Consumers are expected to spend $18.2 billion on Valentine’s Day — a large portion of which will go toward dinner and dessert. In such a crowded marketplace, modern restaurant chains know to think beyond hearts and flowers. Below are a handful of V-day promotions and offerings restaurants have recently cooked up in honor of the day of love.
1. Dress It Up
Just because a restaurant doesn’t offer white tablecloths or sommeliers doesn’t mean it can’t get in on the V-Day, fun, too. Taco Bell, for instance, might not be the first choice for a romantic dinner for two, but the chain’s cuisine apparently pairs surprisingly well with the finer things — namely, wine. There’s an entire Instagram account devoted to pairing vino with Taco Bell’s offerings and the chain recently highlighted a few solid options on its YouTube channel. Nacho Cheese Doritos Locos Tacos + Chardonnay = a (fairly millennial) Valentine’s dinner for two.
2. Something for Singles
An ex’s picture might not be worth a thousand words, but at Hooter’s, it’ll get customers free food. The chain is gearing its Valentine’s promotions toward those who recently broke it off, by awarding an order of free boneless wings to anyone who shreds their ex’s photo online (via digital coupon) or in-store.
3. Send Them Home
For guests who would prefer a quiet time at home, offer the take-out to surpass all take-outs. Washington, D.C.’s Red Apron Butcher chain offers homey meals for two, including antipasti, Caesar salad, lasagna Bolognese, and cheesecake.
4. Beef It Up
Meat purveyor Say It With Beef is offering “broquets,” a spin on the traditional dozen roses that subs beef jerky and dried meat for flowers. Not exactly classic, but at least pepperoni can’t wilt. And though this particular gift is mail-order, it would be fairly simple for a restaurant to replicate something similar.
5. Invite Guests To Stay the Night
It makes sense that hotels would offer something special on February 14 — recent studies have found that occupancy growth is strong around Valentine’s Day weekend. That’s why Hamilton Crowne Plaza Hotel is serving a three-course Lovers and Friends Valentine’s Day tasting menu, including an Endless Champagne Bar and a Mini Martini Flight. At the Hyatt Regency Kathmandu, diners will be treated to a five course gourmet dinner and have n opportunity to stay in the hotel as a part of a lucky draw.
6. Celebrate Early
The most romantic restaurants are typically booked far in advance of the big day, which is why Mélisse, in Los Angeles, offers its lavish, $176 six-course Valentine’s prix fixe menu the weekend prior — ensuring more reservation slots and the chance for guests to surprise their special someone.
7. Acknowledge The Trendy
Area Four, in Boston’s South End, is offering a custom menu, like so many others on V-Day. But along with their high-end offerings — handmade mozzarella crostini, baby carrots and miso, and a bruléed banana split — they’re nodding to the popularity of online dating, with drink specials like the “Swipe Right” or “Swipe Left.” Miami bar the Bitter Truth is also playing off of the popularity of e-dating, with Tinder Tuesday. Guests who show the hosts at the bar that they were a match with someone else at the event will get a free fish bowl of punch for two.
8. Say It With Heart
Dunkin’ Donuts has been offerings its heart-shaped confections for years come February. This year, the doughnut chain is upping the ante, offering coffee pairings and a slew of new flavors.
9. Let Guests Get Their Hands Dirty
Three-course meals are a dime a dozen this time of year — the real foodies are looking for something more DIY. In Boston, B&G Oysters is hosting couple-friendly oyster shucking lessons, complete with champagne and branded knives to take home.
10. Serve Aphrodisiacs
Another idea? Fire up foods that fire up desire. On Valentine’s Day, California’s Fig Café offers chile-pepper-crusted tuna carpaccio and seared scallops with honey-roasted carrots. The special libido-enhancing dishes are served with wine and champagne pairings.
11. Go Old-School
L.A. food hall Grand Central Market’s first Valentine’s Day party is set to include live music from a swing band and special menu items at vendors throughout the evening. A floral pop-up will offer corsages, and guests who come outfitted in retro duds can vie for a best dressed award.
12. Keep It Classic
At the Four Season Jumeirah, Asian restaurant Sea Fu will offer a candlelit dinner and roses for the ladies. After the meal, diners will have access to the resort’s private beach — an especially romantic way to end the evening.
13. Give the Parents What They Want
For parents, Valentine’s can be difficult (after all, it’s difficult to find a sitter on such a popular night). In the U.K., Italian restaurant Al Forno has done all the work for the parents, partnering with a local day-care center so that parents can enjoy their dinner without having to worry about the little ones. What’s more, the nursery will also chauffeur couples to the Italian eatery and give them 20% off their food bill.
14. Love Stinks, Let’s Drink
The InterContinental Miami’s Toro Toro is offering a sumptuous three-course Valentine’s meal — but the fun is really in the accompaniments, like the “Anti-Valentine/Love on the Rocks” pomegranate raspberry vodka cocktail.
15. Choose your own Adventure
For a the DIY set, the Los Angeles Ace Hotel outpost will offer plenty of crafty fun, including a make-your-own ice cream station, corsage and boutonniere workshop, and live music.
16. Be Exclusive
For the ultimate in exclusivity, Level 42 of the Shangri-La Hotel in Dubai offers only four tables on Valentine’s Day at its gourmet Italian restaurant. In addition to a cozy atmosphere, guests are treated to private service, seven-course feast (think oysters, lobster, and Beluga caviar), a live guitarist, and unlimited champagne and wine pairing.
17. Dinner & A View
California’s Albright offers an oceanside meal, and a little adventure. In addition to dining on oysters, lobster, and dessert, guests who purchase the Valentine’s special will receive tickets to the nearby Pacific Park Ferris wheel.
18. Go All Out
Guests who book dinner at the elegant Italian eatery Alta Badia, in the Jumeirah Emirates Towers, will have panoramic views of Downtown Dubai. They’ll also be greeted with an aperitif and chef’s special amuse bouche. Then there’s the five-course menu, featuring dishes like parmesan consommé, with poultry and plum ravioli and rack of lamb caponata served with rosemary jus. As if that weren’t enough, an Italian opera singer will be on hand to serenade couples throughout the evening.
19. Exotic & Enticing
Steak and oysters are great, but the South African-inspired Big Easy Wine Bar & Grill offers something for the more adventurous crowd. The Miami restaurant’s $160 Valentine’s offering includes bison tartare, octopus carpaccio and butterbean roasted root bunny chow.
20. Think Beyond Chocolate
Chocolate gets all the love on Valentine’s Day. Which is why some restaurants are highlighting different sorts of sweets. At Boston’s Bar Mezzanna, guests will be treated to tiki drinks, tarot card readings, and a slew of brunch specials in the morning. At night, dinner guests will have access to a candy bar (from which they can select their favorite sweet treats) and be given a cup of hot chocolate before heading home.