Love is in the air, but is creativity there too?

Generally speaking, Valentine’s Day is relied upon as one of the most if not the most profitable days for restaurants in the first quarter of the year—this especially applies in cold weather areas. It’s a day when both well-established and aspiring couples pamper each other to demonstrate their love. Jewelry, roses, chocolate, and expensive gifts are the traditional offerings of choice, but taking your spouse out to a beautiful dinner is often the highlight of the holiday.

If your restaurant has an even marginally “romantic” vibe, you will have no doubt already prepared a special Valentine’s menu: probably prix fixe and multi-course. You want it to be elegant yet accessible, and you encourage couples to book well in advance. Or maybe you stick to a la carte, but put an extra entree or two and a red velvet cake dessert special up on the chalkboard.

As a regular patron of restaurants and as someone who loves innovation and “out of the box” ideas, I was eager to see what my home of Providence has to offer in that regard. Most of the restaurants I perused were going the more traditional route, and I can’t fault them for that; “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” as the saying goes. This city is chock full of exemplary eateries, and several of the ones I contacted said they would already have trouble squeezing me in when I called a full week out. They’re already booked solid, so they don’t need extra promotions to bring in guests.

As I looked around, however, I did find some places that were really going the extra mile in terms of creativity, and those are the ones I wish to highlight here. I also probed my social network to get recommendations and find out what they were looking for as they prepared to dazzle their amours. These are the results of my research:

Edible Arrangements

The Duck & Bunny, the adorable creperie, cupcakerie and self-proclaimed “snuggery” tucked away on Wickenden Street devised a very clever (and affordable) alternative to the traditional bouquet of roses: the Bouquet of Cupcakes, available for $20 a half dozen or $35 a dozen on special order. The colorful flavors include lemon blueberry, chocolate raspberry, champagne rose, strawberries & cream, honey lavender, and chocolate blackberry. Their seven-course Valentine’s Day prix fixe dinner, with multiple appetizer and entree options to choose from like beef bourguignon, crepeccini, and pork roulade, also seems like a bargain at $125 per couple.

Hip to Be Square

Not to be outdone, Julian’s on Broadway is one that came heavily recommended by my friends; renowned for their quirky, humorous decor and fantastic offerings (including in the vegetarian/vegan department), Julian’s also distinguishes itself as a “perfect date night” thanks to patient, attentive service, great pacing of courses, and solid drink pairings priced at $129 a couple for a six-course menu. My favorite part personally, however, is the retro promotional art they’ve created, “We’re Celebrating The Power of Love”: an old-school cartoon of Huey Lewis in hot pink, turquoise, and yellow. If Back to the Future references don’t impress your date, then I don’t know what will!

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Just a Lovely Brunch

Another interesting direction I saw taken is that Clean Plate on South Water Street has a Valentine’s Day Brunch on Sunday the 12th, featuring Red Velvet waffles with walnut cream, scallop cake benedict, lemon ricotta pancakes, and chicken fried steak Benedict with tomato bacon hollandaise on biscuits, paired with blood orange mimosas and roasted strawberry lemonade–both drink specials specifically for the event. It seems like a smart idea to provide folks with that alternative option, but I didn’t see many examples of other restaurants doing it.

I asked Clean Plate owner and chef Susan Alper why they decided to do brunch instead of a dinner special, and she responded that, “We like to be outside the box here, and it was just a different thing to do. We do a great brunch normally, so it seemed like a smart idea.” It’s the third Valentine’s Day brunch for the restaurant–as many years as it’s been open. “The response has been really great,” says Susan.

Sea of Roses

Easily the most beautiful and intriguing Valentine’s Day event I learned about occurs at Basta Ristorante on Broad Street in nearby Cranston. For the third year straight, they are holding a Celebration of Roses, hanging literally thousands of red and pink roses from the ceiling above the seating area. The food is said to be excellent, but even if it wasn’t, looking at the photos makes me want to experience this romantic wonderland firsthand.

Some Tips from a Guest

A simple, quick promotional idea that I saw a few places use is to take photos of either your signature or seasonal cocktails that are traditional Valentine’s colors like red, pink, burgundy, and peach: they create a pretty, holiday-themed display that also gets mouths watering. I will also point out that quite a number of restaurants did not post their special menus online, and as a consumer, it’s nice to be able to look at them before making a decision, and I don’t like to bug busy restaurant staff by calling to ask. Make your specials easy to find on your website and Facebook page—maybe make a specific Facebook event with the menu clearly displayed, and make sure to answer peoples’ questions in a timely fashion. Don’t make customers have to work to find menus or get ahold of you.

Whether you go the more traditional route and cater to your loyal clientele, or whether you choose to spice things up and get creative, the most important thing, of course, is to maintain high levels of service and quality on this busy night. Help your couples make each other’s nights special and memorable, and they’ll be sure to return next year.

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