Tastings.... something I have been wrestling with from the beginning... Do I charge? How long should they be? What should I talk about? What should I serve? How should I serve? Where should I host them? Who "gets" one? How do I end one? I could go on and on. Needless to say my tasting policies and procedures have changed quite a bit from when I started my business. While it's definitely not perfected yet, I am really starting to enjoy them, rather than dread them.
One of the biggest reasons I dreaded them was because the potential clients were coming to my house, where I live and my children do too. Unless everyone was out of the house, I don't think there was a tasting session where one of the kids didn't come see what was going on or start screaming uncontrollably because he couldn't see mama. While the potential clients understood, I was typically uneasy or fuming. Sometimes I couldn't concentrate on what I was saying because of what was going on in the family room. I tried traveling to the clients house for a tasting and I tried meeting folks at coffee shops for tastings, and neither one seemed to fit me. Instead of being a 45 minute or so appointment, they ended up being at least an hour and because of the travel time. To remedy this, I started renting space from a local photographer and now hold my tastings there. No it's not as convenient as holding them in my home, but there are no children screaming in the background and I feel more like a professional.
Another reason they made me unhappy was my inability to say no. I always catered to the client's need to meet at a certain day/time, even if it meant finding a sitter or rearranging my entire day. This was totally my fault... I needed to learn that I can't please everyone and if they were interested in working with me, they needed to have some flexibility as well. If I am dying for ice cream at 7am and really want a something from Cold Stone Creamery, I can't call them and suggest that they open 3 hours early just for me... I need to work around their store hours. So I started offering tastings at certain days/times, which allowed me to make them the most time efficient for me and take away that "unknown" factor. I also offer a "to-go" tasting for instances where the couple is in town for a day or two and I am unavailable. This has worked well for me thus far, and think it is a good compromise for those types of situations.
Along these same lines, I had to decide where to say "no" to a personal tasting when it came to the type and size of cake. I decided that I would offer tastings/consults for wedding cakes serving at least 50 and special occasion cakes costing $250 or more. I also offer 6" tasting cakes for $20-30 that are available for pick up if someone does not meet the minimum, but still would like to try a cake before the "buy". I use these same guidelines for design consults as well. I have lost customers because of this, but in the end, I am running a business and doing a consult and/or tasting for a $50 cake is not profitable.
Lastly, and this one I am still working on was whether or not to charge for tastings. I started out doing free tastings and allowed the client to select 3 cake flavors and 2 fillings to try. Again, this made me miserable because on top of my orders, I now needed to make extra cake flavors/fillings just for tastings instead of just using what I was already making that week. On top of that, since I wasn't charging, I had several no-shows. At the same time, I saw this as part of purchasing a wedding cake. So I compromised on this one.... I offer 2 types of tastings: Baker's Choice... it is exactly what it sounds like... I choose what to bring and I don't charge for it since I don't have to prep anything outside of what I am already prepping for the week. The other option is Bride's Choice, which allows the couple to choose 3 cake flavors and 2 fillings to try. This type of tasting costs $25 and helps offset the cost and time of producing a tasting plate tailored to them. Most folks pick the complimentary tastings, so it has really worked well thus far. I still have no shows occasionally, but not enough to start charging for every tasting.
For those of you in the business, do you charge for tastings? For customers, would you or did you pay for your tasting?