Have you made your reservation? Better hurry. Area restaurants prep for Valentine’s Day dining amid pandemic

Dayton-area restaurants are hoping Valentine’s Day weekend will boost their bottom line, even as COVID-19 restrictions keep crowd sizes smaller than previous years.

Preparing for an expected uptick of customers during the pandemic has “definitely been a challenge,” according to Chris Plummer, general manager and chef at Beavercreek’s Wellington Grille.

“Actually anything going into Valentine’s Day, there’s not even really a whole lot we can do to differently,” Plummer said. “Our whole restaurant, we’ve kind of maxed out what we can do table-seating wise just because of the six-foot requirement between tables. Our capacity’s definitely going to be a lot less than normal.”

It definitely helps that the calendar this year gives Wellington Grille and other restaurants the opportunity to space out reservations throughout the entire weekend from Friday through Sunday night.

“They may have to go to work early the next day and they don’t want to stay out late or something like that,” he said. “It kind of influences people a little bit to say ‘Well, let’s not do Sunday because I’ve got to work early in the morning. Let’s do Saturday.’”

Consumers plan to spend an average of $165 on Valentine’s Day gifts and celebrations — $32 less than they budgeted last year, according to National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics’ annual Valentine’s Day survey.

Just 24 percent of those surveyed said they will celebrate with an evening out this year, a 10 percent decrease compared to last year, a 34 percent decrease compared to 2010 and the lowest in the survey’s history. Another 46 percent said they would actively avoid in-person gatherings.

This year, reservations at Ohio restaurants having been filling up this year much faster than usual and in the past compared to last year, a welcome bit of good news for restaurants during the pandemic, according to Homa Moheimani, spokeswoman for the Ohio Restaurant Association. However, overall seating is still limited because of capacity restrictions, which are about 60 percent. Reservations may be even greater for seating for two, she said.

“It depends on the seating arrangements of the restaurant,” Moheimani said, referring to chairs, booth and the like. “It’s possible some may not see a boost in reservations. It really all depends on the restaurant and their customer base.”

Owners and operators across the state are entrepreneurs and try to get as creative as possible to encourage customers to dine out, while maintaining safety standards and guidelines for employees and guests, she said.

Wellington Grille’s specials include a 44-ounce Tomahawk ribeye steak dinner for two, fresh U-10 sea scallops and a holiday-only chocolate dessert, Plummer said.

The Melting Pot in Washington Twp. creates a set menu specifically for Valentine’s Day, according to general manager Amanda Johnson. Because of the varied menus, which change each year to include new items, slots for each holiday typically start getting filled a year in advance, Johnson said.

The restaurant books far in advance for Valentine’s Day and the two other holidays, Mother’s Day and New Year’s Eve, because it offers a dining experience that is “different than your typical restaurant,” Johnson said. That includes tableside food preparation, some of it by guests themselves, and up to four courses during a longer-than-usual meal, she said.

Having the Melting Pot’s dining room capacity reduced from 240 seats down to 140 because of pandemic-influenced social distancing restrictions will put a damper on those looking to make last-minute plans, she said.

“We have some tables we can’t seat due to the six-feet distance rule,” Johnson said. “There’s no chance (for walk-in seating) because we’re already booked up. Every table has a reservation for it.”

Johnson said The Melting Pot is “really trying to be as cautious as possible” by not only table distancing, but also temperature taking of employees when they arrive at work, wiping down surfaces throughout a service and asking people to wait in their car and call the restaurant before being checked in to prevent a large crowd from gathering near the host stand.

Dayton’s Butter Café is getting creative to generate Valentine’s Day business. The eatery is partnering with 937 Delivers and offering a holiday deliver deal that includes fluffy buttermilk pancakes cut into hearts with fresh toppings. scrambled eggs and seasoned breakfast potatoes.

Deliveries are available between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Orders must be placed by today.

Butter Cafe owner Amy Beaver said she got the idea for the promotion via Shannon Morgan, who runs 937 Delivers and is president of the Miami Valley Restaurant Association.

The promotion is meant to add another option for diners during the pandemic.

“Valentine’s Day this year falls on a Sunday, so that’s going to be a busy dining out day to begin with,” she said. “So I understand why some couples or even families might want to do the delivery option. I think that if I could get something delivered and not have to go to a busy restaurant on a Sunday, I would probably do it myself.”

Beaver said her other business next door, Glo Juice Bar & Cafe, is offering buy-one-get-one-half-off deal on smoothie bowls and smoothies.

Regardless of any predictions or surveys, restaurateurs are resigned to whatever occurs during the pandemic.

“Pretty much this whole (past) year we just kind of take it day by day, week by week,” said Plummer of Wellington Grille. “It’s impossible to know. Any forecasting of anything that we normally can do has just been shot out the window. We just try to do what we can and roll with what we got.”

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