Over the last 20 years, hosting menu tasting sessions has always been one of my favourite parts of working in catering and events. Wining and dining, whilst talking about all things food and discussing the exciting possibilities of working together with your new clients can be a lot of fun! I have hosted over 200 menu tastings over the course of my career, with the vast majority turning into new business. Menu tastings can be an expensive exercise for caterers and venues, so to ensure you maximise the opportunity, it pays to plan. Here are my best tips on how to host menu tasting sessions that win business.
Set The Scene
If you are hosting tasting sessions at your venue, offices or production kitchen, it’s important to ensure your space looks its best. If you are hosting at your production kitchen or offices, take some time to set a table and create some ambience – fresh linen and blooms are always a nice touch. If you are hosting at your venue, make sure the venue is clean with a dining table fully set, lighting and background music on. Clients enjoy seeing where the magic happens so, if appropriate, give your clients a little tour of your production kitchen (and don’t forget to tell your kitchen team first!).
Order For Yourself
I have always preferred to eat with my clients (rather than watching them eat or leaving them to eat by themselves) so that I can discuss the menu with them whilst we dine – talking about flavours, ingredients and which wines will pair best. I have always found that dining together allows you to open up great discussions about the menu.
Know Your Menu
A menu tasting session is a good chance to show that you know your food. Avoid any scary menu mispronunciations by knowing your menu back to front. It’s imperative to understand food terminology used in your menus – for example, if your client asks the difference between a pie and a pithivier, you need to be able to answer confidently. Understanding the ingredients used in your dishes is also imperative, as is your knowledge of dietary needs (for example – your client may want to know if the dish is gluten free or vegan). A bit of background knowledge on where some of the ingredients are sourced (for example, if you work closely with local farmers or artisans) will also add value to your tasting.
Meet The Chef
Your clients will love the opportunity to hear about your food from its creator. If possible, incorporate a meet and greet with your Chef so that she can talk about her food, the ingredients and the inspiration behind the menus.
Know Your Clients
Great catering and event sales people will know their clients well before the menu tasting – including what style of food they are used to or if the client has any special dietary needs. I remember many years ago, I was working with an automotive company who were flying their senior management from Japan to Australia for a special event. None of the guests had been to Melbourne before and the client wanted a Japanese inspired menu with a modern Australia spin, featuring the best local ingredients. Because I got to know my client, their business and their event prior to the menu tasting, I was able to work with Chef to create and present the perfect menu which resulted in winning the gig. Getting to know how your clients takes their coffee (or their preference for wine) is also a nice touch and a good thing to note down in their file.
Finally, I always take many notes during a menu tasting so that I can use this when I go to follow up with my client. I also take photos of each dish so there is no confusion at any stage as to what the dish will look like on the night of the event. If there are any issues around flavours or selection, I would speak to Chef and form a plan as to how the menu may be adapted to best suit client’s tastes and so that you can make the best suggestions for a specific event. Always thank your clients for their time and always pass feedback (good and bad) onto Chef for future reference.
About the Author
Lauren Lacava is the Principal Consultant for Black & White Marketing and has 20 years of experience in sales, marketing and management at some of Australia’s most successful catering companies and venues.