How to optimise your Valentine’s Day set menu

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. It’s the night where reservations of two pour down the run sheet and the floor staff play Tetris with tables to make sure capacity is met while maintaining a sense of romance and atmosphere.

If, as a business, there’s the opportunity to offer a set menu that may make one of the busiest nights of a restaurant’s year a little easier, where do you start to put that together? How do you make your venue stand out from the crowd and … get bookings for a busy and happy night.

We asked some leading restaurateurs on their tips.

Designing the menu

What are the first steps to designing a set menu for a night like Valentine’s Day?
Adam Dow, general manager of Dead Ringer in Sydney’s Surry Hills believes decision making for Valentine’s Day should be done as early as possible, even before Christmas. “You can’t leave it too late,” Dow says, “as January is an irregular time and before you know it, it’s a month away from Valentine’s Day. You don’t want to rush it.”

He also suggests putting dishes on the menu that can come out quickly. “It’s really important to design a menu to get things out quickly,” says Adam, “people might be on first dates or trying to impress and you don’t want to keep them waiting when they first sit down.”

“Look at your clientele,” says Paul Cooper, owner and chef of Bianchet Bistro in Victoria’s Yarra Valley. “You need to maximise the spend per head, as you are likely to only do tables of two throughout the evening, so even tables with a four-top are only sat with two people. It’s so important to provide a great experience with great value.”

To pre-pay or not to pre-pay

What do you think about asking for people to pre-pay their booking?
“I can see why restaurants require it at times,” says Dow, “but it’s not something we do and I don’t see it as becoming popular in Australia very soon. OpenTable does help with this though, as we can take a credit card number on days like Valentine’s Day and ask for 24 hours notice or a cancellation fee of $50/person is required. While we rarely take the fee, we find these rules help the customer commit to their booking and it protects us. It’s a good deterrent to skipping a booking.”

Cooper sees it differently, “During Covid times, it is essential to get guests to pre-pay for events such as Valentine’s Day as it guarantees that they will turn up.”

The Upsell

Is upselling important on a night like Valentine’s Day?
“Totally!” says Dow, “It’s such a no-brainer and what’s great on OpenTable is their Add-on in Experiences.”

The team at Dead Ringer are offering an add-on of a bottle of their own crafted aperitif called Rhubi. The invitation to buy this pops up when anyone books a table at Dead Ringer for Valentine’s Day through OpenTable. They can choose to pay for it and take home with them after Valentine’s Day.
“They may not buy it then, but it plants a seed of what we offer and I like that,” Dow says.

Dead Ringer may offer supplements like marron, oysters or caviar on the set menu.
“People may be in a spending mood and suddenly you’ve gone from $75 – $100/head spend, it’s helpful.”

Drinks to match

Is matching a drink necessary?
In the Yarra Valley, Cooper and his team often select a matching wine with each course on the set menu. “We offer to match wines to each course and sometimes offer a supplement with the main course. It might be Wagyu, crayfish, importantly it must be an upgrade or a lavish ingredient.” Although Cooper adds, “I’ve found doing non-alcoholic pairings is more hassle than it can be worth. Perhaps if you’ve got a reputation for it, go for it.”

How to tackle dietaries

Dow insists on finding out about dietaries as early as possible. “Lots of communication in the first stages of the booking is so important,” says Dow. “The kitchen, the staff, everyone can deal with dietaries easily if we have notice about them. We make extra effort to double-check there are requirements. It’s so stressful if we don’t know.”
Cooper finds it’s easy to manage dietaries too, but like Dow, it’s important to find out early. “Dietaries are easier now as they have become more common, people are now giving more notice about their dietary preferences.”

Get those bookings!

Dead Ringer is now five years old, so Dow finds that it’s not too hard to get people wanting to come along, but he still approaches things differently to other times of the year. “We bump up our social media posting and change our wording a little as we’re not just speaking to regulars but to people looking for a Valentine’s Day experience.”
With some planning and keeping things simple, a set menu can keep Valentine’s Day contained and happy for staff and customers.

Explore OpenTable’s new feature, Experiences, to take the set menu offering to the next level and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Learn more about showcasing unique experiences on OpenTable Let's go Already an OpenTable customer? Start using Experiences.
Create a new way to date night:Actionable tips and ideas to add some love to Valentine’s DayGet the guide