Back to Basics: Valentine's Day

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If you're not one of the lucky licensees who are booked up months in advance for dining on Valentine's Day, now's the time to take action to ensure...

If you're not one of the lucky licensees who are booked up months in advance for dining on Valentine's Day, now's the time to take action to ensure that your pub is full of couples eating and drinking with you on the big day.

Start by planning exactly what your Valentine's offering will be. Pubs with lots of dining covers might lean towards a special fixed menu to keep things manageable for the kitchen, with some kind of added-value offer such as a bottle of wine per couple or a violinist to help create a romantic atmosphere.

If your outlet is more drinks-led you could still link up with a caterer or use your kitchen to provide some kind of buffet. To attract couples looking for a proper night out, supplement this with a live band perhaps, or a prize draw to win a romantic mini-break for the 'wow' factor.

Couples will be prepared to pay a premium for their special night - but they will want value for their money in terms of special treatment, treats or entertainment. Decide on a tasteful decorative theme (no, the fairy lights from last Christmas won't do) and think about how this will work across table decorations, menus, floral displays and so on.

Getting the mood right might mean toning down some elements of your regular offering, such as switching the music to something suitably subtle and romantic or hiding all your highchairs for the evening.

Another option is to run a singles event to cater for all the singletons looking to enjoy themselves on a night traditionally dedicated to couples. You could offer speed dating (where couples spend just three minutes getting to know each other before moving on. You give compatible couples each other's email addresses the day afterwards) or simply host a more informal evening.

So now you know what your special Valentine's offering is going to be, you obviously need to get some bookings in.

Start closest to home and make sure your chalkboards carry details of the event and that your menu has an insert reminding diners to book early. It might be worth including some kind of incentive for advance bookings such as a free glass of champagne with their meal for couples who book before the end of January.

If your budget will stretch to it, most local papers will be carrying a 'where to dine for Valentines' supplement very soon.

If you do decide to advertise, make sure you make clear what your Valentine's dinner offer is, for example, "three-course dinner with bottle of wine and live entertainment for £54 per couple", and include a telephone number for bookings. Another option is to write a simple press release detailing your Valen-tine's event and make sure you send it to the appropriate person on your local paper.

If you have a customer database, mail them! It doesn't have to be expensive, a flyer or printed note on your pub's headed paper are fine so long as it looks professional and conveys the idea that you are holding an appropriately tasteful, romantic event. Make sure your staff know all about your Valentine's plans and are ready to really sell the event to customers. It might also be worth making sure your people are in the right frame of mind on the night, too - after all no-one wants their romantic dinner served by a blushing, giggling 16-year-old.

Finally, take a look at your back-bar and make sure your range of champagnes, sparkling wines and liqueurs are prominently on display to encourage couples to treat themselves to something special. This is also a great chance use flavoured vodkas to create themed cocktails that offer a great margin opportunity.

So with cupid's help, set your target for a profitable February 14.

Top tips for Valentine's Day

• Plan well ahead exactly what your Valentine's offer will be

• Use incentives to drive early bookings

• Tie up with other businesses looking to benefit from Valentine's Day

• Use your back-bar on the night to drive sales of celebratory treats like champagne and cocktails.

Gemma Teed is a strategic planner at marketing communications agency Brahm

Related topics: Events & Occasions

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