Though it is socially acceptable for a man aged half a century to marry a teenager, the public expression of all forms of love is banned in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. No surprise that restaurateurs expect Covid-19 indoor dining restrictions to be lifted after Valentine’s Day.

“Valentine’s Day is good business,” explains Sikander Rizvi, CEO of fine-dining café Xander’s. “We are lucky enough to have some outdoor sitting areas but capacity is limited,” he says. Mondays and Tuesdays are slow days for dining out, says an industry insider, but a weekday becomes a weekend if V day falls on them, for fast food chains.

Muffadal Halai, a partner at the high-end fusion restaurant The East End, laments the lockdown restrictions while adding that business increases by about 30 per cent on Valentine’s Day.

Others opt out of red balloons and hearts as décor. “While almost all restaurants celebrate the occasion, we don’t because of religious reasons,” says Athar Chawla, owner of Pan Asian restaurant Tao and café Vintage, among others.

Bakeries are perhaps the biggest winners of the game of love, especially for small businesses. “This year our sales have increased 85pc in comparison to last year,” says Sidra CEO and baker at The Bake Lake which sells artistic creations that pass as cakes. Serving Karachi only, her goodies are priced in the range of Rs3,700-4,000 for the 15-45 age bracket.

Bakeries and flower shops are the biggest beneficiaries, reporting an increase in sales ranging from 40pc to 400pc

“These types of occasions play a huge role in the growth of small businesses,” she adds. “The majority of our customers are female, but such events give us a chance to work in the male market as well, allowing the opportunity to make new customers. The sales of these occasions are considered as a bonus of the month.”

“Business increases by 60pc,” says a salesperson of a chain of bakeries that specialises in cakes and cupcakes. “While all goods are sold across the board, the bulk of the revenue is derived from Valentine-themed confectionaries.”

Red roses, the eternal expression of love, witness bumpers sales as expected. “Sales increase by 40pc on Valentine’s Day. We buy a rose for Rs20 and sell it for Rs25,” says Kashif Siddiqui of Clifton Flower Shop while standing in a room overflowing with red teddy bears and heart-shaped boxes. While acknowledging that the boxes and stuffed toys are just optics to make the shop look appealing, he adds that they do not increase the margin on red roses even in the time of high demand.

Shakeel, a humble flower seller with a small setup on the side of Tipu Sultan road also underlines the importance of Valentine’s Day for his business. “We order four to five times more flowers, especially red roses, on the day of love,” he says.

“Our inbox is flooded around valentine,” says Mahnoor Mirza, CEO of Boxy Flutter, a small business selling curated gift boxes and care packages for all occasions that include chocolates, flowers and all the traditional paraphernalia. “Business rises quite a notch and there is twice the amount of work,” she says about the boxes that start from Rs3,500.

However, not all market V Day as the traditional narrative of non-platonic love. The Sari Girl, a passion project run by student Aiza and a couple of others sells a range of beautiful affordable sarees. Last year, they had a Beyond Love contest in which they highlighted all forms of connections — a parent, a friend, even a pet cat or a hobby — challenging the notion of love subscribing to a certain person. This year they are marketing pyaar ki potlis in the price range of Rs350-750.

Chocolates, cakes and gifts reign supreme but clothes, not so much. “We throw a sale on the first week of February offering discounts and promoting outfits that correlate to V day colours such as white pink and red as they would sell better than other shades,” says an industry insider of a major clothing retail chain. Apparently, sales around Valentine’s Day are driven more by discounts than the need to look extra special for date night.

“The sale period consumes the time around Valentine’s Day. While more pieces are sold, we cannot validate if it’s the discount driving the turnover or shopping for Valentine Day,” says Adil Moosajee, CEO of the clothing brand Ego. “Besides, our average buyer is in her late 20s to 30s. I don’t think valentine affects this market so much.”

Sheep, a retail brand selling premium quality ready-to-wear clothes, does not see much traction. “There is hardly any increase in sales,” says former partner Aquil Halai. “At most, there is a small bump a day or two before the occasion,” he explains, discounting shopping for Valentine Day alone.

Nor are small businesses the only ones playing the game. “Based on the last two years, we witnessed an upward trend of around 5-10pc of above average business on Valentine’s Day,” says Madiha Javed Qureshi, Director Communications at Careem. “This year we are targeting millennials and Gen Z,” she adds about promotions revolving around the special day.

The United States of America, a country for which all desis, even those in politics, aspire for citizenship, is expected to spend about $23.9 billion on Valentine’s Day, up from $21.8bn in 2021. It is the fifth-largest spending event in the US, after the winter holidays and Mother’s Day, according to the National Retail Federation.

The amount Americans spend on the celebration of love is four times the amount that Pakistan has pleaded from the International Monetary Fund while putting the economy and its people through a financial ringer. Perhaps, if the government and establishment spent less time policing personal choices and more time promoting economic activity, businesses across the board could prosper.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, January 14th, 2022

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