How to romance customers out of Valentine's Day dollars

| by Cherryh Cansler
How to romance customers out of Valentine's Day dollars

Although Valentine's Day is viewed as an opportunity for people to show their love, it equals a prime day of money-making for restaurateurs. Coming up with attractive and creative promos, however, can be a challenge, when nearly every restaurant on the planet is competing for the consumer's love and affection.

Below is an incomplete list of what some brands are doing in hopes of making a deeper connection with customers.

Puckering up at Qdoba
Qdoba Mexican Eats is celebrating the holiday with its Qdoba For A Kiss promotion. At any participating Qdoba restaurant on Feb.14, guests who purchase one entree and share a kiss with a friend, significant other, or even their cell phone will receive a second entree for free, according to a company press release.

Also as part of the promo, Qdoba will donate $1 to No Kid Hungry, up to a total donation of $10,000, for every kissing photo shared Feb.10-15, across Twitter, Facebook or Instagram with hashtag #QdobaForAKiss.

Breaking up with bland at Bojangles'
Bojangles' is encouraging customers to ditch cliche gifts and treat their lovers to its Heart-Shaped Bo-Berry Biscuit.

Customers can also share how they're "breaking up with bland" on the chain's social media channels — using #BreakUpWithBland — for chance to win a trip to Bojangles' hometown in Charlotte, N.C

Bojangles' Heart-Shaped Bo-Berry Biscuit

"Bojangles' is all about enjoying good food with those closest to us," said Bojangles' Senior Vice President of Marketing, Randy Poindexter. "In a world where many are handing out typical Valentine's Day gifts, we want Bojangles' fanatics to break up with bland by bringing their sweetheart some Heart-Shaped Bo-Berry Biscuits, a favorite menu item that our customers always rave about this time of year."

Starbucks calling all chocolate lovers
Starbucks Molten Chocolate beverages are back and available through Valentine's Day, according to a company press release. They include:

  • Molten Chocolate Latte: Chocolate chips are melted into espresso and topped with steamed milk combined with bittersweet mocha sauce. It's topped with mocha- and espresso-infused whipped cream and an espresso mocha drizzle. It is available hot and iced.
  • Molten Chocolate Frappuccino: This drink is a mix of coffee with mocha sauce and chocolate chips blended with milk and ice. The beverage is finished with mocha- and espresso-infused whipped cream and an espresso mocha drizzle.
  • Molten Hot Chocolate: Bittersweet mocha sauce and chocolate chips are melted into steamed milk for a smooth and creamy taste. Mocha and espresso-infused whipped cream and espresso mocha drizzle top off the beverage.

Other Valentine's Day treats at Starbucks include:

  • Valentine's Day Heart Cookie: The shortbread sugar cookie is cut into a heart shape, enrobed with either white or pink chocolaty coating and decorated with an XOXO design.
  • Confetti Hearts Cake Pop: This treat is Starbucks signature Chocolate Cake Pop with the addition of heart sprinkles to celebrate the season.
  • Drinkware: Customers can surprise their sweetest with a Valentine's Day mug and their favorite coffee or tea, available in participating stores in the U.S., Canada, Latin America and online.
  • Giving Keys: A Giving Key necklace passes along a very special message. Each key is handmade in Los Angeles by people emerging from homelessness.
  • Starbucks favorite love songs: Customers can "vote up" their favorite love songs through the Starbucks mobile app, and the company will share the top love songs on Feb. 10, just in time for the weekend. Customers can check out the love songs playing in stores and on Spotify.
    Starbucks Molten Chocolate beverages


A family affair at Dickey's and McAlister's
A recent study found that 60 percent of Americans that celebrate Valentine's Day include their entire families in the celebration, which is why Dickey's Barbecue Pit and McAlister's Deli are running promotions geared toward the entire family.

Dickey's Owner/Operator Muhammed Afzal will allow kids to eat free on Valentine's Day to help those families celebrate with great food at a reasonable price, according to a company press release.

"In my 22 years with Dickey's Barbecue Pit, I have met and worked with a diverse group of owner/operators all with different stories and backgrounds," said Afzal, who was one of the chain's first franchisees. "The one thing that brings us all together is that we have a passion for pit-smoked barbecue and serving our guests and their families."

CEO Laura Rea Dickey said she was happy that the chain's two original franchisees, Afzal and Dale Smith, are still part of the family. Since 1994, the franchisees have had a healthy family rivalry between the two which will continue this Valentine's Day to see who will host the most families for their pit-smoked family meal.

"At Dickey's, we constantly try to evolve to better ourselves while staying true to our barbecue and family roots," says Laura Rea Dickey, CEO of Dickey's Barbecue Restaurants, Inc. "This Valentine's Day, Dickey's hopes folks will see barbecue as the best way to their favorite people's hearts."

