It's a labour of love for operators this Valentine's Day

27 January 2023 by
It's a labour of love for operators this Valentine's Day

It's time to mix up the Champagne cocktails, blow up the heart balloons and turn up the Barry White. John Porter has a crush on Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day marks the first big ‘occasion' of the year for operators, a night when they hope significant numbers of customers will be persuaded to put start-of-the-year caution behind them and treat themselves and their significant other to a meal out, accompanied by a glass of something sparkling or a fancy cocktail.

The plan seems to have worked in 2022, when, after a dip in January, the Coffer CGA Business Tracker of managed restaurants, bars and pubs showed total sales in hospitality up 6.7% in February and like-for likes up 2.9%. Comparisons were made with February 2019 due to the impact of Covid trading restrictions in 2020 and 2021. On that measure, restaurants increased like-for-like sales by 9% in February 2022, just ahead of 7% growth for bars, with Valentine's menus and drinks making a significant contribution to the upturn.

This year, the sector will be hoping more than ever that consumers will overcome caution about the state of the economy and their own spending power, and show the out-of-home sector the same love they did in 2022. However, with inflation substantially higher than a year ago, the cost of living, as well as its impact on hospitality, is front of mind for both operators and consumers. In that context, 14 February falling on a Tuesday in 2023 isn't the most auspicious of days for the sector, giving operators the choice of extending Valentine's Day menus across one of the weekends either side of the day itself, which risks spreading the available trade thinly, or going all-out to drive covers on a normally quiet evening.

Time for treats

However, Joel Carr, development chef at seafood specialist Young's Foodservice, points to a flicker of hope in consumer research by CGA, which found that two in three adults say they are reluctant to stop eating and drinking out due to the cost of living crisis, and seven in 10 consider it the treat they most look forward to.

For Valentine's menus, "there are a few things operators can consider to help with their own costs, such as offering set menus, sharing plates or maybe winning over customers with amazing dishes for an indulgent splurge," says Carr. "Valentine's Day is well known to be one of the most popular consumer dining out occasions of the year. Consider a sharing platter. Young's Foodservice Scottish smoked salmon can help to create a romantic sharing board, used as a piping mousse on canapés or as edible plate art, or even wrapped and shaped into roses. With its mild oak-infused flavour and smooth velvety texture, chefs have the opportunity to get creative and explore different flavour combinations."

Another suggestion is a twist on a classic prawn cocktail, serving Young's gourmet wholetail scampi with a cayenne prosecco mayonnaise sauce on a bed of crispy lettuce. Carr makes the point that "using frozen products allows chefs to plan menus, reduce waste and buy in bulk to prevent out of stocks".

Keep it on ice

Desserts are a key part of any Valentine's menu, with many customers who might normally skip a dessert more open to ordering something indulgent to finish their meal.

With hospitality businesses likely to be unclear on the levels of trade to expect until close to the day itself, Gordon Lauder, managing director of Central Foods, also emphasises the value of planning Valentine's menus around frozen dishes. "If staffing is an issue, or if you're unsure of the number of covers you'll be having on Valentine's Day, it makes sense to purchase ready-prepared frozen desserts. Just defrost what's needed and avoid unnecessary waste.

"Any desserts not used can be saved to serve after Valentine's Day. It's much easier to calculate costs and margins if you buy in ready-prepared desserts instead of making them from scratch."

Dishes can be customised appropriately for Valentine's Day, such as adding berries and rose petals, while "another good idea is to cut individual portions of desserts into smaller sizes to make a romantic sharing dessert platter", says Lauder. "This will appeal to those diners with smaller appetites and help encourage extra sales. It's the chance to offer rich and indulgent desserts that really suit this most romantic of occasions. If you can't share a pudding with a partner on Valentine's Day, when can you?"

Samantha Rain, development chef for ingredients supplier Henley Bridge, advises: "A chocolate-themed dessert is guaranteed to get anyone in the mood for love, and there's lots of innovative chocolate decor products to tailor your creations to the most romantic day of the year.

"A chocolate mousse or cheesecake can be elevated simply by adding a few chocolate hearts or white chocolate roses." For added wow factor, Rain suggests spraying cakes and desserts with Chocolatree's red velvet cocoa butter spray, or encase a dessert in a red heart couple chocolate shell supplied by Dobla.

