Web Exclusive | February 2014 | By Christine Blank

Love is in the Air

Valentine’s Day promotions abound as operators take advantage of splurging consumers.

White Castle Valentine's Day promotion enhances quick service experience.
For 20 years, White Castle has offered a Valentine's Day promotion that turns the stores into white-tablecloth restaurants.
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Quick-serve chains across the country are rolling out Valentine’s Day promotions to attract customers for the special day and, in some cases, the entire month of February.

White Castle is holding its annual white-tablecloth Valentine’s Day Dinner in all 400 stores for the 20th year. Guests make reservations for the evening of Valentine’s Day at their local White Castle, where they receive tableside service and order from a special menu. The menu includes Surf and Turf, which is a White Castle Double Hamburger with Alaska Pollock fish patty; Shrimp Nibblers; and Cheesecake on a Stick.

“It’s a fun way for people to really enjoy an evening out without having to get a second mortgage on their home,” says Jamie Richardson, vice president of White Castle. “Also, there is an element of not being so self-important that we can make fun of ourselves.”

White Castle guests have a “sense of humor” about the white-tablecloth dinner, he says, and sometimes arrive at its restaurants via limousine in evening gowns and tuxedos. Each table is adorned with one of White Castle’s popular hamburger-scented candle.

The Valentine’s Day event is so popular that many White Castle stores expanded the hours the dinner is available this year to 5–9 p.m. Richardson says the event is profitable for White Castle; the average check ranges from $10 to $15 per couple.

Bojangles’, meanwhile, is featuring two heart-shaped Bo-Berry Biscuits for 99 cents from February 7 through February 16. While it regularly offers Bo-Berry Biscuits in its 575 stores, the company makes a special heart-shaped biscuit and advertises the biscuit with point-of-purchase materials in the stores. It also launched a public relations effort around the event, providing samples to TV and radio stations and running social media posts in markets with a strong company-owned restaurant presence.

“Consumers are willing to spend more on meal parts that they may otherwise disregard on a normal date night out, such as desserts and adult beverages.”

The chain’s advertising and public relations efforts are paying off. In the first week of February, Bojangles’ expected to sell an average of 170 biscuits per store per day, a 120 percent increase from last year during the same time period.

“It is a really good promotion for us. People will make big orders for their offices, and our stores put together some unique displays,” says Kenny Avery, COO of Bojangles’.

Many other quick serves have rolled out limited-time products and offers for the holiday. Dunkin’ Donuts is selling a heart-shaped Cookie Dough Donut with cookie-dough buttercream filling, and a heart-shaped Brownie Batter Donut with chocolate brownie batter and buttercream-flavored filling. The brand is keeping the romance-themed concoctions around through the end of February.

Krispy Kreme added X- and O-shaped “Kiss” and “Hug” doughnuts to its Valentine’s Day collection this year. It also brought back its heart-shaped Sprinkled Heart doughnut; the Valentine Sprinkles doughnut, a chocolate-iced ring with red and white sprinkles; and its Chocolate Iced Heart, a chocolate-iced, heart-shaped doughnut with red drizzle.

“Since we started running the Valentine’s Day promotions, it has been growing every year. We have people who come back every year, anticipating the hearts,” says Jenny Bellanca, vice president of operations for Florida Family Foods, the licensed franchise operator for Krispy Kreme Doughnuts in Central Florida. As a result of Krispy Kreme’s themed doughnuts and promotions around Valentine’s Day, Florida Family of Foods has realized double-digit sales increases every year during the first two weeks of February at two of its stores.

The Valentine’s Day doughnuts are especially popular with parents who bring boxes of doughnuts to their children’s schools for Valentine’s gifts, Bellanca says.

Another promotion this year is Maui Wowi’s Valentine’s Day Sweetheart Deal. At its U.S. fixed retail locations on February 14, the company is offering a small smoothie for $2.14. KONO Pizza, meanwhile, is offering its guests a free Dessert Cone when they buy two pizza cones on February 14. The pizza chain is promoting the deal with a direct mail flyer.

Lizzy Freier, editor for foodservice consulting firm Technomic, says promotions surrounding the Valentine’s Day holiday are a good way for quick-serve operators to take advantage of a time when many consumers are ready to splurge.

“On Valentine’s Day, consumers are willing to spend more on meal parts that they may otherwise disregard on a normal date night out, such as desserts and adult beverages,” Freier says.

To compete with full-service restaurants—typically the destination for most Valentine’s Day celebrations—fast-food brands need to offer more upscale items or special Valentine’s Day–themed items “aimed at customers who want a more casual experience or who can’t afford the dining options of a [full-service restaurant],” Freier says.

For example, quick serves could offer special prix-fixe Valentine’s Day menus, along with “sweetheart meals for two” offerings.

“Offering appetizers, small plates, and sides may be yet another way to increase check average at [quick serves] on Valentine’s Day,” Freier says. “Full-service restaurants have already begun to leverage interest in downsized portions and mix-and-match dining by introducing new small-plate offerings … and it is something we could eventually see trickling down to quick serves.”