Small restau­rants not in love with Valen­tine’s Day

De­spite the crowds, hol­i­day does not rake in the big prof­its that one might ex­pect.

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Zlati Meyer

Love will be in the air as cou­ples across the na­tion share ro­man­tic Valen­tine’s Day din­ners at their fa­vorite in­ti­mate restau­rants.

But don’t ex­pect the af­fec­tion to be shared by many small restau­rant own­ers, who find they aren’t rak­ing in the big prof­its that one might ex­pect on a tra­di­tional dine-out oc­ca­sion some­times re­quir­ing reser­va­tions to be made weeks in ad­vance.

This Valen­tine’s Day, Amer­i­cans are ex­pected to spend $3.7 bil­lion on an evening out, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Re­tail Fed­er­a­tion. But Valen­tine’s Day is only the 107th-best sales day of the year, fall­ing be­hind St. Pa­trick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo, ac­cord­ing to Wom­ply, a San Fran­cisco-based soft­ware com­pany that an­a­lyzed credit-card data from 26,000 restau­rants last year.

Lo­cal restau­ra­teurs see only a

4% in­crease in the num­ber of checks they’ll hand out com­pared with a nor­mal night, but the din­ner tabs will col­lec­tively run 18% higher,

Wom­ply found.

That might sound great but not when con­sid­ered against the ex­tra costs that restau­rants in­cur on the most ro­man­tic din­ing night of the year:

❚ Less ta­ble turnover. Pa­trons will linger longer, which means fewer ta­bles avail­able over the course of the evening.

❚ Ta­bles for two. Ta­bles nor­mally used to seat four peo­ple are now only booked for two.

❚ La­bor costs. They are higher due to the ex­tra man­power needed to han­dle the crowd.

❚ Prix-fixe menus. To speed ser­vice, many ea­ter­ies serve only a fixed-price menu, which means wait staff can’t as eas­ily up-sell din­ers on higher-priced, and more prof­itable, menu choices. ❚ Higher food costs. Some sup­pli­ers jack up prices on items they know chefs will want to serve, such as lob­ster. ❚ Dec­o­ra­tions. Own­ers have to spend ex­tra on fes­tive ex­tras to give away to cus­tomers, such as glasses of cham­pagne or roses.

“While some types of restau­rants, like fine French restau­rants, might see a boost, for those more ca­sual in na­ture it’s a sub­par day, and what we’re see­ing is an av­er­ag­ing out,” said Nick Gay­lord, se­nior data sci­en­tist for Wom­ply, adding that even fine-din­ing restau­rants “don’t see an over­all spike.”

Chris Sta­ples, the spokesman for Eat Restau­rant Part­ners with eight restau­rants in Rich­mond, Va., said he un­der­stands why restau­rant op­er­a­tors “dread” Valen­tine’s Day.

There are things ea­ter­ies can do to try to make the day bet­ter for them. They can rent smaller ta­bles to squeeze in more cus­tomers. They can en­cour­age waiters to turn over ta­bles more quickly.

“It’s the day ev­ery­one has high ex­pec­ta­tions but low pa­tience thresh­olds. It’s the day peo­ple who don’t go out and don’t un­der­stand the restau­rant scene come out and want un­rea­son­able things,” he said.

GETTY IM­AGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

GETTY IM­AGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

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