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Class In Session: Best Practices For Establishing Your Cooking School

Cooking classes and demonstrations are a way to make a gourmet housewares store into a destination. From date nights for new couples to serious home chefs looking to improve their knife skills, being able to offer cooking classes and demonstrations can bring more people to the store as well as boost product sales.

But, there are also several challenges when looking to put together a lineup of cooking classes. Retailers new to the industry or those just beginning to launch classes may not have a way to figure out where to begin.

GOURMET INSIDER® spoke to Doug Huemoeller, owner of Minneapolis, MN-based Kitchen Window, about some of the best practices he uses in his own cooking school and dishes on how a retailer looking to start a cooking school or hold classes can get started.

Vet Your Instructors
Huemoeller said that cooking classes are an extension of the store and that instructors need to have that in mind. He noted that he hires staff instructors, both full- and part-time, to teach classes in his cooking school.
“Most outside instructors weren’t trained on equipment choices and they may not align with your business. This is why we choose to have instructors on staff. Otherwise, it can be a wild card,” he said.

He explained that if guest instructors or local chefs are the only way to go, retailers should talk to them about the business, the brand that should be upheld and the products the instructor likes to use versus what a retailer would like to highlight in order to ensure the experience in the class echoes the customer’s in-store experience.
“If you use a different instructor, you are getting a different experience each time. Work with them to really lay down what the expectations of the experience are,” he said.

Huemoeller also said to pick an instructor that has character, whether on-staff or not, to teach classes, as it will make for a better response from attendees. “Instructors really need to have personality because they are up there entertaining for three hours, at least,” he said.

Don’t Undersell Yourself
When it comes to pricing cooking classes, Huemoeller said not to sell yourself short. He prices his classes at $89, however, there are a few exceptions that may cost more and a few classes that cost less, depending on what they are. While the standard pricing may seem high, he said that if retailers place value on the cost, the consumer will as well.

“For $89, we are expected to serve a full dinner, entertain our guests for an evening, develop content and recipe packets for attendees to take home, plus set up and clean up. It’s all about creating that total experience and they will pay for it if they know that’s what they are going to get,” he said.

How To Pay Instructors
Huemoeller said that he pays instructors on a sliding scale basis, they get paid more money as they teach more classes, he said. Instructors also get paid if they need to go shopping for food before a class, as well.

“It turns out that, at the beginning, our instructors make about $40 per hour for a class and it increases as we pay them on a sliding scale,” he said. Huemoeller said that his instructors get paid more as they work with the store more and increase the number of classes they teach.

However, Huemoeller said that his classes start at 32 people, so that payment rate may not be feasible for those retailers that have more intimate class sizes or those who charge less per class.

Be Wary Of High-Profile Bookings
While it may seem lucrative to have high-profile chefs or cookbook authors come to the store to teach classes, Huemoeller explained that retailers should calculate and watch the margins before hosting an extra special guest. “We found that we don’t make the margins and outside talent is less profitable for us. And it’s also way more work,” he said, noting that not only do these guests require more payment than a regular staff chef, but they usually have more travel and appearance demands. “Once all is said and done, there isn’t much profitability left in a class like that,” he said.

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