Tastings: Investment & Return

Joined Sep 20, 2010
My company specializes in small (25-250) fine dining events and has succeeded in acquiring new clients strictly through word of mouth for ten years---usually by people who have already enjoyed our food and service first hand. I've just been asked for the first time to prepare a tasting for potential new clients. This is a reasonable request for a valuable event and I feel we are likely to emerge as a good fit for this client but am also circumspect regarding the food & labor cost investment in creating a custom menu tasting for four. Everything will be built from start to finish exclusively for them as we do not have any similar events in production around this date. If served full dinner portions this menu would be in the $85-100 per person range.

No problem to produce but I am wondering: how are my fellow caterers handling tastings?

1. How much time and cost will you extend gratis to an unknown client?

2. Do you set a nominal fee to help offset costs and which could be deducted later from the total cost of the event if booked?

3. Although, fortunately, we do have a high closing rate what if even though everything is fine in the end they do not book---should the charge then be reduced or waived?

Thank you in advance!
Joined Jul 28, 2001
Good Morning,

I'm not a caterer but work with many here in the city. I've noticed over the past year caterers are offering two options for tastings.

To show the quality of their cusine they offer a gratis tasting if they piggy-back off a similar event. "Chef's Choice"

  For a private Menu they charge full price and comp them at booking.

We found that in this economy that most are not so value conscience as they are to take the opportinity to window shop.

Joined Sep 18, 2008
IMHO, a "tasting" is exactly that, an opportunity to TASTE, not EAT!

If a client wants a trial meal, no problem, they pay the going rate for THAT MEAL for the number involved. The cost of the meal is NOT taken off any future booking. NO FREE FOOD!

If a client wants a tasting, that is small plate (Tapas size) servings, at the Chef's discretion,  for up to two persons for one or two menus, they pay an agreed fee that applies to the booking, otherwise is non-refundable. If it is for more than two persons or more than samples, see previous paragraph.
Joined Sep 20, 2010
Thank you both. Your replies sound perfectly rational to me.

Last I'd heard the New Orleans regional industry standard was to do it at no charge, but that was a while back and economic times have certainly changed. While I could afford to write this off as promotion I too remain fundamentally uncomfortable with this particular working for free route, and prefer to broadcast my promotions in wider $$ directions (& we all know how frequently opportunities knock for caterers & restauranteurs to donate to charity events).

I will charge the value of their tasting in accordance with the per person rate of their planned event and cheerfully credit that amount to their future invoice.
Joined Sep 8, 2003
I just lost a wedding to a caterer who offered a tasting.  I used to do them, but since my catering menu completly differs from my cafe menu, it was a pain in the neck.  Charging for a tasting makes complete sense.
Joined Dec 9, 2010
The only time I have done gratis tastings for a speciffic menu were when I already had a contract in hand. Customers just wanting to try our food have always gotten piggy backed on  a menu we were already producing for another event.
Joined Apr 3, 2010
Here in Palm Beach in season there are hundreds of ladies? groups that want luncheons and dinners. If all the group committees  tasted, it would equal a party for 200 people. We now charge  and serve them all the courses. Another way is just add $1.50 per person to the function price and when you book it, tell them this includes a tasting up to 4 people. They will think your a good guy and its free.. The stupid part of tastings is , what if you change chefs?


I personally hate tastings.

The catering menu is so significantly different from our standard lunch menu and that makes it difficult...but not impossible.  We usually do not charge for tastings but usually have a deposit and the event already booked before we do them and can add the cost into the main event. Guest are aware beforehand that will will simply add to the guest count to adequately cover this expense.  Most of the time guests are simply choosing a menu and not using the tasting to decide if they want to book us.

Location is a difficult task for me in the tastings, its hard to create the atmosphere of an upscale event while 50 other people are eating lunch in a small, acoustically challenged dining room. :)
Joined Sep 20, 2010
Update: These clients ultimately went in another direction for their wedding reception, actually last I heard they'd changed several times so I'm delighted not to have been any more commited to that particular production. They were however sufficiently impressed with my attempts to meet their interests so that we landed the rehearsal dinner instead---for which I wrote a much more exciting menu at 5x the price per person and with no request for a tasting.

Thank you all for the valuable input.
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