Behind-the-Scenes Secrets for Profitable Participation in Food and Wine Fetes
By McCall Mastroianni
When it comes to culinary events, there’s more to making a good first impression than simply showing up and serving food samples. With the increasing popularity of food and wine-related happenings across the country, restaurants must go the extra mile to connect with customers’ palates and personalities. Some Georgia restaurateurs share secrets to help you get more bang for your buck.
Cooking Up Conversation
As the Atlanta Director for Share our Strength and former director of marketing for Fifth Group Restaurants, Amy Crowell believes interacting with guests on an individual basis helps participating restaurants stand out from others in the room and creates the opportunity for personal connections with potential new or returning guests. “While everyone can’t be like Norm from the TV show ï¿½Cheers,’ guests like to feel warm and welcome where they dine,” she says, “and any chance to create that connection is an opportunity to create a guest that will visit often. A business card with the manager’s name and a personal invitation goes a long way. You can never underestimate the power of a personal connection.”
Roy’s Managing Partner Joshua Fan always tries to attach a story with the food:
“You might forget what you ate at my table, but you’ll remember the story I tied to it. A great example of this is a cocktail on our menu, the 1988, which was our opening year in Honolulu. Guests might not remember what was in the cocktail at Roy’s, but they will remember it was named after the year we opened.”
For Managing Partner Barb Pires of Metrotainment Bakery, talking to guests at events enables her to explain what products her bakery provides. “It opens up a whole new avenue of sales,” says Pires. “We sell a lot of cakes, especially wedding cakes, to people who try the mini desserts at an event.”
Ta-da! at the Table
Steve Bales, creative director for Bold American Catering, works hard to make Fifth Group Restaurants’ tables look stunning at culinary events. For the recent Chocolate! event on June 21 held at Villa Cristina to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, Bales used a white backdrop and then added green by utilizing all live foliage to really punctuate Pastry Chef Gary Scarborough’s chocolates. As for decorative elements that stand out in a crowd, Bales recommends, “Color! Color! Color! But not a lot of different colors.”
“Monochromatic is big and it just works, and, quite frankly, it’s easy,” admits Bales. “White on white is always my favorite because the colors of the food really pop and look so appetizing. It’s also fun to use glass and acrylic vessels as accents,” he adds.
Crowell counts on eye-catching florals, standout dishes, delicious food aromas and good signage to make a table stand out.
“If a restaurant is going to invest the time and money to participate in an event, it is important to serve something that is really delicious even if it means it costs a bit more per person,” suggests Crowell. “With only one bite to impress a potential new guest or remind a previous guest why they need to come back, it is a waste to serve an inexpensive dish that doesn’t pack a lot of flavor. It should be something memorable and representative of your restaurant.”
At Share Our Strength’s 2007 Taste of the Nation event, Nan Thai Fine Dining cooked dishes on-site in front of guests rather than beforehand so attendees could see and smell the food being prepared for an added sensory experience.
Roy’s takes a different route for making sure that guests linger longer. “We do anything to keep the eye moving,” says Managing Partner Joshua Fan. “We like to have a lot going on, as long as it all fits with our theme. We’ll display some of Roy’s cookbooks, fresh Hawaiian flowers and some colorful marketing materials along with our food offering. We try to keep the guests visually stimulated for as long as possible so they’ll stick around our booth long enough to remember us,” he adds.
Metrotainment Bakery, owned by Metrotainment Cafï¿½s, stands out all on its own as generally the only establishment that just serves desserts, which always appeals to the sweet lovers.
“People enjoy our bite-sized mini desserts,” says Pires. “They can still hold their wine glass while eating them.”
Marketing Made Easy
When preparing for off-premise events, help marketing materials can help attendees get a better understanding of what the restaurant has to offer its diners.
“Most guests that attend culinary events are looking for restaurants to add to their list of favorites,” says Crowell. “Marketing materials that are rich with photos are very helpful, as is inviting guests to join an email database and sending personalized follow-up emails after the event inviting them to come into the restaurant.”
Fan keeps it simple and relies on menus as a great way to explain Roy’s offerings without having to read through pages of marketing materials, while Pires displays menus, awards and photo albums with pictures of the bakery’s work.
“Our materials are also a form of cross-marketing for the other Metrotainment Cafï¿½s restaurants,” says Pires. “If an event is in Alpharetta and someone expresses their love for the dessert but doesn’t want to drive so far, I let them know that we deliver to any of the Metrotainment restaurants. We do $1,000 worth of business in delivering to our restaurants on Fridays.”
Pires believes culinary events are successful for Metrotainment Cafï¿½s because the company makes it extremely easy for guests to visit the restaurants at a later date by giving out information on where they are, what they do and where they deliver.
Auctions Add Awareness
Many culinary events are held in partnership with a local or national charity, giving guests the opportunity to bid on auction items while giving restaurants another chance to impress attendees. As an event organizer for a non-profit association, Crowell knows that if restaurants really want to stand out and make their presence known, being a part of the live auction is a great way to do it.
“The best auction items are ones that guests typically can’t buy because they raise the most money and bring the most attention to the restaurant,” explains Crowell.
“Some great ideas include a ï¿½day with the chef’ experience and special ï¿½off menu’ dinners where the chef discusses likes/dislikes with the guest ahead of time before preparing a special multi-course tasting menu. A gift certificate or dinner at the restaurant is always appreciated, but the ï¿½life experience’ items are more exciting for everyone involved.”
Metrotainment Cafï¿½s finds that when donating coupons and gift cards toward meals or desserts at events, they are rarely redeemed. Instead, the company offers more unique and useful items such as a wedding cake worth $500 or a gift basket with plates, napkins, breakfast breads and dessert items.
For charity events, Fan always tries to offer a Roy’s experience as opposed to just a gift card. “We will auction off a private cooking class or an evening where the chef will come to the winner’s home to cook dinner or even a table for 10 at our next wine dinner,” he says. “Someone who wins a private cooking class with a Roy’s chef is much more likely to talk about that experience than someone who just comes in for dinner.”
For gift bags, Crowell suggests anything dimensional such as a gift card or signature chocolate bar as opposed to something that is just paper like a menu. “Most restaurateurs have told me that guests spend just about the same on dinner even with a gift card-they just tend to upgrade by buying a better bottle of wine or an additional course with their card,” says Crowell.
The ultimate gourmet gatherings call for the utmost attention to detail, from gabbing with guests to garnishing a table display. Although dining patrons may have already seen Georgia restaurants’ flair for fine food, the flair for finishing touches and enticing extras are raising the bar for culinary celebrations to come.
McCall Mastroianni works for Melissa Libby & Associates, a PR firm with several restaurants among its clients. She can be reached at (404) 816-3068.