Tastings 101

Clint Elkins, SB Value

As catering professionals, we know that tastings have become an integral part of the client experience. More than that, we also know that the tasting itself has evolved greatly over the last few years alone, going from a simple menu preview to a full-blown, immersive taste-test with multiple options and more elaborate presentations.

Because of this change, it’s left a few industry professionals stumped regarding tasting policies, trends, and how to navigate the feedback that comes after. There’s no longer a cut-and-dry formula, so we turned to a few catering experts to share their tips on the ins and outs of that initial client meeting.

Booking and pricing

Every business varies when it comes to outlining a tasting policy, but there are a few factors that remain fairly evergreen – pricing, booking timeline, and the number of people in attendance. When it comes to engaged couples interested in hiring you for your services at their wedding, the tasting guidelines are especially important.

The pricing is variable, of course, depending on what’s being served, and it can also be dependent on how many people end up at the tasting. For Lon Lane, President of Lon Lane’s Inspired Occasions, “Generally, we do not do tastings until we have an approved menu. Once we have an approved menu, the tasting is just like what they will see at the event. [We start at] 4 guests for no charge, and from there it’s a $100 charge for each additional guest.”

Most of the time it’s wise to come to an early negotiation with the client to avoid wasting resources and time if they decide not to show up at the last-minute, and generally this means a small fee to secure the appointment. Megan Palmer Rivera of Palmer’s Darien says, “We do offer tastings prior to booking. We charge $50 a person, but if they book with us, that payment goes towards the cost of the event.”

As far as the booking timeline goes, Francisco Christian of Taylored Hospitality Solutions notes, “Have a good up-front contract with the couples. The tasting should be the last step in which after they complete the tasting, you are collecting a deposit check and a signed contract.”


Now, let’s talk about menus. There are two general options that caterers can choose to showcase to clients: pre-set menus and custom menus. Pre-set menus are almost always the go-to, as they spotlight the culinary strengths of your business and they’re well-seasoned after years of practice (no pun intended!). Custom menus are tailored more to the client themselves, whether that’s tweaking existing items to be gluten-free or vegetarian, or coming up with something off-the-cuff to suit the theme of their event.

Adam Gooch, Corporate Executive Chef of Common Plea Catering discusses the pros and cons of a pre-set menu. “The pros are that we are able to select menu items that really are special, unique, and reflect our style both in presentation and taste. We really do try to showcase many items for the group tastings (hors d’oeuvres, entrees, station items, etc.), so that even if one specific item that a client may have on their menu isn’t being offered, there is at least some sort of representation of it in another form at the tasting. The con would be the small amount of clients who will still ask for a private tasting after, to sample their specific menu item.”

Rivera helps to create custom menus for each of her clients, saying, “The menu for the tasting will depend on what’s included on their proposal. We try and have them try items that are more unusual or signature to us.  We usually include a few ‘upsells’ that are not on the menu as well.”

Post-tasting feedback

Feedback at the time of the tasting is crucial, especially if the client is intent on booking with you (and even if they have hesitations about doing so). This is your time to address any concerns they might have, including dishes that may need to be tweaked to accommodate dietary restrictions.

Gooch continues, “During the tasting the event planners and chefs are all there to discuss any feedback with the client to get a better idea of what they’re not liking, or if they’re wanting to change something. From there, the event planner will review this at the next client meeting to make sure everyone is on the same page and that the client is happy with the outcome. We take all feedback from our tastings, good and bad, and share with the team.  We all have such different tastes and it is important to know what the couple’s tastes are before their wedding. Open feedback upfront is what we want to hear as this will only make for a better wedding for the client in the end.”

Meryl Snow of Feastivities Events notes that they’ve renamed tastings entirely, instead referring to them as ‘Chef’s Table’. “The word ‘tasting’ implies that it’s a taste test, and then people feel compelled that they have to critique.”

How much work is too much work?

Charging for a tasting is one thing, but if a client requests above what is normally offered or above what they’ll be serving at their wedding (i.e. they ask to taste all of your hors d’oeuvres when they’ll only be serving two options), it can feel a bit over the top. Lane offers a solution to cut down on labor and cost, noting, “We normally provide one presentation plate so they can see what it will look like, then X number of smaller plates for them to taste.”

Snow says, “We want the guests to feel welcome, so we set a standard for our Chef’s Table by lighting candles, making sure there are fresh flowers, and prepping the table with proper place settings and water. Setting a high standard from the beginning leaves little room for clients to request more, and giving them a real dining experience helps them to better visualize what the event will look like.”

Rivera notes that since they are not a budget catering company, so they believe the tasting is crucial. “When clients come in, meet our team and taste our food, they understand the value of our services. We don't put a limit to the amount of time or quantity of food prepared; it really depends on what we feel the potential value of the sale is.”

Christian believes that the tasting costs should be thought of prior to the tasting, especially if the couple is searching for something custom. “If Sales has created this special out-of-the-box menu, then as part of the proposal process, the tasting expense should have been part of that pricing. All clients want something unique that people will talk about at their event.”

Tastings really set the tone for how you intend on delivering your client with an unforgettable experience. Knowing exactly how to execute the process and further book the sale will show the client that you’ll pull of the catering at their event without a hitch!

Clint Elkins is the VP of Sales of SB Value, a group purchasing program designed to reduce catering, kitchen and food-service costs by leveraging the collective buying power of thousands of companies.