Restaurant operators receive one of the best gifts possible on Valentine’s Day — increased traffic and sales. After Mother’s Day, in fact, Valentine’s Day ranks as the second busiest day of the year for the restaurant industry. As a result, smart operators plan accordingly, taking advantage of the opportunity with special promotions, many of which feature delicious dessert options and snacks that reflect the creativity of the chef, to boost Valentine’s Day sales even further.
Many Valentine’s desserts have traditionally focused on chocolate in some form or other — a trend that is expected to remain strong in 2018. But operators are not just relying on old favorites to lure lovers into their dining rooms, they are pairing chocolate with unusual and delicious ingredients, many in the form of added flavors or mix-ins.
Heart to heart
Joe Garber, marketing coordinator at Datassential, the Chicago market research firm, says, “Indulgence tends to play a large role in Valentine's promos across menus, with items like lobster popping up among entrées and desserts that often feature decadent or indulgent flavors, such as ganache, truffle or red velvet.”
Not surprisingly, hearts also factor as a key motif in the holiday. Garber cites several successful heart-shaped desserts and promotions from 2017, including:
- Heart-shaped donuts from Krispy Kreme and Dunkin' Donuts
- Heart-shaped Bo-Berry Biscuits from Bojangles’
- Heart-shaped cookies at Starbucks.
Smoke, heat and other unexpected elements are making their way into cutting-edge desserts this year, reports Karen Malody, principal of Culinary Options in Portland, Ore. Malody suggests catering to Valentine’s Day patrons with innovative twists on traditional desserts such as:
- Bread pudding spiked with smoked chocolate.
Chocolate and chili confections. “Chili is usually associated with savory food, but it’s showing its heated head all over the place, especially when combined with chocolate,” she says.
- A Napoleon containing Gianduja and bittersweet chocolate. Gianduja is a European-style of sweet chocolate made with nut paste, usually hazelnut. The sweet and the bitter chocolate make for a mouth-melting combination, she says.
- Budino — an Italian pudding — flavored with chocolate and butterscotch.
Old and new
Two dessert trends Malody also observes center on nostalgia and the use of root vegetables. “Nostalgia seems to be playing a big role in dessert choices today, everything from s’mores to bread pudding,” she says. At the same time, chefs are testing dessert boundaries by showcasing the naturally sweet elements of certain vegetables, especially root vegetables. One example, she cites, is carrot custard with meringue.
Operations from fine-dining establishments like Daniel and Oceana in New York to chains such as Dairy Queen or Olive Garden plan Valentine’s Day promotions to attract friends, family and lovers.
Most promotions tend to feature innovative desserts, which have come to represent the characteristics of the day of love — indulgence, specialness, sharing and creativity.
- Theme-based: Harry Potter fans can enjoy a three-course meal at Warner Brothers Studio in London. For the third course they can share a plate of desserts which includes a mango and passion fruit délice — French for “delight” — and a raspberry and amaretto tart.
- Cause-based: Valentine's Day is also a day to think about others. Boston’s Restaurant & Sports Bar is showing its heart with an expanded Valentine’s snack promotion known as “Cupcake for a Cause.” Extending beyond the day itself, the promotion is scheduled to run from mid-January to Feb. 18, tempting consumers’ taste buds and their desire to support a worthy cause.
The promotion features red velvet cupcakes topped with cream cheese frosting and “served with love.” Each cupcake sale will put aside $1 to be donated to No Kid Hungry.
- Experience-based: Ice cream franchise, Sub Zero Nitrogen Ice Cream, has planned a month-long sweet promotion. Jerry and Naomi Hancock developed the original idea for sub-zero freezing for which Jerry was awarded a patent in 2014. Nitrogen ice cream is made by using liquid nitrogen to flash freeze ingredients, yielding a smoother and creamier product. The chain has more than 50 units across the U.S.
Sub Zero Nitrogen Ice Cream’s Choco Berry Dip February Flavor Sensation features strawberry ice cream mixed with chocolate flakes and strawberries, and topped with a chocolate drizzle.
Valentine's Day opportunities
Valentine’s Day provides restaurateurs with the perfect opportunity to please customers with delicious and innovative desserts, offering many flavors and add-ins that can create a memorable confection — and dining experience.
Creative promotions will attract guests who are already predisposed to treat themselves and loved ones to a restaurant celebration on Valentine’s Day. And by offering palate-tempting desserts at the end of a delicious meal, increased sales and profits are almost virtually guaranteed.
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