So-called ‘Hallmark’ holidays are excellent opportunities to market your restaurant—just not for the reasons you might think, writes Mitchell Oakley Smith.

While Valentine’s Day has become caught in the net of commercialism in recent decades, with marketers finding countless ways to exploit it, it has, at least, some basis in history. Having been celebrated for centuries, the annual February 14th event is as much a rite in western culture as it is for otherwise useless stuffed toys and dozens upon dozens of Colombian roses.

But the Hallmark effect—all the ‘special’ days and faux holidays that now inundate our calendars— has led to the likes of Grandparents’ Day, end-of-financial-year celebrations, Boss’s Day and, in the United States, where such events run rampant, Sweetest Day. And while Hallmark holidays seem to exist for commercial purposes more than anything else, they are nonetheless celebrated around the world, creating opportunities for restaurants, cafes and bars to market themselves to new customers in engaging ways.

“Business can be tough for restaurants and bars on a day-to-day basis, so creating a special experience around these ‘holidays’ can be a way to connect with people, to cut through the noise,” says Adelaide-based restaurant and wine consultant Daniel Wilson.

“It’s not just about delivering exceptional food and drink; it’s about creating vibrant lifestyle destinations that form the beating heart of their respective communities,” says Rebecca Gibbs, the marketing manager of hospitality group Merivale, which counts among its properties The Ivy, Bistrode and The Newport. “Our community venues, such as Coogee Pavilion and The Newport, naturally lend themselves to these kinds of celebrations as they’re family-focused destinations,” she adds. And when it works, it can improve a customer’s experience, which inevitably helps to drive traffic and, subsequently, increase the bottom line. Gibbs gives as an example this year’s Father’s Day ‘Dad-Athlon’ at Coogee Pavilion, in which dads were invited to take part in pizza-eating contests and billycart building. “The families loved it and it provided something fun for the dads to do while the children enjoyed face painting and card-making.

“Bastille Day at [Merivale-owned French bistro] Felix, however, is less about a novelty experience and more about delivering an exceptional and authentic French experience with a beautiful set manu and a touch of theming.”

“People want to feel special and so they want the most attentive service, so if it’s Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day or whatever else, you can’t be short-staffed and need to be on your game.”—Josephine Perry, Missy French, NSW

Josephine Perry, the restaurateur behind Potts Point-based French restaurant Missy French, agrees, noting that whether you play into the Hallmark holidays or not, it affects day-to-day traffic. “For the Mother’s Day we just had, we had all of our staff on it and was still hectic,” Perry explains. “You’ve got people coming in at two or three o’clock for lunch, leaving at five or six right as dinner is kicking in, so you have staff doing doubles. Customers tend to hang around when it’s a special occasion, so you definitely need to plan for these events.”

What’s more, says Perry, is that a venue’s level of service needs to be at the top of its game to meet people’s heightened expectations on days such as these. “People want to feel special and so they want the most attentive service, so if it’s Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day or whatever else, you can’t be short-staffed and need to be on your game. Of all days of the year, you want customers leaving feeling extra special.”

But according to Gibbs, while service plays a large part, and discounts or special offers can help attract new customers, themed holidays and events require investment on the part of the venue to really make them work. “You have to bring these holidays to life with engaging and interactive experiences to really make them work, and that’s about knowing and understanding who your guests are and what they want. There’s no point putting on a huge extravaganza if it isn’t actually something people want in a venue.”

Indeed, as Wilson notes, some restaurants can fall into the trap of getting caught up in the festivities, but notes that most customers just want a good experience rather than bells and whistles. “Often, it’s not even about adding on specials of the day or doing themed decorations, as it can be perceived as a bit tacky,” he says. “Mostly, people just want to know that they can go to one of their favourite places, have a great meal, and for the service to be the best, as it always should be. Creating your own calendar of events can be more important than trying to play into whatever day Hallmark or whoever says it is.”

In response, Perry has introduced her own calendar of weekly events so as to create a culture around Missy French’s day-to-day offering. “We’re in such a residential area and lots of people in Potts Point don’t want to cook dinner, and with so many restaurants on the [local] strip, you need to stay relevant, offer good value and make them want to come in.” As such, the restaurant recently introduced winter specials, including a classic Sunday roast, and two-dollar oysters on Thursdays. “You want people to say, ‘Oh, let’s go to Missy French for oysters on Thursday’, and for those days of the week to become part of their social planning,” says Perry. Gibbs adds: “At the end of the day, it should be about delivering something new and giving back to your loyal guests.”


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