Restaurateurs and florists are betting the romance wins out.
The Kunjip, a Korean barbecue restaurant in K-Town, is slowly recovering from what has been a difficult year. Declining foot traffic, a supply-chain bottleneck and rising costs led to a trimming of the menu.
Anna Pak, general manager at the restaurant, remains positive in the name of love. “The only thing we can do is to continue being loving towards our customers,” referring to the filial love theme of the store. On Valentine’s Day, Pak expects the restaurant to fill up, as has been the tradition, with patrons who might have had a tough time during the pandemic. “For us, Valentine’s Day this year is for those people to find comfort and feel seen, not alone.”
This Valentine’s, love in New York is complicated and slightly expensive, but inclusive and even a little promiscuous. The day arrives in the city in the face of a surge in prices and a gradually receding Omicron wave.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last December that overall prices rose 5% across the city. The cost of restaurant meals increased 6.9% from a year earlier. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has reported, through its Survey of Consumer Expectations, that both short and medium-term inflation expectations are unchanged.
Paul Canetti, an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School, said consumer spending related to Valentine’s Day will be more “promiscuous,” “not based on deep analysis, but based on their feelings.” There is the feeling of obligation that will overrule the discomfort of the price increase, if the increase is perceived at all. “Most consumers will not feel the 5% increase,” he said. “If flowers used to cost $20 but it’s now $21, we’re not going to feel it.”
That feeling becomes more invisible by the fact that spending for this holiday isn’t a type of spending that happens regularly, therefore one that lives in our immediate memories. “When you buy a dozen eggs every week for your groceries, you will feel the price increase,” he said. “But you probably have no idea what things cost from a year ago, so that works to the advantage of businesses trying to sell.”
All of that enhances the commitment to spending. During Valentine’s Day, “there is this feeling of ‘I need to show up,’” Canetti added. “People in that mentality are looking to spend.”
In comparison to global inflation trends, things don’t look so bad here in the U.S. “Relative prices don’t change and hence the consumer faces the same choices as before,” Richard Robb, a professor at Columbia University Center for Capitalism and Society, said.
Unlike restaurants, some of which continued to survive through deliveries, flower shops felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic at the outset of the crisis. However, things were soon back on track. “We’re back to normal with the demands,” said Erin Marino, public relations director at the Sill, a florist chain with five locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn. “There was a surge in demand at the beginning of COVID, but last year and this year, demands for Valentine’s Day seem normal.” For Marino, the holiday isn’t just about couples, though couples are important to the Sill. “It’s also about people, family and friends, letting each other know that you miss them and are thinking about them.” Marino adds, “plants beyond just roses can do that.”
Ashley Langer, a professor at the University of Arizona Eller College of Management, said that we must place consumer behaviors during this year within the context of the pandemic. She said she expects “a pent up desire for people to return to normalcy,” to dine out, spend, and celebrate the holiday. “If prices had been the same, you might expect more demands this year. The fact that the prices are up will reduce that a bit. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will overall see less” such demand, Langer added.
“Reservations are strong,” said Karim Guedouar, regional manager at the Daniel Boulud restaurant. “We are almost fully booked for the weekend and Valentine’s Day. We expect couples to come and celebrate their love.”
Stephen Zagor, an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School, is skeptical about consumer behavior for the holiday. “People will want to go out,” he said. “The question is whether they will.” He said he expects couples to spend more on Valentine’s Day this year, but not necessarily at restaurants. “It might be that love conquers all–but at home.” Even Cupid is COVID conscious, he said.
“We are very excited,” said Elsa Prior, a manager at Hi Life, a restaurant on the Upper West Side. She has many regulars who come to the restaurant and expects many of them to celebrate the holiday at the restaurant. “We haven’t felt the impact of inflation,” Prior said. She also is confident in the face of the omicron, because of the strong loyal customer base that has been with the restaurant for years.
Zagor said the weather may put a damper on Valentine’s Day. “Despite the incredible pleasure of going outside and staring at each other’s eyes with eternal love,” he said that the trade-off might not be worth it for many people. “Sure, love will keep you warm, but people just don’t want to be that cold.” He added that omicron and cold weather “are not exactly the grounds for joyous celebrations.”
New York temperatures on Valentine’s Day are forecast to fall to a low of 23 degrees.