4 Chain Restaurants With Valentine's Day Promos

PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- Why would you take the person you love to a fast-food joint on Valentine's Day? Because all the novices are sucking up reservations everywhere else and paying a premium for dry roast chicken on the "special" Valentine's Day menu.

This is the shoebox well-intentioned suitors have been backed into since Esther Howland and her gang of greeting card industry thugs grabbed hold of Valentine's Day in the late 19th century and DeBeers and its diamond-company cronies made every dinner on that holiday a game of high-stakes poker. Now it's an $18 billion industry that trails only Thanksgiving ($30.5 billion) and Christmas ($135 billion) in holiday spending, according to IBISWorld.

That's almost $3 billion more than what's spent on Mother's Day, which means most folks love that person they met on winter break in Breckenridge more than they love their own mother. For shame.

Perhaps its only fair that those poor, misguided saps get squeezed for their Valentine's supper. Restaurant ratings guide Zagat found that spending on a dinner out jumps on Valentine's Day to more than $146 for a typical dinner for two -- from $70. Overall, the National Retail Federation expected Valentine's Day dinner spending to jump from $3.36 billion in 2011 to $3.58 billion last year.

It didn't help that last year's Valentine's Day diners decided to treat the holiday like an Olympic-style challenge. Last year, restaurant reservation site OpenTable found that 93% of the Valentine's Day reservation holders they surveyed planned to either match last year's dinner bill or increase it. Roughly 54% planned to spend $101 to $200, while 10% plan to go well beyond $200.

This is how the place around the corner from your house that requires you to lean out the driver's side window and shout your order into a speaker becomes a viable Valentine's Day option. We took a hard, soul-searching look at the lovestruck American dining landscape and found a few establishments that will try to sell fast and familiar fare as romantic dinner this Valentine's Day:

White Castle

The Midwest and East Coast miniburger palace, the Beastie Boys' muse and Harold and Kumar's sacred feeding ground usually has no problems doling out sacks of 10 or cardboard "Crave Case" briefcases filled with dozens of burgers to anyone willing to make the pilgrimage.

Unless they want to drop by on Valentine's Day, when they'll need to hit the White Castle website and make a reservation.

For their trouble, White Castle couples get a $10 "share-a-meal" served on plastic red tablecloths set with candles and flowers in collapsible take-home vases.This year, the package includes a free digital photo that gets posted on the chain's site after March 1 and keepsake menus to mark the occasion. While there's plenty of room for questions about the romantic value of a meal that tends to settle like a cannonball in the stomach a few hours later, a White Castle Valentine's date is worth the agita if only to see the confused, bloodshot look on the regular clientele's faces when they come in and see the glowing candles and flush decor.

Waffle House

Because why should Northerners be the only ones who get cheap plates of grease with their romantic ambience?

If you ever wondered how much more romantic a soundtrack of songs about Waffle House could make a Valentine's Day dinner, bring a stack of quarters and settle in by the jukebox for a huge serving of pecan waffles and puppy love.Waffle House dims the lights, breaks out the cloth napkins and cooks up a menu of ribeyes, eggs and pork chops just for the occasion.

Reservations at any of the participating locations in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and elsewhere are highly recommended, but not necessarily required. It may seem like a great ironic choice for a couple's rendezvous, but Waffle House management is dead serious about creating a Valentine's-appropriate atmosphere for its roadside romantics.

Krispy Kreme ( KKD)

Hey, remember back in the late '90s and early 2000s when Krispy Kreme was in markets such as New York City and Boston and overexpanded so much it nearly collapsed?

So does Krispy Kreme, which is performing so well right now against big chains including Dunkin' Donuts ( DNKN) and Starbucks ( SBUX) that it's being talked about as a potential takeover target and doesn't want to jinx it. It's why even novelty offerings such as its heart-shaped Valentine's Day doughnuts are being promoted with growth in mind.

Folks who come into Krispy Kreme and buy a dozen doughnuts between now and Valentine's Day will get a bouquet of a dozen gift-card "Valentines" that can each be redeemed for a free doughnut. Call it a gimmick if you must, but it not only gets Valentine's-minded customers through the door but keeps them and their significant others coming back for more. Consider it the deep-fried version of Cupid's arrow.

Papa Murphy's

In pizza-producing corners of the country such as the Northeast or Chicagoland, Papa Murphy's is a mystery wrapped in an enigma packaged in plastic and cardboard.

"So they 'make' a pizza, but they don't cook it?" Right. "Isn't that just a supermarket pizza?" No, because you can customize it. "Can't you just get a plain supermarket pizza and some ingredients and 'customize' it?" Yes, but it's an extra step and you can't stuff it.

"I don't get it."

We know, but the rest of the Papa Murphy's-eating country does and, last year, Nation's Restaurant News and Zagat rated it the No. 1 pizza chain in the country ahead of giants such as Domino's ( DPZ), Papa John's ( PZZA) and Yum Brands' ( YUM) Pizza Hut. The year before, Consumer Reports readers also declared it the top pizza chain in the land.

Papa Murphy's shows its love right back by offering Valentine's Day couples the HeartBaker, a heart-shaped pizza that just needs a few minutes at 425 degrees to become a warm and inviting romantic dinner. Diners only have to brave the masses to pick it up and don't have to wait for their assigned reservation time to dig in.

This may not seem terribly romantic in "real" pizza towns east of the Mississippi, but neither is waiting an hour and a half for the delivery guy to show up with your pie because a million other couples in your densely packed metro area decided to order in too.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

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-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham.

>To submit a news tip, send an email to: tips@thestreet.com.


Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.