Dishin' That: Restaurants miss the target on Valentine's Day

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It’s a seasonal thing.

Just like all the hard-working folks at the franchised tax-prep offices, Cupid, the bow-and-arrow-toting cherub of love, is working overtime. And like the mixed-bag results coming out of those tax offices, Cupid doesn’t always strike when people wish he would.

For restaurants and entertainment venues, it’s an opportunity barely tapped. A money-maker untouched. And for years, my industry friends and I have been wondering why.

“With Valentine’s Day falling on a Sunday, I’ve been after my boss to do a ‘Love Yourself First Brunch’ for weeks now,” said my Boston-based buddy who works at a posh restaurant. “It would leave the whole weekend and evening meal period open for couples. We could do a really nice three-course brunch off a customized menu. I’ll bet we’d get lots of women and their single girlfriends. Probably a few guys, too.”

“It isn’t just single women with no dinner-date prospects,” another friend said. “It’s a weekend and a lot of divorced dads have the kids. What a marketing oversight that those movie theater outfits offering food haven’t been pushing family packages hard this past month. And there’s no need to be subtle about it in the marketing. ‘Show your kids a great movie and the love this Valentine’s Day.’”

“Yeah, it’s definitely the pink elephant in the room,” a married server said. “There’s all these single people, and no matter why they’re single, nobody is catering to them. Even in-house, the staff without significant others are bummed out around Valentine’s Day. And we all know how stupid the whole thing is. It’s a great money-making week, but the mood shifts for sure.”

But not everybody sees the value of catering to the solo, and possibly lonely, masses.

“I dread Valentine’s Day, even more than Christmas Eve in the customer loneliness department,” said a long time Old Port bartender. “The drama-filled stories are so hard to listen to. After people have a few drinks and spill their guts, I wonder where their family and friends are.”

Having been there (on both sides), I know being inundated by jewelry store ads pushing engagement rings and commercials for Viagra can be brutal to the self-worth of someone who has not embraced being single. There’s nothing I can say to help you survive the weekend, except to count your blessings, buy a bottle of your favorite wine and shift your perspective.

While restaurants are indeed missing out on an untapped audience (pushing small plates and signature cocktails would be ideal), all of this hoopla and made-up societal expectations will pass in a few short days.

And it isn’t all bad. At least you won’t have to split your tax return, and you have to love that.

Peas and Q’s

Q — We were out to dinner with friends and had to leave before ordering because our server was wearing so much aftershave. It was very strong and lingered even when he walked away. How is this allowed around food, when sense of smell is so important? — Laurie D., Cumberland.

A — No excuse for this one. If the dinner meal period was too busy to send the smelly server home, then hopefully, he was cut as soon as possible and given a gentle verbal warning (it could have been an honest mistake of one spritz too many). For those of you who decide to stick it out during a scenario such as this, it would be useful to mention your displeasure on a comment card, or to the manager when leaving.

Unless the place is insufferably urban chic, simplicity in personal appearance is stressed in the hiring and training process. And, of course, good hygiene should be a given no matter where you’re dining.

Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to nladd@theforecaster.net, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @Nhladd.

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