Web Exclusive | February 2012 | By Kevin Hardy

Love is in the Air

Quick serves attract value-minded customers with Valentine’s promotions.

While most people may associate Valentine’s Day with upscale restaurants and fine wines, dozens of quick-serve promotions, ranging from heart-shaped doughnuts to couples’ specials, are giving operators hope that they won’t be stood up this February 14.

By targeting families and social gatherings, operators say they’re able to attract customers for the holiday. And for some stores, Valentine’s Day is one of the busiest days on the calendar.

Promotions across the industry are varied. White Castle, for example, will once again host its candlelit dinner, complete with table service, at stores across the country. Great American Cookies will roll out special Valentine’s cookie cakes. And Pollo Tropical will offer a $9.99 meal for two at its 90 company-owned stores in Florida, New Jersey, and Georgia. Even Baskin-Robbins is debuting two new flavors—Love Potion #31 and Chocolate Dipped Strawberry—for its new Cake Bites line through the end of the month in honor of the holiday.

In addition, Krispy Kreme will offer its popular heart-shaped doughnuts in grocery stores, convenience stores, and mass merchants this February, as well as in its 678 domestic and international retail stores. The specialty doughnuts feature red and white sprinkles and icing.

Doughnuts may not seem like a romantic treat, but Krispy Kreme’s chief marketing officer Dwayne Chambers says romance isn’t what the company is aiming for. Rather the concept is taking advantage of a widely recognized holiday to pull in larger groups of people, such as families, offices, or school parties.

“Not that many people are eating doughnuts by themselves,” Chambers says. “Usually you get a dozen and you share it with other people. I think over the years it’s continued to really grow in its importance. It goes back to the fact that doughnuts are kind of a shared experience.”

The chain is also advertising a set of 12 free Valentine cards with the purchase of a dozen doughnuts. Each card can be redeemed for a free doughnut. Selling hundreds of thousands of the novelty heart-shaped doughnuts each year helps make Valentine’s Day one of the busiest days of the year for Krispy Kreme stores, Chambers says.

“You're going to have a customer who's not generally a regular. It's a strong opportunity to build new customers.”

“We will sell as many doughnuts as we can make and box,” he says.

Many customers view Valentine’s Day as an excuse to splurge, says Darren Tristano, an executive vice president of the foodservice research and consulting firm Technomic.

“Consumers are viewing Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to treat themselves and their loved ones. Even when they’re alone, they’ll take the opportunity to treat themselves because they feel they deserve it,” he says.

Tristano says many customers are looking for an upgrade on their usual dining choices, meaning fast food customers might treat themselves to a fast-casual meal, while frequent casual diners might upgrade to fine dining for the night. That means big opportunities for all restaurant owners, he says.

“What that means to the operator is you’re going to have a customer who’s not generally a regular. It’s a strong opportunity to build new customers,” Tristano says.

While customers are mostly trading up, quick serves can also take advantage of families and value-oriented customers who wouldn’t otherwise choose to eat out.

“There are opportunities to steal those full-service occasions and bring people out for a meal,” Tristano says. “You start to think about, how do I treat my family without spending too much money? Anything the quick-service restaurant can do to build that traffic on this holiday not only helps a less-frequent weeknight this year, but also supports bringing people from other businesses to something that isn’t going to break their wallet.”

Papa Murphy’s takes that mindset to heart. The company will again target value-minded customers with its $7 heart-shaped pizza, dubbed the “Heartbaker.”

Valentine’s Day is a busy holiday for Papa Murphy’s 1,300 stores. But because the chain’s take ‘n’ bake pizzas are finished at home, stores will see customers throughout the day, not just at peak times, says chief marketing officer Jenifer Anhorn.

“Valentine’s Day is a big, high-traffic day for us, in part because of our Heartbaker pizza, and in part because it’s an evening where people are out and about and looking for meal solutions,” she says.

The pizza is a great draw for families, especially those with young children, Anhorn says.

“It’s more of a family thing. Parents are buying it and doing something special for the kids,” she says. “If mom and dad are going out for dinner, they bring it home for the babysitter to enjoy with the kids.”