Despite the bumpy economy, full-service restaurant operators have high hopes for strong Mother’s Day sales Sunday.

Typically the biggest holiday of the year for dining out, many operators say they see their best single-day numbers on Mother’s Day — even better than Valentine’s Day, in part because the February love fest generally attracts only two people, while celebrating Mom usually draws a crowd.


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This year the National Restaurant Association projects about 80 million American adults will dine on restaurant meals on Sunday, according to an annual survey. The projection tops last year’s estimate of about 75 million Americans. Twenty-five percent of consumers said they planned to dine out this year, while 7 percent said they would order takeout or delivery. About 55 percent will dine out for dinner.

For Emeryville, Calif.-based multi-concept operator Tavistock Restaurants, bookings for Sunday increased this year compared with last year across its portfolio, which includes upscale-casual concepts like Abe & Louie’s, Napa Valley Grille and Atlantic Fish.

Hooter's Mother's Day ad“We’re predicting we’ll be up pretty significantly across the board in guest counts and sales, based on early bookings,” Tavistock spokesperson Sara Barker said.

“We are already at capacity for reservations and we are continuing to stretch reservations through OpenTable, booking on the 15-minute mark versus the half hour mark,” she said. “Even in recession times, Mother’s Day is a strong, strong holiday for us. It’s probably because it’s one of those tried and true comfort holidays, and you can’t really avoid it.”

Brian Dixon, chief marketing officer for Lehi, Utah-based casual-dining chain Costa Vida, said he expects Mother’s Day to be a “gangbuster day,” even though about a third of the chain’s 48 locations are closed on Sunday, primarily in Utah.

Last year the chain saw “respectable” Mother’s Day sales, he said.

Despite economic challenges for casual dining in general, Costa Vida’s sales have been positive, except for some softness in February, Dixon said. “We’ve been trending well above the industry,” he said. “We’re very bullish on Mother’s Day.”

At Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and Restaurant, Mother’s Day sales set an all-time record for the chain last year, even though it doesn’t offer a special menu for the occasion.

Cracker Barrel communications manager  Jeanne Ludington declined to comment on whether the 622-unit family-dining chain expects to exceed last year’s record.

Cracker Barrel “has become a tradition for families on Mother’s Day for many reasons, ranging from the relaxing atmosphere that makes guests feel right at home, to the made-from-scratch biscuits and convenient locations to meet for families who live in different towns or states,” Ludington said.  “For those just passing by on the way to Mom’s house, we have lots of gift baskets and bundles ready to go.”

Attracting moms with gift cards, value

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Taylors, S.C.-based Fatz said Mother’s Day is typically the top sales day of the year at its 48 locations across the Southeast. The casual-dining chain expects sales to top last year, despite concerns about economic headwinds, said Fatz vice president of marketing Stephen Loftis.

“There were conversations [about the economy], but we tried to put a few things in place to hedge our bets,” he said.

For example, Fatz is offering Mother’s Day Bucks for $5 off a purchase of $15 or more on a return visit through June 2.

Last year the chain gave customers a sealed envelope with a scratch-off card offering discounts, he said. But this year’s promotion offered guests more visibility into the discount. “It’s a little extra incentive,” he said, noting that most customers dine in, though the chain also expects its takeout business to be brisk.

Mother’s Day also tends to be a big day for gift card sales, and many chains feature gift cards in promotions.

Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar is offering a three-course brunch for $36.95 and giving all moms a $25 gift card toward a future visit.

For Redding, Calif.-based Black Bear Diner, Christmas Day tends to top Mother’s Day. But co-founder Bruce Dean said the challenging economy could benefit 58-unit Black Bear’s Mother’s Day sales this year. “Mother’s Day is to get mom out of the kitchen. We’re a concept that’s known for providing a pretty great value, with large portions of good food at a reasonable price,” Dean said. “People still want to take Mom out and Mom does not want to cook.”

Last year, Hooters of America gave moms 10 free chicken wings on Mother’s Day, and it said it had an average of more than 50 redemptions per participating restaurant. More locations are participating this year and the offer is “even better,” so the chain expects this year’s offer to bring in about 20,000 moms, Hooters officials said through a spokeswoman.

This year it is offering a free entrée up to $10 with a drink purchase on Sunday at the chain’s 355 U.S. units.

“The free entrée deal is just one way for Hooters to show its appreciation for hard-working moms and to provide a relaxed atmosphere to enjoy a delicious meal with the family,” Hooters’ chief marketing officer Dave Henninger said in a statement.

Still, Hooters’ top sales day is likely to remain Super Bowl Sunday.

Contact Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings@penton.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout