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VENTURA COUNTY BUSINESS

Restaurateurs Love It When Valentine's Day Falls in Middle of Week

Dining: Special menus await sweethearts on the third-most popular day for eating out. This year, holiday won't overlap with regular weekend rush.

February 06, 2001|ROBERTA G. WAX | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Love is in the air--along with the smell of broiling lobster tails and decadent chocolate desserts--as Valley restaurateurs cook up Valentine's Day specials to lure lovers out for a midweek dinner.

Restaurants have come up with a variety of ways to entice customers, such as creating special fixed-price dinners that include champagne and dessert, offering flowers and chocolate to women diners, or providing live dance music. Many restaurants also take out special ads starting three or four weeks before Valentine's Day.

But luring holiday diners is not really all that hard, several restaurant owners agreed. In fact, the fact that Valentine's Day is on a Wednesday this year is actually a bonus for many restaurants, because the middle of the week is not usually a prime dining-out time. For restaurants that are already close to capacity on weekends, it's beneficial to have lots of traffic on a day that isn't normally busy.

A midweek holiday "is definitely an advantage for us," said Emilio Bellissimo, owner of Bellissimo's in Woodland Hills, a 140-seat restaurant with singing waiters to enhance the romantic ambience. "It's a blessing, really, because business is usually slower during the week than on weekends."

Last year, Bellissimo said, his restaurant "was completely sold out," even though the holiday fell on a Monday, probably the worst night for restaurant business. This year, he said, he expects the same full dining room.

"We do a very nice business on Valentine's Day" no matter what day of the week it falls on, said Abdul Rehman, restaurant director at the Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City.

At the Odyssey Restaurant in Granada Hills, General Manager Ray Javapour noted that Feb. 14 is "one of our busiest nights. "It's another excuse to go out in the middle of the week," Javapour said. "When Valentine's Day falls in the middle of the week, it can mean three times as much business as we would have on a regular Wednesday night."

And best of all, everyone agreed, a midweek holiday doesn't affect weekend business. Although no one would divulge last year's sales figures, Rehman said Valentine's Day 2000 at the Sportsmen's Lodge "was grand. We doubled our business [from the previous year]."

It could be, he said, that last year proved especially lucrative because the holiday fell so close to the weekend, or perhaps because of some additional advertising launched that year. Then again, he added, it could just be a function of the restaurant's general upswing in business.

"Business has been increasing 20% a year in general over the last several years," he said. "Banquet sales have more than doubled from what they were three or four years ago."

Valentine's Day is the third-most popular occasion for dining out, behind birthdays and Mother's Day, according to the National Restaurant Assn., a Washington, D.C.-based trade group representing 235,000 restaurant and food-service outlets.

Generally, Saturday, Friday and Sunday--in that order--are the most popular dining-out days of the week, according to surveys by the association, which also found that more than one in five Americans, most of them in the 18-36 age range, dine out on Feb. 14.

"The holiday has its own mystique," said Jane Sandmeier of Wizardz restaurant at Universal CityWalk, where a special holiday menu typically draws a full house--unusual for a Wednesday.

"We usually fill up on Valentine's Day, no matter when it is. People want to do something on that date. It's like New Year's Eve--it's hard to celebrate New Year's Eve on another date." However, she noted, the crowd on this year's midweek holiday will probably consist of more "locals" than it would if Valentine's Day fell on a weekend, because people aren't willing to drive as far in the middle of the week.

To make sure local patrons know about Wizardz, she said, the 8-year-old restaurant, which offers dinner and a show, runs ads mostly in local newspapers, with some radio and TV spots. Valentine's Day promotions begin about four weeks before the holiday, she said.

"We advertise regularly throughout the year but might increase advertising in our off season, which would be winter," she said. "We have to work a little harder to get the word out when it's a weeknight."

Dining out is big business any time of the year. According to the California Restaurant Assn., a Sacramento-based trade association with 3,500 members representing 14,000 food-service businesses statewide, there were 74,200 eating and drinking establishments in California at the end of 2000, with food and drink sales of $37.7 billion. California also has the highest number of chain restaurants in the country--461--followed by Texas with 349.

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In Los Angeles County alone, there were 20,575 restaurants as of November. And, according to the CRA, the county reported $9 billion in taxable food and drink sales in 1999, the most current figures available.

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