Nothing helps sells a food and beverage product better than having potential consumers actually sample and try the items. Sampling has been a time honored retail tradition that is easy to incorporate into your store. Another time honored retail technique is the open house to showcase new seasonal products to your best customers. These are usually bigger, more elaborately planned all day or all weekend types of events with heavy promotion.
For our retail stores we borrowed the best of both to have a mini-open house sampling event each month in our store to show case new seasonal or monthly features coming out. This was a great treat for our staff and best regular customers. Not only did it help us determine what items might be hot, it helped us on the duds as well. That way we could stock up on the more popular items and slow down or refine the duds to address customer feedback.
On the last Friday of each month and for a couple hours each morning, we would offer our upcoming specialty drink and baked goods samples. We repeated the similar approach for the afternoon and evening customers, but more heavy on the items typically popular during those day segments.
To hold these, you need some simple signage to put up in your store. Send out a Tweet, Facebook event or email about coming out to get an early bird sneak peek of a new product. For the event you will need to have the following:
- Coffee and ingredients you plan to sample
- Small sampling cups. 4 oz hot cups for hot drinks and 2 to 4 oz for cold drinks.
- Small portion cups (usually the 1 to 2 oz sizes works). These can be paper soufflé style cups or plastic. A wholesale club or food service house is a great source for these. They come in large amounts, so you will need to store them.
- Your baker to make up some sampling batches of your upcoming featured desserts. Often times, they will discount or give you some to give away.
- Recipe cards and instructions for staff, including complete descriptions and selling tips
- Sampling trays to walk around the store to offer them to customers.
- Customer feedback and response cards or slips.
The evening before the event, make sure you have the cups out, trays and special ingredients. For coffee and drinks, consider holding a staff tasting the day or night before to get their feedback, preparation questions resolved and build excitement for them.
On the day of the event, brew the coffees and place them in a convenient area, or ask each customer if they would like to try the upcoming featured coffees. Solicit feedback and be prepared to answer questions on what makes the coffee special. For hot and cold drinks, prepare the drink as normal and pour into the sample cups. Be sure to garnish appropriately to create an outstanding visual appeal. Offer to all customers.
For the food items, slice neat samples and place into the small portion cups and offer to your customers. For busier times, place drinks and food onto a tray and walk around your shop and offer to customers and discuss the upcoming featured items.
Lastly, ask all of them for their honest opinion and to complete a feedback card. You can also capture their email address and request they follow your shop on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Hopefully, you will increase your connections to your customers, build a sense of community and stake holder interest in your shop leading to higher sales and profits.
Please contact us for more suggestions and assistance on planning and executing your own events.
Jeff Vojta, Co-founder & CEO