It's Valentine's Day, and you made reservations to take your sweetheart to a romantic, candlelit dinner at a fancy restaurant. A hostess will show you to your table in a closed-off section of the restaurant, where you'll order from a special Valentine's Day menu, complete with fancy, Valentine's-themed desserts. And the name of that romantic restaurant is... White Castle?
For more than 30 years, White Castle has taken reservations and provided table-side service to thousands of people on Valentine's Day. While they initially didn't do much to advertise the event, it has become increasingly popular. So, what can franchisees learn from the way White Castle takes advantage of Valentine's Day? Here are some holiday restaurant marketing ideas.
Set aside your preconceptions
The first and foremost hurdle that White Castle had to overcome is the preconception of what customers should expect from a QSR. Speed and convenience have always been the biggest selling points of QSRs, while quality and atmosphere are the most appealing aspects of traditional "fancy" restaurants. But these things aren't necessarily incompatible — at least not on special occasions.
True, it may be impractical to offer table service every day. But one day a year? No problem. Custom holiday items are another easy way to get a piece of the pie. For its Valentine's Day menu, White Castle offers limited-edition chocolate-strawberry smoothies. If you need ideas for custom menu items, ask any employee — nobody knows how to customize your items better than the people who work with them every day.
Can a QSR combine the speed and convenience of a fast-casual restaurant with the quality and atmosphere of a traditional romantic restaurant? White Castle has proven that yes, it can be done. But does that mean customers put QSRs and traditional "fancy" restaurants in the same category? For better or worse, no. A big part of White Castle's success is that it's quirky to go to a QSR on Valentine's Day. It gives customers a chance to say "I took my sweetheart to a romantic dinner at White Castle," with a smirk on their faces.
Don't discount quirk. Quirk is huge, especially with Millennials and Gen Z. In many ways, QSRs owe their original success to their "somewhere in between fast food and dine-in restaurant" quirkiness. Find ways to operate outside of the expectations of your customers in a way that will delight them.
Here's an easy way to test your ideas. Tell someone about White Castle's Valentine's Day event. They will likely be surprised, and then smile. Now, tell them about an idea you have and see if they react the same way.
Don't be afraid to try something new
White Castle has successfully merged the fast-casual experience with the romantic night out, and you can do the same. But don't be afraid to explore other ways to mix things up. Restaurant decor, custom menu items, and reservation-seating are easy ways to break the mold. How could you make these things work in your restaurants? What other holidays might be promising for you to explore?