Should Your Restaurant Offer Cooking Classes?Culinary business expert Stephen Zagor shares his secret recipe for offering cooking classes at your restaurant.
The best gifts don’t always come in a pretty box or fit into a stocking — they are gifts of experiences.
According to Accenture’s 11th Annual Holiday Shopping Survey, over a third of consumers plan to gift experiences this year. As a restaurant owner, you can leverage this experiential trend by offering cooking classes. Not only are cooking classes a great way to boost your restaurant revenue during off-peak hours, but they can also give your customers a more intimate experience with your brand.
“It’s absolutely a revenue driver,” said Stephen Zagor, dean of culinary business and industry studies at The Institute of Culinary Education in New York. What’s more, “Cooking classes create an emotional relationship between the consumer and the folks in the kitchen.”
But before you start putting together a course schedule and selling tickets, there are a few details to sort out first. Here are five questions Zagor recommended considering to help determine if cooking classes are a good fit for your restaurant.
What time will work for both you and your students?
Zagor said timing is the first challenge to consider when launching a cooking class. Choose a time that works well with your restaurant schedule and is convenient for the consumer.
While it may sound well and good to offer classes during slower business hours, he said, “keep in mind when your customers are going to come. They’re not likely going to come at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon for a cooking class. For most restaurants, the only reasonable time would be a Saturday or Sunday morning. Those are times that customers would most likely be able to attend.”
What space will you use?
The second step is identifying if your restaurant space is suited for cooking instruction. The ideal location would be in the kitchen, but most restaurant kitchens are not set up to accommodate large groups of people. In most cases, that leaves the dining room or a private dining space.
For your cooking class to be a success, make sure to think through everything that you’d need for a class to go smoothly. For instance, said Zagor, using your dining room would require tables to be protected with cloths or carving boards. And since you’re not working in a kitchen, you’ll need to do more prep work and have the right equipment, like portable burners, which may put pressure on your electrical systems.
What type of classes will you offer?
The format of your cooking classes will also impact which areas would work well. Zagor said there are two kinds of classes to consider.
“There’s the classes where people watch the chef, while they drink and have a taste, or there’s the classes where people participate,” he said. You really have to think through which format makes sense for your physical space and what you’re trying to achieve.
Zagor said cooking classes are particularly good for kids’ parties. “There are numerous restaurants I know that do kids parties in the afternoons, where the kids get to make dough and form it into cookies, which are then taken to the back and cooked. Then everyone gets to eat them.”
For a couple other cooking class ideas, he suggested offering private, one-on-one cooking lessons or host a holiday cocktail-mixing party.
Who will teach the class?
“The other concern,” said Zagor, “is the fact that not every chef is able to teach.”
A culinary expert may be able to whip up fantastic dishes, but lack the skills to explain their process in a way that anyone can understand. When choosing your instructor, consider which members of your staff have both kitchen savvy and communication skills, he advised.
How will it impact my brand?
Also consider how a cooking class will impact your restaurant’s brand — positively or negatively.
“If you can’t create the quality that you serve in your restaurant in the class, it’s a dangerous thing to do,” said Zagor. “If you come out with a second-rate product, people are not going to be happy with it. So whatever the class you conduct or food item you choose, it has to translate directly to the level of quality that you actually serve in the restaurant.”
Another concern among some restaurateurs is that teaching customers their secret recipe may cannibalize their business, but Zagor said this is rarely the case.
“If you can’t create the quality that you serve in your restaurant in the class, it’s a dangerous thing to do.” -Stephen Zagor
“Usually, when people are making something at home, they’ll do it for themselves. Part of coming to the restaurant is the experience. When you come to the restaurant you’re getting served; you’re getting taken care of.”
If a guest now knows how to make your famous veal parmesan at home, next time they come into your restaurant, they’ll likely just order something different and experience more of your menu, he said.
In the end, it’s all about the details, said Zagor. “Make sure you have the expertise, the equipment, the right area and the timing all set up so that it creates a very positive experience.”