Cupid's aim depends on the day

  • Article by: JOHN EWOLDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 14, 2014 - 12:07 PM

Hotels love it when Valentine’s Day falls on the weekend, but restaurants and florists get a boost if it’s early in the week.

What a difference a day makes. With Valentine’s Day falling on a Friday this year, hotel operators are loving it.

“We’ve been sold out for two weeks,” said Natasha Hamilton, hotel manager at the Nicollet Island Inn in Minneapolis. “We’re very busy for February.”

Total spending for Cupid’s holiday, which is celebrated by 54 percent of consumers according to the National Retail Federation, is expected to reach $17.3 billion. Fifty-four percent of men will purchase flowers and 53 percent plan to go out to dinner, according to American Express Spending and Saving Tracker research.

When Valentine’s Day falls on a Friday or a Saturday, couples find it easier to arrange for a sitter and don’t have to worry about returning to work the next day, said Bill Morrissey, president of Morrissey Hospitality Companies in St. Paul, which operates the St. Paul Hotel and several restaurants.

But when the 14th occurs somewhere between Sunday and Wednesday, hotels don’t see much of an uptick, except from a few traditionists who insist on celebrating on the 14th. This year, many couples are planning a two-day staycation, extending their rendezvous from Friday to Saturday night as well, said Morrissey. “We’ll see a 40 percent increase in business this weekend,” he said.

Restaurants also fill their reservation books on Valentine’s Day, but conventional wisdom says they prefer Cupid’s arrow to drop early in the week, when they have more empty tables. Weekends are typically the busiest time for restaurants, and the 14th just adds to the clamor.

Kip Clayton, vice president of business development at Parasole Restaurant Holdings in Edina said it’s not always that simple. When Valentine’s is celebrated on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, couples choose one night out and it’s done. “I guarantee you that restaurants will see up to two times the revenue this year than if Valentine’s had fallen early in the week,” he said.

On a Friday, some restaurants see solid bookings from Thursday through Sunday as some couples wait until Saturday or Sunday night to celebrate.

“Couples aren’t so locked in to the 14th anymore,” said Clayton. Part of the reason is that Valentine’s is often viewed as a night for inexperienced diners.

A lot of real diners skip that night and go a day or two earlier or later, he said. Other diners want to avoid the prix fixe menu at $75-plus per person and go on a different night when they can order off the regular menu.

More couples seem to be more willing to delay the celebration to save money or fit it into their busy schedules, especially at restaurants and hotels. But florists and chocolatiers say their customers aren’t as likely to delay their purchases for convenience.

Kristi Svenkeson, owner of Pazzobello flowers in Minneapolis, said the guys (and some gals) who send flowers will do so regardless, but where they buy them depends on what day the 14th lands. “We’re 30 percent busier when Valentine’s falls on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday,” she said.

Early in the week, men are buying flowers from a florist to impress a woman (and her co-workers) at the workplace, Svenkeson said. When it’s on the weekend, men are more likely to be thriftier and pick up flowers at the grocery store.

It’s a similar story for the independent chocolatier. Mary Leonard, owner of Chocolate Celeste in St. Paul, says that a Valentine’s Friday is great for business. It gives guys a couple of weekdays to pick up something over the lunch hour or on their way home from work.

But if Valentine’s Day falls on Saturday to Tuesday, they’ll just buy something at the mall over the weekend. “We see a 20 percent increase in sales Wednesday through Friday compared to Saturday through Tuesday,” she said.

What could still throw spending for a sweetheart off course? The weather. “With snow or cold, we’ll definitely get cancellations,” Morrissey said.

In extended periods of subzero temps, some customers forgo flowers altogether, fearing they will freeze on delivery, but florists say not to worry. “We include a winter wrap to prevent freezing. We take extra precautions,” said Minneapolis flower shop owner Roger Beck.

Bob Johnson of Forepaugh’s restaurant in St. Paul remains sanguine, regardless of when Valentine’s Day is. “You play the hand that you’re dealt,” he said. “Yes, we have a little more fun when it’s in the middle of the week, but Valentine’s Day is almost guaranteed good business.” he said.

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