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Thinking Outside The Chocolate Box For Valentine’s Day 2021

There are a lot of ways to quantify what a weird Valentine’s Day 2021 will shape up to be — but instead of using numbers, charts, graphs and the insightful opinion of various experts, we can do it in a single word this year:

Lowemance.

No, the spell checker has not been temporarily disabled. Lowemance is a portmanteau of the word Lowe’s — as in the hardware store — and the word romance. Why would such a word need to exist, since people generally go to the hardware store looking for tools, flooring and lighting rather than love? Good question. But 2021 has inspired innovation in places no one would expect — and so this year, in honor of Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14, Lowe’s will host an event that it’s calling “A Night of Lowemance.”

The chain notes that on the holiday, it will invite 50 couples to select stores in 10 markets for a “one-of-a-kind Valentine’s Day experience” following “a year of date nights … replaced by takeout on the couch.” And it will be a real date as interpreted by a hardware chain — after appetizers, customers will select paint swatches to express their love story on a blank canvas in the most romantic way possible: splash painting. And if you’re thinking that this is the romance Valentine’s Day has always lacked, we have some bad news: A Night Of Lowemance is already sold out everywhere.

But for those looking to feel the love this Valentine’s season, Lowe’s is far from alone in thinking outside the box when it comes to celebrating the season a little bit differently in a year when popping out for a fancy dinner and a movie feels about as attainable as hopping on a rocket and dining with Elon Musk on the moon.

Restaurants will be open in New York City in honor of the holiday and will be allowed to serve customers indoors on Friday — but only at 25 percent of regular capacity. And even where customers can dine out, the majority of the unvaccinated population is unsure about going out amid the more contagious strains of the COVID-19 virus making the rounds in several American states.

Restaurants are attempting a two-pronged approach to keeping romantic dining alive — one old, one new. The old is the general proliferation of special Valentine’s menus and dining creations, such as “prix fixe” menus that feature filet mignon and flourless chocolate cake with a glass of champagne or Prosecco on the side. But new to 2021 is just how many of those special dining options are available for carryout: Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, Eddie V’s and Bonefish Grill are just a few of the highly regarded date spots offering their multi-course Valentine’s Day offering for online order and pick-up.

And for those looking for less fancy carryout options, Chick-fil-A is offering a variety of menu items in special heart-shaped tins at participating locations while supplies last. The tins include a 30-count nugget tin, a 10-count mini chicken sandwich tin, a six-count chocolate chunk cookie tin or a 12-count chocolate fudge brownie tin. Also playing with the heart-shaped offering is Dunkin’, with a Cupid’s donut and a brownie batter donut.

Stepping away from the sticky sweetness of heart-shaped food, Hooters had decided that its mission is not to help those who are “in love” this Valentine’s Day, but to recognize the single people and their struggles. Consumers can pick up a $10 coupon for free wings if they bring a picture of an ex to shred publicly. New to this year, Hooters is also providing the option to digitally shred a photo online for socially distanced vindictiveness.

The challenge this year is to cook up ideas that will literally whet consumers’ appetites when so many are planning to take a pass on dining out. Fewer than 24 percent of consumers are planning to spend money dining at a restaurant on Valentine’s Day, according to the NRF — the lowest percentage in the survey’s history. However, just because they aren’t going out doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling the love for Valentine’s celebrations: 41 percent of people indicated that they will plan a special dinner or celebration at home.

And restaurateurs are committed to finding ways to be part of those at-home celebrations. The options extend beyond carryout offers: The Eat Good Group, headed by restaurateur Adam Hegsted, has launched Valentine’s Day “heat and eat” meal kits crafted by award-winning chefs, according to reports. 

“We’ve been trying (the meal kits) out for all special occasions. Obviously, catering isn’t doing any events right now, so this is a way to drum up a little business and produce a high-quality meal for people,” Hegsted said. “It’s probably the fourth or fifth meal kit we’ve done. It will have some nice instructions, and is easy for people to heat up and it turns out really well.” The meal kits, which start at $95, include slow-roasted New York Strip, crab carbonara spaghetti, arugula salad and devil’s food cake.

Meanwhile, the Spokane Symphony is partnering with Beacon Hill Catering and Events to offer consumers a Valentine’s dining option that offers up a bit more than just something to eat. The chef-prepared gourmet meal comes with a 12-minute virtual musical serenade by the symphony’s concertmaster and lead violinist Mateusz Wolski and pianist Archie Chen.

“We are a little over halfway to being sold out. I think we have almost 300 folks that we’ll be feeding at this point, and we can go up to 600,” said Ellie Aaro, co-owner of Beacon Hill Catering and Events, in the report. “What better way to show your love to someone than with a serenade and a gourmet meal?”

Maybe paint swatches and proximity to power tools?

It’s hard to say, because the best way to create a romantic mood varies by couple. Some will brave dining out indoors this weekend where they can, others will bemoan their inability to do so due to the pandemic, while still others will be grateful to have the opportunity to order a gourmet meal to eat on the couch in sweatpants with the person they love most. But if Valentine’s Day 2021 is to have any theme at all, it seems it will be choice — and the options are myriad.

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NEW PYMNTS DATA: BUY NOW, PAY LATER CONSUMER STUDY 

About: Buy Now, Pay Later: Millennials And The Shifting Dynamics Of Online Credit, a PYMNTS and PayPal collaboration, examines the demand for new flexible credit options as well as how consumers, especially those in the millennial demographic, are paying online. The study is based on two surveys, totaling nearly 15,000 U.S. consumers.

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