How to Host Virtual Cooking Classes, Happy Hours & Other Events for Your Restaurant

While restaurants in many cities have begun to reopen outdoor areas—and in several cases, dining rooms inside—operators and customers across the U.S. and Canada continue to favor a more conservative approach to the coronavirus pandemic.

Chances are, regardless of your area's reopening phase, many of your restaurant's would-be diners are stuck at home, bored, and eager for a break to the monotony of quarantine life. If you're looking for a way to bring your brand to them, consider a virtual event.

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Why Do a Virtual Event?

For starters, the audience is reading and waiting for you: marketing professionals, for instance, are increasingly relying on virtual events, including cocktail hours and virtual dinner parties, to woo clients. But there are several other reasons you should consider offering a virtual event or event series.

  1. Develop brand awareness. Virtual events are an excellent way to market your restaurant, both deepening existing patrons' relationship with your brand and encouraging a whole new audience to discover you.

  2. Open up new revenue streams. Expand the kinds of experiences you offer, and you can discover new sources of income. Customers are signing up for restaurant-run event experiences, from virtual trivia nights to home bartending classes. Some restaurateurs are choosing to run ticketed virtual events, while others are increasing sales by selling DIY to-go kits so that their customers can follow along with the instructions at home.

  3. Increase sales. These kinds of events build your top of funnel by creating a warm feeling about your brand in the community. Additionally, by hosting certain events—a cooking demo that showcases items from your menu, for instance—you can simply remind customers to order from you. Offering discounted gift certificates during an otherwise free demo can also encourage impulse buys.

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What Type of Event to Do

What kind of event makes the most sense for your business? There are four common categories to consider, but don't feel limited by these. After all, Shake Shack recently launched a virtual camp for the summer, complete with family-friendly activities.

  • Cooking & mixology classes: Teach your audience how to make a signature dish from your menu, or create a specialty item designed with a home cook's skills and tools in mind.

  • Educational events: Lead your customers through a tour of Italian wine country, a journey through regional Thai cuisine, or an exploration of local spirits. Providing learning opportunities about how food and drink connect with cultural traditions is a great way to bring stories alive and generate goodwill.

  • Virtual happy hours & brunches: We're still social creatures, so creating a space for people to enjoy each other and talk is always a good thing. And recently, 13% of company-hosted events have been virtual happy hours—so consider marketing this to local offices that have been socially distancing.

  • Kids' classes: At this point, parents are becoming increasingly desperate for more options to distract their kiddos. Check out Kellan’s Kitchen for great examples of kid-focused classes.

How to Pick Someone to Host

Once you know what kind of event you want to start off with, you'll need to select a host or hosts. If you have an especially vivacious and charismatic bartender on staff, this could be a great fit for them. But consider whether you'll want more than one person: if you're offering a cooking show, for instance, you may want a pair of hosts so that one person can engage with the audience when the other has to focus on the task at hand.

What Platform to Use

Whether you're hosting a free event that anyone can join or something more exclusive, remember to use a format that makes it easy for you to interact with your audience. Driving engagement is a great way to build loyalty and make your audience members feel like participants, so encourage viewers to type their questions in a chat box, ask them live throughout, or engage in a Q&A at the end.

For open, free events:

  • Instagram or Facebook Live Stream: These platforms are very easy to use and are wonderful for engagement. While it's harder to capture participant information for future marketing purposes, these platforms come with a built-in marketing channel to your followers before the event.

For paid events:

  • Zoom: For a more controlled event, video call services like Zoom are an excellent choice. You can limit who joins via specific link and password, and participants can see and engage with each other. You can even use Eventbrite to sell tickets in advance.

  • Webinar: Somewhere between a Zoom call and Instagram, webinars make it easy for a host to put on a show for an audience. With a webinar, you have more control over who joins than with Instagram Live, and more control over how your audience can interact with each other than on Zoom.

Marketing for Your Event

Now it's time to get the word out there! Marketing your event can feel daunting in a packed digital landscape, but the truth is, your customer base is hungry for this kind of content.

  • Get social. Given their limited exposure to in-person interactions, many people are currently glued to social media, so posting on Instagram and Facebook is a great idea—especially if you have plenty of followers. And if you're looking for a boost, Facebook and Instagram ads are excellent options if it's financially feasible.

  • Send an email invite. You can also leverage your website and existing mailing lists to announce your virtual events.

  • Make some connections. Consider partnering with brands who might have existing audiences you can tap. Does a local organization need to send home happy hour kits to their employees as a Friday morale booster? You could put it together for them—and host the happy hour via Zoom.

How to Pull it Off

Like event planning in real life, virtual event planning is all about getting your ducks in a row well before showtime. Make sure you develop a detailed run-of-show that specifies all the logistics. You’ll want to assign roles for managing any technology hiccups, selecting the host and moderators, and making sure you have prep work completed with food or drink products. If this is a first time, consider doing a practice run-through first for friends and family. After you're done, consider keeping some of the video footage for ads, or simply for others to access in the future!

[Photo: Sander Dalhuisen via Pexels]