really build on Valentine’s Day.”

Bar Bao in Manhattan, for example, is offering special cocktails to bring in more people, especially singles who might not have come out otherwise.

“With the economy the way it is,” said Miller, “you’re always fighting for every inch of business you can get.”