McAlister's Deli is celebrating Valentine's Day by encouraging families to spend the love-filled holiday together. On Feb. 14, participating McAlister's locations will offer two free kids meals with the purchase of an adult entree for all guests that dine in. In addition to celebrating on the holiday, McAlister's is hosting a sweepstakes, giving away a year's worth of family date nights, according to a company press release.

"McAlister's has always been committed to offering guests a welcoming, comfortable, and family-friendly place to enjoy each other's company along with a craveable, freshly made meal," said Paul Macaluso, president of McAlister's Deli. "This year we are taking that to the next level by hosting family date nights and offering free Kids Meals for Valentine's Day, in hopes of fostering more quality family time and inspiring new traditions."  

McAlister's encourages fans across the country to share their family bonding fun and showcase what family date night means to them on social media using the hashtag #McAlistersDateNight. Through Feb. 14, guests can enter the sweepstakes to win a year's worth of McAlister's date nights by visiting One guest will win the grand prize – $50 a week in McAlister's Deli gift cards for one year. Fans are encouraged to tag @McAlistersDeli and follow the Valentine's Day fun on McAlister's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram channels.

DQ helping at-home lovers
According to a nationwide survey of American couples commissioned by Dairy Queen, 82 percent of men feel guilty about not going out, but 67 percent of women think staying in can actually be romantic. To help couples bring romance home, DQ has created the Ultimate Choco Brownie Blizzard Cupid Cake. In fact, 93 percent of couples have reached the comfortable stage of their relationship.

"Every Valentine's Day, we help fans break the cliché in some way,"  Barry Westrum, executive vice president of marketing for American Dairy Queen Corporation, said in a company release. "Last year, we introduced a treat for singles. This year, we're taking Valentine's Day from stressful to comfortable with a shareable cake. Others can have their red-hot romance out on the town. We're embracing real comfortable love at home with our new Cupid Cake."

The Ultimate Choco Brownie Blizzard Cupid Cake is available at participating DQ stores and DQ Grill & Chill restaurants for $9.99.

Love thy pie at Pieology
Pieology Pizzeria is calling on fans to share why they love pizza for its #LoveThyPie contest. Now through Feb. 15, participants have the opportunity to win gift cards, a Pieology Date Night, which includes two pizzas, two fountain drinks and one dessert pizza, every month for a year, or a spa weekend getaway for two, according to a company press release.

To enter customers must:

  • Take a photo or short video explaining what they love about pizza.
  • Share it at and use the share function to share the picture or video to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.
  • Engage with followers daily, asking them to view, share, like, pin and re-tweet your post to increase your buzz score. Pieology will track activity on all platforms, so the more buzz you create, the better your odds

"At Pieology you can create the pizza of your dreams, so we wanted to share some love with our guests this Valentine's Day with our #LoveThyPie contest," said Carl Chang, founder and CEO. "Sure, you can send a card or flowers to your ‘special someone' as a token of your affection, but we know our fans would rather have pizza! Every guest is unique, just like the pizzas they create, so we're looking forward to getting some very creative submissions that express their love for America's favorite food."

Winners will be announced Feb. 20.

Smallcakes asks: Are you ready for some cupcakes?
Smallcakes Cupcakery franchisees are preparing to mix special flavors and decorated confections for cupcake lovers across the country, according to a company press release. It pointed out that Valentine's Day is akin to the Super Bowl for Smallcakes franchisees, who increase their sales 60 to 70 percent in one day, said Smallcakes Founder Jeff Martin.

Cupcakes from Smallcakes

In honor of its own "Super Bowl," the Kansas City-based chain will offer Valentine's Day-inspired flavors, including:

  • Red Velvet.
  • Raspberry Chocolate Truffle.
  • Chocolate Covered Strawberry.
  • Strawberries 'n' Cream.
  • Pink Champagne.
  • And Creme Brulee.

Surf's up at Krystal
Krystal is running a Surf & Turf Combo for $9.99, giving couples eight classic Krystals, a dozen golden-fried shrimp, a Chili-Cheese or Junkyard fry and either two cherry Icee beverages or two chocolate chip cookies, according to a company press release.

"On Valentine's Day, we celebrate perfect pairings — and there's no better pairing than classic Krystals and delicious fried shrimp," Heather Schlesinger, director of calendar, programs and promotions for The Krystal Company, said in the release. "No matter who you're sharing Valentine's with, you'll both leave the table happy."

Dunkin' showing some heart
Dunkin' Donuts is helping fans celebrate the season of love with a full schedule of social programming around Valentine's Day, featuring a chance to win a year's worth of coffee and donuts with a "Dunkin' Love" photo contest, a Facebook Live musical performance with Us The Duo, an iMessage custom card builder, the launch of an emoji keyboard and new Snapchat geofilters, according to a company press release.

