Even if you don't have your own facility, you still need to do tastings for important prospective clients, first-time clients who have signed contracts with you, and loyal customers who've given you referrals and repeat business. Tastings provide a perfect opportunity to partner with other local businesses. Everyone wins — you get a unique setting for your tasting, your partner gets increased visibility for his business, and your clients get an unforgettable experience.
What You Should Look For
You need to secure a nice, quiet location where you can serve your clients and discuss the food and your services with them. Ideally, the location should have some type of kitchen or kitchenette, so you can finish your food and reheat items if necessary. If you can't get a location with a kitchen, bring a hotplate with you if you really need one, but try to plan your menu accordingly so it won't be necessary.
Use your imagination to come up with the perfect location for special tastings. Book a high-end car dealership or a piano showroom and use the site to create a mood. Make sure you have a private room or schedule the tasting at a time when the location is closed for business. Your clients will feel special and pampered because they have you and the venue all to themselves.
Approach small local hotels, bed and breakfasts, art galleries, beautifully merchandised retail stores, and any other venue that might be a pretty setting for a tasting. Be creative. A sit-down tasting isn't always necessary. A stand-up buffet might be all you need. Look for a place that will provide a quiet, private environment. As long as the venue doesn't have its own catering service and will allow you to bring in your food and guests, almost any type of space will do. Consider approaching these possible venues:
High-end furniture show rooms
Artisanal chocolate stores
Upscale wine stores
Home furnishing stores
Try to partner with small independent venues. See if you can be the exclusive or preferred caterer for them. Upscale retailers often conduct special VIP events in their stores and need a caterer to provide hors d'oeuvres and other tidbits for their customers. You might be able to develop a symbiotic relationship with the venue, so that you both benefit and provide each other with additional business.
If you have to go a step further to convince the manager, you can even offer a catered cold lunch or continental breakfast for a group of a dozen or so people at the venue. You may even get your partner as a client.
Many other small business owners will welcome the opportunity to preview their products and services to your customers if you position your request properly. Approach the owner of an art gallery, for example, and tell her what you're doing. Explain that she can welcome the group and describe her gallery's current art exhibition while the guests arrive. A small boutique hotel might have a lovely room for your group of eight to twelve people. Invite the manager to greet your guests and tell them about the hotel's rooms and services. High-end retail stores often welcome the opportunity to introduce people to their product lines in a relaxed manner while the potential customers are sipping wine and enjoying hors d'oeuvres.
Guarantee the venue owner that you'll clean up and leave the place cleaner than when you arrived. Explain the benefits of bringing in a new customer base for them. Remind them that this is a great promotional opportunity that they can take advantage of by offering discounts to your guests and keeping the cash registers open during your tasting event.
Call a local music academy or college to find a promising music student who can play the violin or piano during part of your tasting. It will add ambience and class to almost any venue. The cost of hiring a student to play for an hour will be worthwhile. If you allow the student to pass out his card to your guests, you might be able to negotiate a discounted rate with him.
Make sure to explain the interactive tasting experience to your customers when you invite them to the event. Tell them it's an exclusive type of tasting where they can taste your food and learn about art, or see the fall's new fashion collection, depending on where you're going to hold your event.