Stephanie March on the Valentine's Day dining landscape.
It’s no secret that Valentine’s Day is one of the biggest restaurant nights of the year, if not the biggest. People jam restaurants, and smarties who plan ahead revel in their coveted reservations while others are still confounded that they can’t call in a seating request on the day. Chefs plan special menus, managers buy roses to hand out, and staff work hard to reorganize the seating chart to capitalize on the need for two-top tables. And yet people in the industry still continually refer to this night as “amateur night.”
I get it. I’ve worked more holidays than most, and with a family in the business, I still don’t look at V-Day as a night to grab a romantic meal at a restaurant (maybe for the same reason plumbers on their day off don’t crawl under the sink). But I do get a little concerned when we start to pigeonhole diners as amateurs or pros. Yes, some diners this V-Day will be people who only hit the better restaurants a few times a year, but doesn’t that make them all the more valuable patrons? Isn’t this a chance to wow them with service and food and make this more than a hallmark meal, cementing your restaurant’s name in their mental family history?
What amateurs possess is perhaps that sense of excitement, that willingness to be amazed by the béchamel tater tots the pros easily wave away as so 2010. Sure, restaurants can make more money on the pros, who tend to dine on Tuesdays and Thursdays alike, but that may only be if they can achieve a hard-earned spot in the frequent diner’s transitive heart—remember, the next hot place will be open next week.
Maybe I’m just swept up with the emotion of this month, but I say let the jaded visage drop and try to make someone fall in love with your restaurant. Court the young and inexperienced diners, make them feel special (not stupid), and start growing the relationships that will benefit the entire restaurant scene.
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