Tips for hosting profitable classes at your bakery
By Brandi Cowen
Customers are curious about what you do, how you do it, and how they can execute some of your tricks of the trade at home. Just look at the programming line up on Food Network Canada, the abundance of food and drink magazines lining the checkouts at your local grocery store, and the buffet of websites, blogs and social media accounts catering to self-proclaimed “foodies.”
This curiosity presents a powerful opportunity to build stronger relationships with your existing customers and catch the eye of people who might otherwise pass your bakery by. The secret? Offering workshops to share some of your expert knowledge and start building relationships with these inquisitive consumers.
Gerda Korthof and her husband, Theo, have been offering workshops from their London, Ont., bakery for just over a year now.
“From day one, The Artisan Bakery had it in mind to offer workshops for the community, to educate the public about the bread baking process and to make the scope of our services complete,” Korthof says. “When the customers asked many questions about the process and ingredients, the time seemed ripe. Why not offer it to the public and get paid for it?”
The Artisan Bakery has hosted workshops on everything from sourdough bread baking and canning to themed classes such as “An Evening in Indonesia” and “An Evening in Paris.” Free kids workshops have also been popular, not to mention an effective way of encouraging parents to visit the bakery.
So far Korthof says that the introduction to bread baking class has been their most popular offering. Each student pays $85 for a five-hour class that includes instruction, materials and a luncheon.
Classes are taught by staff. Korthof recommends asking staff about their hobbies and hidden talents, and then matching them with workshops best suited to their interests and skills. At The Artisan Bakery, Theo teaches the themed cooking classes, while another staff member who loves children leads the kids’ cooking classes, and an avid canner on staff shares her knowledge with curious customers. Instructors are paid $25/hour for teaching time, as well as for the time it takes to set up ahead of class and clean up afterwards. So, for example, an instructor teaching the introduction to bread baking class will be paid for seven to eight hours of work.
To make the math work, Korthof says The Artisan Bakery aims for a class size of between eight and 10 students.
That’s a considerably larger group than you’ll find taking a class at Halifax’s Le French Fix Patisserie. Geoffroy Chevallier says workshops at his bakery are usually capped at four students. The bakery has been offering classes for about two years now and, after experimenting with different days and times throughout the week, Chevallier set Wednesday afternoons from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. as the regular workshop date.
“We did some on the weekends and found it doesn’t really work, and after hours makes for a long, long night,” Chevallier explains. “When we do them on Wednesday afternoons, sometimes we get a full class and sometimes we don’t.”
Workshops are promoted on the bakery’s website, and on its social media channels. Students also help spread the word about Le French Fix’s workshops, posting about their experiences and sharing photos of their creations on social media.
During the course of a class, students learn the techniques they need to execute the recipe. They leave with the finished product and a copy of the recipe they can prepare at home. Given the tight time frame, its important to pick a recipe that even a beginner can complete and then scale that recipe properly. That’s a lesson Chevallier learned during the bakery’s first class, teaching the art of making a perfect macaron.
“Based on the recipe, in the first class we maybe did too much,” he admits. “Those people did get to bring a lot of stuff home, but we should have managed it a bit better to get the right amount for the recipe.”
To set prices for the workshops, Chevallier scouts online to determine what others are charging for their classes, both in Halifax and outside the province. He currently charges $65 per person.
Neither Le French Fix nor The Artisan Bakery offer the tools or equipment used during workshops for sale to customers, although Korthof says she would “highly recommend” this to other bakeries.
Kids in the kitchen
At SweetSalt bakery in Vancouver, owner Emma Tolliday is encouraging kids to stretch their culinary muscles. Tolliday took over SweetSalt from the previous owner earlier this year, and has spent many Sunday afternoons since hosting birthday party cooking classes.
During a two-hour party, children make pizza dough, sweet dough animals, and a small three-layer cake measuring three-inches in diameter. That may sound like a lot to pack into one afternoon, but there’s a good reason for the full agenda – especially when working with very young children.
