Tastings as Free Market Research
Tastings are one of the smartest, most inexpensive ways to let clients and potential clients learn about your services with all of their senses. By tasting, smelling, seeing, and feeling what you have to offer, you're giving them the best sales tool you have. During the tastings, you have an invaluable opportunity to bond with your clients and get to know them better.
Tastings are important because they have the ability to turn past satisfied customers into lifelong loyal clients. Once you have a core group of loyal customers to come to you for all their catering needs, you'll have a sales base, which will allow you to focus on getting to the next phase of growth.
Preprint and distribute simple surveys to your guests. Ask for suggestions and supply pens for them to write with.
By letting customers taste your new recipes and dishes, you're conducting free market research for new and updated menu items. Ask the tasters to fill out notes for what they liked and didn't like. Not only will they think that you're customizing your cooking to suit their tastes, you'll get real feedback on how they like your new dishes.
Tastings for Large Clients
If you have the chance to cater a $40,000 or larger event, invite the key decision makers for a special tasting. If you don't have a location, you can offer to bring the tasting to them. Offer to cater lunch for them one day so they can get a sense of your work.
In 2006, Bill Hansen, a leading Florida caterer, traveled cross-state on Alligator Alley to do a tasting for a six-figure job in Naples. At the time he had no contract, but the tasting did the trick, and his company got the job. The special effort impressed the potential client and was well worth the effort.
The money you spend on food tastings is a cost of doing business. Tastings are marketing expenses, along with advertising and promotion, and their costs should be credited from food and labor and charged to your marketing budget. Your marketing budget should have a separate line item for food tastings. By separating tasting expenses, you will be able to more accurately capture your true food costs and better price your menus. Your accountant will be happy you're keeping your books this way.
Tastings are a great way to convince clients to spend more on their catering contracts. Once they taste your premium wines, additional courses, and special desserts from your renowned dessert buffet, they're more likely to spend on upgrades.
Caterer Bill Hansen advises offering special ingredients during tastings. Make friendly suggestions: “By the way, Mrs. Smith, I have some excellent sea scallop and wild salmon ceviche. Would you like to try some? The ceviche makes a wonderful first course, and I can do it for your daughter's wedding for just a bit more than the green salad we have planned.” Or, “We feature a new fish called barramundi. Would you like to try some? It only costs a bit more than the tuna, and it's guaranteed to wow your guests!”
You can charge a nominal fee for a predeposit tasting, and if the client ends up booking, he receives credit for the tasting fee. If he doesn't book, you keep the fee in exchange for your time and the cost of the food. Don't do this for every prospect because you risk spending your week cooking for people who won't end up booking with you. Use your best judgment and only do this for clients who press you for a tasting and who are genuinely serious about booking your services.
Tasting Do's and Don'ts
Here are some helpful guidelines for conducting tastings that will result in bigger contract sales.
Do go all out! Use your best linen, flatware, china, and stemware. Be at the door and ready when your guests arrive. Pass them a beverage and greet them with a warm smile as soon as they enter the facility. As every marketer knows, what happens in the first fifteen seconds is what matters most. Don't make your guests wait, and have your A game ready.
Don't try to do a tasting while you're catering another offpremise event. You can't serve two masters. If you do need to combine the two, conduct the tasting well before the start of the catered event.
Do have sufficient staff to serve the event. As the salesperson and owner, you are the host of the event. You need to be with your prospective clients. Remember to take photos of the food so that when the event actually takes place what you served at the tasting will look like it did at the tasting, and you'll have images for your Web site and portfolio.
Do try to close the sale at the end of the tasting if you do not have a deposit yet.
Don't serve your guests full-size portions. Give them miniportions and provide a detailed explanation of each dish. Make sure to briefly explain why you made the dish the way you did and why it's good for an event.
Do offer matching wines, beers, or cocktails, if possible, with each course. You can use this opportunity as an up-sell.
Don't allow the client to bring the complete bridal party or the entire management team. This is a tasting, not a banquet!Be sure that all of the key decision makers are present; three or four people should be the maximum for each potential customer. Use your judgment if you think it's important to include one or two more for a big job.