White Castle revamps Valentine’s Day event with drive-in, carhop service

Dive Brief:

  • White Castle is switching up a long-running Valentine’s Day event that lets people book a romantic dinner given COVID-19 concerns. With restrictions on indoor dining, the chain will transform about 300 of its locations into “classic drive-ins, complete with carhop service,” an announcement said.
  • Customers can book a time for a socially distanced Valentine’s Day date at the burger chain via the OpenTable website or app. Once guests arrive, the restaurant will direct them to a parking space, where a White Castle employee will take their order and deliver it to their cars. The “Slider Lover’s Point” event marks the 30th anniversary of Valentine’s Day celebrations for White Castle.
  • White Castle’s revamped Valentine’s Day activation is another sign of how brands have responded to the pandemic with operational changes that maintain a sense of continuity for consumers.

Dive Insight:

With many people seeking reminders of happier days, White Castle is providing a Valentine’s Day experience that does so while helping to distinguish its brand. The company’s Valentine’s Day tradition started as a joke 30 years ago at a handful of restaurants that transformed their dining rooms into upscale restaurants with tablecloths, hostess seating and wait service. 

The concept proved to be popular and enduring, with bookings last year growing 14% to more than 30,000 at White Castle locations in 14 states, Restaurant Business reported. The higher attendance was partly attributable to letting customers make reservations on OpenTable, a service first linked to White Castle in 2018, and a social media campaign promoting the offering. 

Valentine’s Day typically is an occasion for special promotions as consumers open their wallets for gifts, dinners, flowers and candy, but outreach channels have obviously been disrupted by the coronavirus. Because this year marks the 30th anniversary of its Valentine’s Day celebration, White Castle wanted to continue the tradition, but in a way that let customers practice social distancing in the safety of their cars. As part of its effort to improve the in-car experience, the brand plans to hand out brochures with suggested activities to keep customers entertained while they wait for their food to arrive.

White Castle will offer a Spotify playlist called “Slider Lover’s Luv Channel” that includes a mix of romantic songs, shoutouts to loved ones and personal stories from customers. The restaurant chain will ask people to submit their shoutouts on social media before Valentine’s Day. Customers who don’t want to book a reservation can still order food, including White Castle’s special “20-Slider Crave Clutch,” at the drive-thru or for delivery, per its announcement.

White Castle’s reformatted Valentine’s Day event marks the second time in the past few months that the restaurant chain has observed a 30th anniversary. For Thanksgiving 2020, White Castle enlisted rapper Coolio to demonstrate how to make turkey stuffing with sliders, a recipe first introduced in 1990. White Castle also ran an influencer campaign starring internet personality Tim Chantarangsu, who urged viewers of his YouTube channel to share their ideas for Friendsgiving celebrations. As part of its effort to encourage repeat business, White Castle in September launched its first systemwide loyalty program to receive discounts on food and other special offers.

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