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Should your restaurant offer cooking classes to customers?

at-home cooking class
Photo: Shutterstock

Question:

I read with interest your article about drumming up business early in the week. We get a lot of requests for classes—knife skills, wine tastings, cake decorating, etc. What do you think about classes as a strategy?

– Restaurant Owner

Answer:

In the past, I’ve been pretty discouraging of restaurants hosting classes, especially those involving hands-on cooking.

There are a few reasons for my crankiness on this topic: The ROI is modest given capacity constraints and the amount of planning it requires, untrained visitors in your kitchen are frowned on by health departments and it’s a gray area for insurance coverage. My advice was to partner with a local community college or adult education center if a restaurateur caught the teaching bug.

Two things have prompted me to rethink my position on the merits of restaurants offering classes:

  • Very real, COVID-related pressures to be creative with revenue streams other than butts in seats in the dining room.
  • Increased guest comfort with distance education and Zoom.

While I’m still not in favor of a cooking class in your restaurant kitchen for eight or 10 guests, I feel very differently about a ticketed cook-along class over Zoom where guests pick up a meal kit from the restaurant and cook at home alongside your chef and a local media personality, with whom they can engage with questions and answers. That’s revenue, relationship building, brand building and a great guest experience without the expenses of a full service.

Lauren Harris, wine director and director of operations at Tria, has been a leader in not only selling food and beverage to restaurant guests but also driving revenue through an education program. And guests love it. Rather than the couple of minutes most guests would spend with a sommelier in person, hundreds of guests can spend an hour or two with Harris, guest wine makers and one another, thanks to Zoom.

Education has been integral to our brand since we opened in 2004,” Harris says. “We started virtual wine classes on Zoom with real wine picked up by the guests during the pandemic restrictions, and they were critical to our survival. Now, we break out virtual wine classes for special occasions. For example, in September we are doing two fundraiser wine classes called Women in Wine that we hope will raise $10,000 for local reproductive rights non-profits. Interest in drinking wine on Zoom has declined, but we will likely do some festive classes this winter. Because our offerings are uncommon, the more education we provide, the more that guests appreciate Tria, whether it's a 100-person virtual wine class or a one-on-one conversation with a guest at the bar.”

My advice is to start small by testing the market with private classes or those promoted among your regulars and, if it works, scale from there.

More on hosting classes in your restaurant here.

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