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Culinary classes are catching on

But cooking for an amateur audience requires upfront investment and skill.
chopping corn skills

Teaching classes in restaurants is a popular way to reach new customers, bring in more revenue, reward frequent guests or showcase an event space. Consumers love it, too—and they’re willing to pay. “It’s a chance to sit down, hear directly from chefs and get your hands dirty,” says Chris Koetke, VP of Kendall College’s School of Culinary Arts.

“There are a lot of great reasons to put some sort of educational format in your business,” says Koetke. “But there must be a reason for it beyond ‘Hey, we’re having a class.’” He recommends focusing on a subject that uniquely ties back to the restaurant, and that is on-trend, such as cooking with sustainable seafood, how to make tapas with few ingredients or crafting a batch-style cocktail for a party.

There are benefits to classes beyond pleasing guests and driving traffic, says Koetke. “This is an opportunity to do some informal research,” he says. He suggests having participants make a dish that isn’t on the menu to see how they respond; this allows operators to see firsthand what resonates with patrons who already are invested in your brand.

To learn what teaching techniques resonate with amateur cooks, we asked Koetke, who does it for a living.

Call in the big guns

“Unless you practice, it isn’t easy to cook, talk and entertain,” explains Koetke. “Your customers are watching food TV, and the bar is raised.” He recommends finding a chef-educator to consult or coach you before kicking off classes. 

Do a dual-message demo

If your restaurant has a core belief or mission to communicate, pair up your chef with an expert—such as a local farmer or craft brewer. “They can even play MC, answer questions and help keep the demo moving along,” he says.  

Know your audience’s skill level

Koetke warns that, while some guests want to be entertained, most are there to learn how to make the dish at home. “[As chefs], we eat, sleep and breathe this stuff, but don’t forget where you are,” he says. “Don’t try to do too many sauces or make changes to the recipe on the fly. The audience will become confused.”

Invest in demo-only equipment

Koetke suggests chefs go against the reflex to grab stainless-steel bowls, because they are loud and don’t match what customers cook with at home. Guests are paying to learn to replicate what’s being taught. Purchase pots with glass lids and a set of glass bowls so the audience can relate, as well as see what you’re doing. 

Prep extra mise en place

According to Koetke, the amount of prep needed for a demo is staggering. Go through every step of the recipe and make sure you have every single tool and ingredient in reach. Spatulas, spoons, salt and pepper. “You want to come across as somebody who is in control,” he says. “Running back and forth to the kitchen makes you look scatterbrained.”

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