For five years, we've been reading about White Castle's most successful marketing campaign: Valentine's Day at White Castle. On this day, lovers walk into a transformed chain restaurant: red tablecloths, waiters, candles and roses. Well, enough reading; last night we went to see for ourselves.
Walking into a New Jersey-based location at around 7 p.m., we were greeted by a smiling manager who happily showed us to our seats. Sitting at our red-plastic-covered table, we couldn't help but laugh and smile. Our tea-candle was lit and the faux smell of roses filled the air as our waitress came over to hand us the menus. Yes, menus! She, too, had a huge smile on her face and was excited to tell us that this was her first Valentine's Day with the company. She explained the menu to us and even promoted the "Sweetheart Special," which consisted of 10 hamburgers, two fries and two regular drinks. Priced at just $12.49, it was a deal. However, I decided to go with three classic cheeseburgers and take a chance on the Surf & Turf burger with cheese, the fish sandwiched between two burger patties, served with tartar sauce.
After ordering, I took a moment to look around. Every seat was filled with happy people, enjoying their burgers and getting a kick out of the décor. More than half the room was dressed in their date-night best -- women in red sparkling sweaters and men in suits with Valentine's Day-themed ties. There was one group of eight that had been coming to the chain for five years during this special promotion and they were pros -- they even brought their own wine. Who knew White Castle was BYOB?
The service was impeccable. If a staff member saw a couple trying to take a photo of themselves, they'd run over and offer to snap it (great marketing ploy). And after we were served our food, they made sure we had everything we needed, down to an extra ketchup packet.
I dug into my classic burgers to find that nothing had changed in years. (While we know that fast food isn't on the world's healthiest foods list, we like a good burger as much as the next guy.) I was partly excited, partly hesitant to bite into the Surf & Turf. While I probably wouldn't order it again, it wasn't exactly terrible. But the texture combination of a meat patty and fish filet was more than a little strange.
It was actually a lot of fun to be a part of something like this. Not one person took themselves seriously -- everyone was focused on simply being there with the people they loved -- whether that was grandkids, moms, dads or good friends.
As we left, and the manager held the door for us, we thought, this would be really hard for other (unnamed) fast-food chains to pull off. Yes, it's fast-food and it's cliché, but we had a great time and next Valentine's Day, we might just go again.
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