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Rob Schwing

The effective cooking demonstration

April 15, 2014

Dear Grill Guy,

Can you tell me the benefits to holding an outdoor grilling cooking demonstration? Obviously, people might show up for the food, but does the investment in time and resources really pay off?

Want to sell more grills? Then get out of the store and onto the sidewalk and start grilling!

When you’re asking a customer to part with a considerable amount of cash on a high-end grill, it’s not enough to recite facts. You need to create a memorable experience.

You can tell a customer that a grill rapidly preheats or makes food taste better but those are just words. Consumers — even those in the market for a grill — are skeptics. The best way to convert that skepticism into a sale is to have the customer experience those claims you’re making. Even if they don’t purchase a grill that day, you’ll have created an amazing experience that they’ll remember when they are ready to buy, and they’ll come back to you.

I’ve never done a cooking demo before. What is involved?

If you’re new to grilling demonstrations, a little prep-work is in order. First, educate yourself on proper food handling and prep. You’ll need refrigeration for your meats which can be as simple as a cooler with ice. Second, maintain clean tools and a clean cutting surface environment. You won’t want to cut raw chicken and vegetables on the same board, for example. Third, foods need to be cooked to a safe temperature which can be accomplished with an FDA chart and a meat thermometer. (Remember to show off that thermometer as a grill accessory during your demonstration!)

The next step is selecting which grills to use. Choose polar opposites, such as pairing an infrared grill with a pizza oven. Limit the demo to one or two grills unless you’re positive you have the staff to cover them. Grilling requires attention and the point of the cooking demonstration is to interact with your customers.

What’s the best way to get the word out about an event?

Advertise the event a few days ahead with signage, social media and ads in the local newspaper. Advertising should be authentic and fit with your store’s personality. Local radio is usually inexpensive and arranging for a remote radio broadcast in front of your store can draw traffic. The best advertising is the event itself. People will be out and about, see balloons, smell burgers and brats on the grill, wonder why there’s a crowd in front of your store — and then they’ll stop by.

Any advice on what to throw on the grill? Are burgers too boring?

Cook foods that highlight the grill you’re selling. Above all, keep it simple. Cook chicken cordon bleu and you’re asking for trouble. Don’t demo any food if you’re not 100% certain of the results.

When my team demos, we choose three things to grill to which 99.9% of the public can relate. Typically that means burgers straight out of the freezer case, chicken breasts, and rib-eye steak. When we can show people how frozen burgers don’t cause flare up on our grills, how chicken breasts aren’t dry and that we can cook a rib-eye steak to well-done and still have it be juicy, we’ve made our sale. Serving mahi-mahi wouldn’t have the same effect, as not everyone has a reference point for what that should taste like.

How often should I hold a grilling demo?

Demos become non-impactful when held too often. Host a demo once a month during the prime selling season and throw in some special event weekends at the beginning of grilling season or the weekends before Memorial Day or Father’s Day. Your goal is to be the category expert that people turn to for advice. The status of expert griller is not a halo conferred on you just because you sell grills. It’s by your demonstrated command of the grill that you’ll make a lasting impression.

Keep Grilling,

Rob