“They don’t have the patience to sit there and entertain themselves while their pizza dough is baking, so as soon as something goes in the oven, the table has to be cleared and another activity has to go on the table,” Tolliday says. “Keep it moving: that’s my advice.”
How smoothly the class runs can depend not just on the children, but on their parents. Tolliday hosted a party for a group of children whose parents were very keen to be involved and get creative. That class was a breeze, with plenty of adults to lend the kids a hand with their creations. The next party, she says, was attended by 13 children whose parents preferred to sit off to the side and chat over coffee. Tolliday says keeping activities age appropriate is key to successfully leading both types of classes. Having an assistant on hand to pitch in doesn’t hurt either.
Another key to keeping things running smoothly is to be prepared. Tolliday learned this lesson during her first class, when it came time for the children to assemble their dough animals. “I had four pairs of scissors and I should have had 10 pairs,” she says. “For a class like that, expecting the kids to share is a nice idea but it’s not my lesson to teach.”
Under Tolliday’s ownership, the price tag on a birthday party at SweetSalt has increased from approximately $200 to $300. The higher cost is, in part, to compensate for the bakery’s earlier closing time on party days. Instead of the usual 4 p.m. close, the bakery closes at 2 p.m.; parties run from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. “This is something we started because we decided to give the whole café over to the class. I find it’s a much better experience for everyone,” she says.
The going rate for similar services was also a consideration in setting the price.
Birthday parties have been generating a lot of repeat customers for SweetSalt. Tolliday says many families with children who have attended parties at the bakery are now familiar faces in the shop, stopping in for special treats on the weekends. One family even goes out of its way to swing by for some banana bread on the way to weekly swim lessons. So far each party has also generated at least one new booking. One child has already attended three baking parties since May.
“The kids know me,” Tolliday says. “There’s definitely a community connection that’s been built.”
In the coming months some moms and dads may find themselves stopping by SweetSalt without the kids. After a number of requests from parents, Tolliday is looking into adding some baking classes for adults into the mix. She’s already in the process of applying for a liquor license so the bakery can offer a baking with bourbon class. Tolliday hopes the adult classes will deepen relationships with existing customers while forging ties with new ones.
She believes these customer relationships reflect the evolving role businesses play in their communities. “It’s the new model: when you go someplace, it offers more than one service. I think that’s what you have to do to be competitive now. It’s very hard to build connections with people otherwise.”
Five steps for a successful workshop
1. Pick a date, time and topic for your workshop – Consider who your customers are, what your goals are in offering the workshop and how the rest of your business will be affected. Will you need to close your bakery early or schedule extra staff to work during the class? Use this information to help calculate an appropriate rate to charge.
2. Make a plan – What materials will students need to participate in the class? Will you need to invest in extras so each student has their own toolkit? If a lot of specialty tools are required, it may be a good idea to include the cost of the toolkit in your price calculations. If students get to take their projects home at the end of the class, will you have to provide packaging to transport their work? Factor this into your pricing calculations too. Developing a clear plan will ensure your workshop runs smoothly and prevent last minute surprises from taking a bite out of your bottom line.
3. Promote your workshop – Spread the word through in-store flyers, promos on your website, and on your e-newsletters and social media channels. Don’t forget about other businesses in the neighbourhood that can help cross-promote your class. The yoga studio down the street may be a good place to post a flyer about your upcoming healthy baking workshop.
4. Prepare for the big day – Make sure all staff understand what needs to be done (both in the class and in the rest of the bakery) and assign clear roles for everyone. If you’re teaching the workshop yourself, assign a number two who has the authority to handle any situations that may arise during the class. Remember: your students are customers too. They deserve their instructor’s full attention for the duration of the workshop.
5. Collect feedback about the workshop – What did students most enjoy about the class? What could use some improvement? Are there other topics they’d like to explore in future workshops? And don’t forget to ask staff for feedback too. They may have some ideas to make a great workshop even better!