To win, fans can enter the "Dunkin' Love" photo contest, sharing via Instagram how Dunkin' Donuts is part of their love story, using hashtag #DunkinLoveContest. One grand prize winner will receive a year's worth of both coffee and donuts, as well as $2,500 they can perhaps use toward an extra sweet Valentine's Day gift this year.

To kick off the contest, Dunkin' Donuts partnered with LittleThings to celebrate and surprise Olivia and Rob, a young couple from Missouri whose love story involved Dunkin' Donuts from their first date to their wedding.

Dunkin' Donuts has also paired up with acoustic pop twosome Us The Duo, the husband and wife duo of Michael and Carissa Alvarado followed by millions of fans across their social communities. Us The Duo will perform their original song, "Stop Just Love," at 7 p.m., Feb. 13 via Facebook Live.  Dunkin' Donuts chefs will also share creative ways to celebrate the holiday with the brand's Valentine's Day heart-shaped donuts and coffee flavors, according to the release.

The chain is also allowing fans to send  Valentine's Day cards with the launch of an iMessage Card Builder. iMessage 10 users can create a custom card, add a Dunkin' Donuts Valentine's Day-themed sticker and send to their Valentine all through iMessage. Other iMessage users can respond to the card and send back as well. Additionally, fans can show their Dunkin' love this season with the brand's emoji keyboard, available in the Dunkin' App. Also, on the day before and day of Valentine's Day, Dunkin' Donuts will have two Snapchat geofilters, one to celebrate Valentine's Day and the other to

New coffee flavors include the Fudge Brownie Swirl and Vanilla Cupcake Swirl=flavored coffee. Both are available in Dunkin' Donuts' hot or iced coffees, lattes and macchiatos.

The chain's heart-shaped donuts are available in two new flavors, the Chocolate-Covered Raspberry Heart Donut and the Brownie Batter Crumble Heart Donut.

Dunkin' Donuts VD treats

The chain is also bringing back the Fudge Croissant Donut, which combines the glazed croissant donut with fudge filling, topped with chocolate and white icing drizzle.

All of Dunkin' Donuts' coffee and donut menu items for Valentine's Day season are available beginning today for a limited time at participating Dunkin' Donuts restaurants nationwide, according to the release.

Nestle focuses on sweet treats
Nestle Toll House has created a variety of treats to celebrate Valentine's. They include:

  • Custom cookie cakes.
  • Chocolate-covered strawberries.
  • Smoochies.
  • Salted Caramel Cookie Cups.
  • Salted Caramel Iced Lattes.
  • Salted Caramel Frappes
  • Salted Caramel Lattes

"Our cafes are all about baking with love, so we hope everyone who loves Nestlé Toll House cookies — and that's pretty much everyone —  will let us add a special touch to their Valentine's Day this year," said Shawnon Bellah, chief operating officer of Crest Foods, the franchisor of Nestlé Toll House Café by Chip.
The Valentine's Day specials are available at more than 100 participating Nestlé Toll House Cafe by Chip locations across North America.

Feeling hot at Schlotzsky's
Schlotzsky's is kicking up the heat this winter by giving away 100,000 3-ounce bottles of its signature hot sauce at restaurants nationwide on Valentine's Day. The online activation started on Jan. 22 on National Hot Sauce Day, and the giveaway was uncapped Jan. 30 after enough fans "liked the page," helping the hot sauce thermometer reach 100 degrees. Each "like" caused the temperature of the thermometer to rise and bring customers closer to uncapping 300,000 ounces of Schlotzsky's hot sauce.

"Schlotzsky's signature hot sauce is hot — and I don't just mean on the Scoville Scale — but through the enthusiasm, we see and feel from our customers adding it to their favorite menu items," said Schlotzsky's President Kelly Roddy. "This Valentine's Day, we're excited to help folks spice up their culinary creations through our hot sauce giveaway, and given its cult-like following, it may prove to be a pretty easy task for fans to accomplish."  

Pizza goes heart shaped at Papa John's

Papa John’s will offer heart-shaped pizzas this Valentine’s season, according to a company press release. Customers looking for that special dinner for their loved one (or themselves!) can order a medium 1-topping Heart Pizza on thin crust and brownie for $15, OR 2 Medium 1-Topping Heart Pizzas on thin crust for $18.



Topics: Marketing / Branding / Promotion

Cherryh Cansler

Before joining Networld Media Group as director of Editorial, where she oversees Networld Media Group's nine B2B publications, Cherryh Cansler served as Content Specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City. Throughout her 17-year career as a journalist, she's written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness. Her byline has appeared in a number of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for

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