You put 40 or 50 chefs into a big room, have them serve tasting portions of a signature dish. Add in some wine and spirits vendors, and maybe a bottled water company. Then sell a couple hundred – or thousand- tickets to the public. You’ve been to one (maybe hundreds?) of these events. They’re the big walk-around. “Taste of…[fill-in the-blank].”
Usually, they're promotional events, and raise money for a worthy causes or charity. The chefs and restaurants are both the attraction and the caterer, offering their star power and hors d’oeuvres for free so the organizers can raise the most funds and do the most good.
I support charity and fighting the good fight. I believed him when President Clinton told us at the Food Bank Gala, “One person can make a difference.”
While it’s fun to mingle through a ballroom eating, cocktailing and chatting, the other side of the table is somewhat less enchanting. Snack recently surveyed some of Gotham’s top toques for their opinion on the tasting events. Do chefs like doing them? How much does it cost the restaurant? In order to get the real story, all responses are posted anonymously. Chefs either sent in an alias or one was assigned to them. Complete, un-edited, and slightly profane answers after the jump.
How much does it cost you to do a tasting event like this?
Chef 0: “Depends. In town with a car rental, food and paying for cooks, anywhere between $500-1500. Out of town it ends up costing way more because you end up going out to eat and partying.”
Chef White: “The food alone is about $500 plus the cost of the labor and the transportation, so it adds up to close to $800 on average.”
Chef Johnny To: “A least a dollar per person.”
Chef Blue: “The cost can run 150 -200 dollars a head in labor for the event, you need 3-4 people at event. Also prep labor at the restaurant.”
Chef 100: “About a grand, including labor, sometimes more if it's offsite.”
Chef Black: “It costs from $2500-$5,000. We’re a fine dining restaurant so we have to spend on the food. If the bistro next to us is serving foie gras, we can’t just serve lentils.”
Chef 500: "We spend an enormous amount of time and energy planning out the year of community investment. Having said that I am careful about choosing events that require me to be away from service."
Do you think you get any benefit from it? Does it really offer an ‘excellent promotional value’ as they say?
Chef White: “The restaurant benefits from the exposure and it's good to give back to the community by contributing to charity events. But sometimes it can be more trouble than it's worth.”
Chef Johnny To: “Is it really excellent promotional value? In my opinion, not at all. In the context of general collegial activities, it is more for a chef’s night off and to hang out with other chefs. It's kind of part of the ride, if you excuse the expression.”
Chef Blue: “Promotional value depends on the advertising, etc. and the amount of restaurants involved, and quality of event. If the event is overcrowded the benefit is low. I think a good way to get more exposure is to put your restaurant into the bid of an auction and get to meet the bidders and get them to your restaurant.
Chef 100: “I hate these things. Sure you can promote the restaurant, but you deal with clientèle that are usually drunk i-bankers or such, and it drives me crazy. I don't ever think these are great promotional tools...bullshit, it's great for the organizer.”
Chef Black: “It’s is almost impossible to calculate the benefit. But I’m sure there is impact somewhere. Of course the more restaurants that participate, the less benefit you get.”
Chef Brown: "It’s very difficult to say as there is no formal tracking system with any events. For us, the type of event greatly influences the number of diners we get from an appearance – and let’s face it, bums on seats is what they mean by promotional value, right?"
Why do you do them?
Chef 0: “I'm not sure and I never really asked myself, I just did them. I am trying to do more grass roots kind of things that are in my city. I don't think of it as promotional value but being in the community. Sometimes it's political...you have customers, chefs, friends that chair these things.”
Chef White: “I like to support local charities. Also they are typically run or chaired by good customers who I like to support just as they support my restaurant.”
Chef Johnny To: “Makes me feel good? In general we try and be as philanthropic as possible. But after our first year in business we decided that it was not an effective philanthropic effort, therefore we offer gift certificates to auction for all charitable requests. We think this has greater effect. In addition we are very creative in our desire for entrepreneurial philanthropy.
Chef Blue: “Why? PR value, exposure, one-on-one with clients, and giving back to the community. There is also a sense of “must do” to be included in year end issues [of magazines and newspapers] and [to create] good will. It is more important, I think for upcoming chefs and new restaurants.”
Chef 100: “Sometimes you can't say no...it's a legitimate thing to raise money for, or it's a friend in the industry. There are a lot of people that have supported us, and it would be wrong to turn them down when they want a favor or support.
Chef Black: “We do them for the charity. It is important for us to support the causes we believe in.”
Chef 500: "I do think that we can focus our efforts in a more efficient way by promoting NYC organizations like local schools. This biggest advantage to connecting locally is the ability to follow up...to one benefit from the work and money put into the effort and two, the effort becomes more meaningful."
Chef Brown: "There are charities that we support that I feel personally connected to, or that a member of staff does, or just feel are particularly worthy. I also really enjoy the outing from the kitchen and getting to see my peers."
If you don’t like these tasting events – what would be the good replacement?
Chef 0: “Good question...maybe we should all just write checks.”
Chef White: “sometimes its better to contribute to the silent auction because then you actually bring people into the restaurant and hopefully they will continue to come back again and again.”
Chef Johnny To: “I don’t think anyone likes these tasting events, except of course the general public. I think intimate sessions at individual restaurants would be much more effective. Tastings are like blind bulk mailings, 2% return is good!
Chef 100: “Open bar, auctions and such. Get people drunk and have them donate money.”
Chef Brown: "I don’t dislike them, but I’ve become more discerning about the ones we attend."
And a few bonus answers, proffered up spontaneously:
Chef 0: “Things I have heard at these events since January:
"Do you bleach the white asparagus?"
"You should be on Top Chef.” I wanted to quit cooking right there.
"You shouldn't serve foie gras." This one was awesome because he had a mini hamburger on his plate.
"You know, you really should have a vegetarian option."
"I just read Heat, is your kitchen like that too?"
Chef Blue: “Question: why can’t the chefs (or can they?) get a tax break on their labor and food donation? Often times no paper work is supplied [by the event].”
Chef 100: “My biggest gripe is: when they [guests] are done eating, they throw the finished plate back on the serving table, like we are their butler or something. I have no problem telling them to screw off. Some are nice, but most are douchebags.”
Chef 0: “I've done so many of these things they all bleed into each other. It is amazing how fucking rude people are at these events. I got called an asshole by some women who had come to my restaurant and thought the food was too salty. I've gotten belittled by an older couple who told me not to be cheap and give more food. My favorite are food festivals where people pay $400-$1200 to walk around, get wasted, get a free promotional bag from say the Costa Rican Travel Commission and then barf. I love those.”