Get ready to get in touch with your inner Julia Child.
Hosting cooking classes or other demos at your operation can be a good way to bring in business on traditionally slow nights. It’s also a smart tactic for building customer engagement.
Here are five stealable tips from operators who are finding success by bringing the classroom into the dining room.
1. Stay committed
“You’ve got to be consistent, says Aldo Zaninotto, managing partner and beverage director of Animale, a casual, wine-focused Italian spot in Chicago. “You cannot give it up. You cannot walk away from it. You can’t just say, ‘Let’s cancel it.’” Animale began hosting wine education classes last September. At first, just two or three people showed up. Now, they’re often drawing 25 people for the every-other-week sessions.
3. Partner with a community group
Marilyn Schlossbach, an executive chef who runs several restaurants in Asbury Park, N.J., often partners with a community nonprofit for her cooking classes. A portion of the ticket price is donated to the group. She chooses causes that she and her staff are passionate about, but she also looks for organizations that are enthusiastic supporters of her business. “We are not a nonprofit,” Schlossbach says. “We want to make money. We want to partner with charities that are as passionate about helping us as we are about helping them.” Forming an alliance with a community group means the restaurant gets publicized in the group’s marketing materials and, often, group members become restaurant customers.
4. Don’t forget the tip
Hosting a cooking class can drive business during a slow night or slow season. But you’ll need server buy-in. Schlossbach’s staff was initially resistant to working the cooking classes because they viewed them as freebies. But she makes sure to roll tips into the ticket price and kept telling staff the value of gaining loyalty and developing relationships. They’re now on board, she says.
5. Set a budget
Some operators consider cooking classes to be part of their marketing budget. Others view them no differently than any other dinner service. At Dragonfly Robata Grill & Sushi in Orlando, Fla., Chef de Cuisine Dequane Stobbs combines the retail price of the food with the hourly rates of all staff needed to teach the class, along with any rental or purchase expenses. “Everyone’s philosophy is different,” Stobbs says. “But we don’t look at the classes as a huge moneymaker. Instead, we hope to create a ‘wow’ experience that will engage our attendees and turn them into evangelists and repeat visitors.” Using advance registration ensures cost control.