When love is in the air publicans are best advised to keep their feet on the ground. Romancing couples want everything about their Valentine’s Day to live up to their dreams, and making sure of that is down to you, from creating the right atmosphere to attending to their every need. As Fairground Attraction used to say, it’s got to be perfect.
This year 14 February falls on a Friday, giving pubs at least two bites at the cherry. And if you’ve got accommodation, you can make a weekend of it by offering a package deal. However you choose to play it, though, the key is attention to detail.
“Operators can make Valentine’s Day special by making the most of their facilities,” according to Punch Taverns category manager Stephen Martin.
“If you have letting bedrooms, try to add romantic touches to your rooms and create Valentine’s packages that might include a meal, a bouquet of flowers or bottle of Champagne in the price.
“In the bar, I would argue that rosé or sparkling wines and fruit ciders work well. Operators should try to offer a special deal to drive rate of sale and build a back-bar display.
“Staff training is also important for Valentine’s Day as you have to make sure that customers have the best service and experience as part of the occasion.”
■ Plans for Valentine’s should be in place early in the new year so you can start marketing the occasion. Create your menu and deals, and think about the extra stock you need.
■ Valentine’s Day has to be special. You can’t rely on your regular menu. Create one-off dishes and consider adding expensive options you wouldn’t usually get away with.
■ Drinks have to fizz. Champagne is a must, but offer cheaper bubbles like Prosecco too. And create a cocktail list made for love.
■ Use flyers, posters and social media to advertise, but don’t forget to talk to customers, too, and let them know what you have planned. If you’ve a customer database, get the emails out.
■ Prepare staff. They’ll need to look and be at their best and work hard to look after people. Offer table service.
■ Create the atmosphere. Don’t be afraid to go over the top with schmaltzy décor. Turn down the lights and bring out the candles.
The food of love
Music might be the food of love, but chocolate has a part to play, too — especially when it comes in a luxurious cream liqueur.
Thorntons Chocolate Liqueur, created by Global Brands in 2012 with the help of a master chocolatier, is a blend of West African cocoa, vodka and cream, while Diageo’s Baileys Chocolat Luxe, launched last September, blends Belgian chocolate with Irish whiskey.
For Global Brands’ marketing director Simon Green, Valentine’s week is the perfect time for it. “People want to treat themselves to rich food and indulgent cocktails, giving publicans the opportunity to create and sell premium drinks, using back-bar spirits and liqueurs,” he says.
"Cream liqueurs are outperforming the total spirits market by 7%, and chocolate-flavoured varieties are experiencing a 47% growth, driven by women seeking indulgent cocktails on their nights out.
Pubs can promote chocolate liqueurs in a number of ways, from luxurious cocktails to hot drinks made by pouring them into coffee and hot chocolate. They can also be added to ice cream and trifles, to create a decadent dessert."
1 part Thorntons Chocolate Liqueur
1 part Sobieski Estate Vodka
1 part Teichenné Vanilla Schnapps
Coat the rim of a martini glass with lemon and dip in baker’s cocoa powder. Combine all ingredients together with ice, shake and strain into the glass.
The Elm Tree, Beech Hill, Berkshire
For Punch Taverns tenant Jim Kimber, Valentine’s is “the hardest day of the year”. “We’ll have 20 tables for two. But it’s worth the extra effort.”
Kimber gained his experience as manager of nearby freehouse the George & Dragon at Swallowfield. Since taking over the Elm Tree last summer he’s quickly rebuilt its reputation for good food and, with bookings coming in for 14 February, he’s confident of a full house.
The set meal with come in at around £40 per head, and will include lobster and “a glass of bubbles”, while couples will be serenaded by a gypsy jazz combo called Café Zazous.
The Bull Inn, Barton Mills, Suffolk
Come 14 February, the Bull at Barton Mills transforms itself into what locals call the ‘Romance Factory’ as the freehouse turns on the hearts and flowers.
“Valentine’s Day is always a sell-out for us,” says licensee Cheryl Hickman.
“And this year we’re aiming to fit in an extra sitting by introducing an early-bird menu from 6pm to 8pm on the Friday and Saturday.”
The early-bird meal will offer two courses for £22 compared to £37.50 for the full-on Valentine’s feast, which Hickman says “is a prohibitive cost for some people these days”.
In the spirit of the occasion there will be an emphasis on sharing. The four-course menu always includes a Chateaubriand for two and couples can choose to have three starters between them. You’ll always find a chocolate fondue among the desserts, too. “It’s the romance of sharing,” she says.
Tables will be candlelit and sprinkled with Love Hearts sweets, and the Bull will also create a couple of themed cocktails to get people in the mood.
“We had a marriage proposal on the night last year,” she adds. “Everybody just loves it when that happens.”