Drink it in

With indulgent drinks also very much part of the consumer appeal of Valentine's, Karen Green, marketing manager, Aimia Foods, suggests extending the shareable dessert format to "a drinkable treat, such as a dessert cocktail or Valentine's-themed freakshake served with two straws".

Supplied by Aimia, Shmoo thickshake powders make thick, textured shakes which can be topped with squirty cream, pink sprinkles and edible hearts, and can also be blended with spirits to make dessert cocktails. "It's a combination that consumers are sure to fall in love with," says Green.

CGA's recent Mixed Drinks Report found that 62% of consumers enjoy varying their cocktail choice according to the time of year, creating an opportunity for love-themed drinks menus during February. With good timing, Diageo has added Captain Morgan strawberry daiquiri to its portfolio of draught cocktails, supplied in a 10 litre bag-in-box format for bartop dispense. The striking red cocktail serve adds to a draught range that also includes Smirnoff passion fruit martini cocktail, Smirnoff espresso martini cocktail and Gordon's pink martini cocktail.

Catharina von Franck, commercial director, on-trade at Diageo, says the new variety is "perfect for enjoying together", adding that offering draught cocktails made with its familiar spirit brands has a strong appeal "as consumers look for consistency, quality and speed of service".

One important consideration, even on Valentine's Day, is for drinks menus to appeal to those customers not drinking alcohol, advises Tom Ward, founder of alcohol-free drinks supplier Wise Bar Trader. He says: "Making everyone welcome to celebrate the occasion should include having options available for anyone who is unable to drink or whose love doesn't extend to alcohol.

"The range of delicious alcohol-free drinks is continuing to grow, and many can be used as base ingredients for cocktails without alcohol, so operators can be imaginative, creative and make sure that everyone is included."

Show some love for Valentine's Day

Ben Bartlett, chef and menu consultant, offers 10 romantic ideas for a successful Valentine's event.

  • Display posters and sell Valentine's food and drink vouchers in advance.
  • Theme the room with banners, bows and hearts. Light some candles, have floating balloons in red, pink and white, and yards of sheer red fabric draped over the tables.
  • Offer a menu for two and use the descriptions to make the dishes Valentine-themed. For example, Cupid's Combo, a Seafood Sensation of Oysters, a Secret Rendezvous Steak, Delectable Sizzling Duck Breast, Cuddly Curry, Between the Sheets Roasted Vegetable Lasagne, In Love with Chocolate or Tantalising Treacle Sponge.
  • Invite an cosmetics agent or other company to set up in the venue on the night.
  • Offer a free gift, such as a rosé on every table.
  • Have romantic atmosphere music wafting through the room. Break out the Andrea Bocelli, Marvin Gaye and Barry White!
  • Offer special drinks, such as passion fruit Champagne cocktail, pink Champagne and liqueur coffees.
  • Hold a raffle with a prize such as a holiday weekend for two. A local travel agent or hotel might support the event.
  • Offer a combined dinner/room package, in partnership with a local hotel if you don't have accommodation.
  • Take a memorable photo of the couple as a gift. A digital camera picture can be printed and put into a card.





Wise Bar


Wise Bar Trader's alcohol-free serves for Valentine's Day


For simplicity and speed, a mimosa is one of the easiest cocktails to make with just two ingredients, and it remains a popular choice. Or try substituting Champagne for a lightly sparkling non-alcoholic mead to create a refreshing cocktail with aromatic, slightly spicy warmth.

  • 25ml clementine juice
  • 170ml Bemuse ginger and cardamom non-alcoholic mead

Pour the Bemuse mead into a flute. Add the clementine juice. Garnish with a slice of fresh clementine and a sprig of thyme.


Nothing says love more than a fresh, fruity and flavoursome rose-coloured frozen cocktail.

  • 1 bottle of alcohol-free rosé such as
  • McGuigan Zero Rosé
  • 250g strawberries
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Pour the rosé into a pan/tin and freeze overnight. The following morning, mix the strawberries with the honey, adding a dash of sugar if you want your cocktails extra sweet. Leave the strawberry mix to sit for 30 minutes and then blend the frozen rosé, strawberries and lemon juice together. Pour into a large serving jug ready to pour for your guests.

Photo: AnikonaAnn/Shutterstock

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