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Recipe: Hosting a Holiday Tasting Event

photo courtesty Linda Duke

The most profitable asset that restaurateurs have to offer is food, and what better way to share their brand than to host a tasting event. A tasting event is one of the most cost-effective ways a restaurateur can share their story with community members at the best venue possible, their restaurant. Whether to build sales or introduce a new menu item, tasting events increase trial and awareness typically for the cost of food. 

Hosting a holiday open house or tasting event, where guests can try food complimentary, or introduce new menu items to the key influencers in the community and an opportunity for the media to see it as newsworthy.

Directions:

Invitees:  Tasting event attendees should consist of a variety of community VIPs and influencers. Restaurateurs can contact the chamber of commerce to reach area VIPs such as chamber members, city council members, police, fire, realtors, banks, non-profits, car dealers, the local media, doctors, dentists and businesses in the three to five mile radius of the restaurant. 

TIMING –December:  To host a holiday tasting event, restaurateurs need to choose a date during December. Usually, mid-week is best, such as a Tuesday or Wednesday evening when guest traffic is typically lighter.  This way, staff can focus more attention on the invited guests’ mid-week.  It is very important that restaurateurs choose a date that does not conflict with any community events such as city council meetings or holidays.  Checking the local chamber of commerce website and city calendars prior, is key to avoiding conflicts. Be sure to set a date far enough in advance to give adequate time to plan and arrange for employees help. 

Invitations:  Invitations should reflect the restaurant brand and it is great to include a food photo and a brief statement about the food or drinks that will be served.  To save costs, use an evite and send to those guests you may have on an email list. Be sure the invitation says complimentary tastes and sips in large legible print somewhere prominent on the invitation. The turnout of guests will be greater if the food is free and you can serve small sample sized menu items.  

The invitation should include important information such as the restaurant’s name, the location (including address, map or directions), a phone number, when the event will take place, a RSVP date and a RSVP phone number or email address. As soon as RSVP’s are returned, it is important to keep track of names and numbers of guests in a spreadsheet.  Tallying a rough RSVP number days before the tasting event can help plan accordingly from staff to food.

Depending on the restaurant budget, invitations can be delivered through direct mail or by email.  Printed invitations sent to area VIP’s and community leaders are a great first impression and a great way to reintroduce any restaurant brand.  It only costs 47 cents to get in the hands of each VIP in your community, and if you state to BRING the invitation to the event, you can track the number of attendees who attended, when they bring the invitation to the event and give it at the door.  

The Menu:  The idea behind “tasting” events is to offer a sampling of menu items usually a variety of signature and popular menu items should be served. Whether food is passed, ordered or arranged buffet style, the point is that guests get to try a little bit of each. 

Drinks are also very important during a tasting event. Restaurateurs should choose beverages that complement the food that they are serving and contacting vendors to help with beverage supply and tasting, such as wine tasting or beer sampling is a good idea in the current economic climate. 

The tasting menu is also an essential element for the restaurant staff. Food must be served throughout the event and employees making, passing, serving or delivering, need to know the menu to share with attendees. 

The Event:  On the day of the event, clean and set up the restaurant for the party. Have employees set up signs in and outside the restaurant with balloons so guests know where to go. Print out the RSVP list or alternatively keep a tally at the door to determine the success of the party. Similarly, at the front of the restaurant should have a table set up to collect e-club slips. Greeters at the door will let guests know the evening events, and that prizes will be raffled off during the night’s event for gift certificates, so each attendee should “sign –in.”  It is a great way to capture customer information and use the slips for a raffle during the event.  

Restaurateurs need to set up food stations for buffet style or host an employee meeting before the party for instructions on the passing of food and drinks. No matter which way the food is served, guests want to know what they are eating so they can order it again. Therefore, create tasting menus for the tabletops and instruct employees to explain the dishes. 

Throughout the event, the restaurateur should introduce him or herself to the local community members. Not only did local VIP’s come to taste the food at the restaurant, but they also came to meet the creativity behind the food. Restaurateurs should be sure to introduce themselves to the local media and should have press kits on hand as well to give to media representatives. 

Host a Raffle:  With the slips each attendee filled out at the door, create a raffle.  First get everyone’s attention, and make a few introductions and thank all the guests for coming.  Then pull a slip from the raffle bowl and give away prizes!

Feedback:  Tasting events provide a wonderful opportunity to get feedback about menu items. Comment cards can be placed at tables or restaurateurs can personally ask which items were successes and which were not, especially when it comes to new menu items. 

At the end of the night, restaurateurs must always thank guests for coming. Another nice touch is to give each attendee a gift bag on their way out.  The gift bag can include some signature cookies from the chef, a to-go and catering menu, and an offer to come back again with a friend—a bounce back coupon.  

Tips: 

•    Tasting events are a great event to have during tough times. Restaurateurs can show the community that there are a variety of menu items that are affordable and taste great!

•    Always make sure to credit vendors for help with the tasting event. 

•    Gift bags filled with bounce backs, a menu and a departing gift such as a desert are a great way to get party guests to return. 

•    If your Tasting event is an Open House, be sure to post the invite on your Facebook page and get followers excited to come and tell their friends.

•    Ask neighboring businesses for prizes to use in the raffle.  A nearby spa, florist or sporting goods store can be great partners and give you gift cards to use as prizes for the Tasting Event raffle.  

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