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FRONT OF THE HOUSE / SAMPLING
By DeAnn OwensPhotographs By Josh Keown
FOOD SAMPLING BUILDS SALES AND RELATIONSHIPS WITH CUSTOMERS
Giving your product away for free to build sales may seem like a business oxymoron. But as the old saying goes, you have to spend moneyto make money. And although there is no such thing as a free lunch, food sampling is the next best thing for operators and for customers.For operators, it gets their product into the mouths of current and potential customers, and for customers, it gives them an opportunity to trysomething new, risk-free. In that exchange, operators and customers can connect while breaking bread. And, seriously, who doesn’t love afree sample?“Food sampling is the cheapest, most effective way to get consumers to try what I’m trying to get them to try and build a relationship. Foodsampling is the idiot-proof marketing tool for bars and restaurants,” says Howard Cannon, a food service expert with Restaurant ExpertWitness.Jeff Van Dyke, managing partner of Brixx Wood Fired Pizza with locations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee, saysfood sampling is a valuable tool because it establishes goodwill with guests, provides an opportunity for customer feedback for marketresearch and requires minimal cost.“We use sampling for two different reasons: one, to develop new menu items and get feedback — very effective before you go too far with anew item –– and two, we sample foods with people waiting for tables as a way to thank them for waiting and being patient,” Van Dyke says. A recent addition to Brixx’s menu, Zucchini Balsamic Toast, was a heavily sampled dish.“It’s a good item and a little different, so people are afraid to try it,” Van Dyke says. “The advantage of sampling is that it stirs people towarditems you want to sell. The Zucchini Balsamic Toast is a healthy item, and we want it to be one of the most popular items on the menu.”Food sampling also is an effective way to change customer habits, says Robert Ancill, CEO and managing partner of the restaurant andleisure consulting group The Next Idea.“Typically customers are habitual. There is a small percentage who will try something new on a menu,” Ancill says. “The goal of sampling isfor the customer to try something new they normally wouldn’t.”The rules of food sampling are flexible: the where and when can fluctuate according to the operator’s needs and staff’s availability.Van Dyke says, food sampling varies by Brixx location, but is definitely used when a new menu is in the works, which is twice a year. Hesays food sampling is also great when stores are not busy, and managers can get immediate feedback from customers.“We are big into food sampling; we do it in all of our stores. We sample products in front of our stores, at local farmers’ markets, big schoolevents, wine and food festivals — anywhere we can get an audience of our community to sample our product,” says Adam Goldberg,founder of Fresh Brothers in California. “We hold sampling events at our stores. We do it with a new product and with gluten-free products.
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