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A client appreciation dinner is a beautiful thing. There’s food and wine and balloons and maybe a small token of appreciation. Somebody makes a speech that mentions “paradigm shift” 31 times and everyone falls asleep. Sometime between the main course and the cheesecake, the phones come out.
Then, one by one, the whole room checks out … and you think to yourself, maybe there’s a better way.
There is. Client appreciation dinners have a plan built right into the title: Show some appreciation. Dinner is nice. A private room in a super fancy restaurant is even nicer, but you can still level up.
Pop-ups are impromptu restaurants designed to showcase the talents of their progenitor. Whether it’s a local chef showing off some skills or a mixologist throwing down with the spirits, they have one goal in common: to entertain the guests so well they really, really want to come back.
The same tricks that make a great pop-up great will make your event a spectacular success.
In full disclosure, this author has managed nearly two dozen pop-ups in Chicago. (“Eating Vincent Price” was a luxurious dinner party developed from the rare cookbook authored by the famous actor. “The Oxford English Dictionary” was an irregular cocktail party featuring emerging Chicago novelists.)
A swanky restaurant is definitely a good idea, but you can level up by moving it to that restaurant’s private party room. More than likely, they’ll have a package deal that comes with a bartender and servers so your dinner morphs into a party immediately.
A stand-alone room is an even better choice. Look for creative spaces with kitchens and the ability to serve booze (although if they can’t, a caterer or a private chef often travels with a temporary license for one-time events). Such spaces pull the dinner out of the same old, presenting something unique — and by default, assigning the same descriptor to your business.
Hire a private chef for your client dinner. It sounds extravagant — and it probably will be. But if your chef nails it, your clients will be forever wowed.
Chicago’s Aram Reed has cooked for the Chicago Bulls, Chelsea Handler and Anthony Bourdain. His advice for finding a chef is perfunctory but spot on: Check out their website, click through to their social media streams. See how they’ve been working so far for other clients. More importantly, says Reed: “Has this chef been professionally trained? This isn’t Uber, not everyone that owns an apron can now be a chef.”
A mixologist is not a bartender, though most mixologists tend bar. A mixologist is to making drinks what Guy Fieri is to making sandwiches. A good mixologist will interview you about your client and event, talk to you about your budget, be clear about costs, and let you know what staff they’ll bring. They’ll send you a list of drinks to choose from or maybe create custom cocktails that you can name to add fun to your dinner.
If your client doesn’t drink or has staff who don’t consume alcohol, a mixologist can create sodas, punches or juices that are just as awesome as their boozy drinks.
Instead of an inexpensive table gift, how about incredible pictures of the evening sent right to your client’s inbox? Hiring a photographer is a simple, affordable way to commemorate the event — and take away priceless marketing collateral for yourself.
A wedding photographer might be a good bet here since candid shots in somewhat random situations are their bread and butter. But they aren’t framing for publication or for use in a brochure. So, you are better off with a commercial event photographer. They shoot concerts, conferences and everything else.
Lorenzo Tassone shoots in Chicago. He emphasizes the importance of pictures for marketing a business and building relationships: “I can’t even begin to explain how important photography is to biz these days. From simple headshots to social media to client outreach. Photos tell a story that oftentimes gets lost in words. That is why event photography is so important, and why having social media tie-ins (like designated hashtags) is critical.”
Your photographer is not there to take a group picture for the newsletter — and that’s not what you’re paying him for. You’re paying for their vision — the weird gift a skilled photographer has for being able to recognize and capture a priceless moment.
Once you have the event plan and people in place, don’t leave your client contact out of the loop. Bring them in early. Let them know what you’re planning. Put them on a call with you and the private chef and let them talk about a menu. Same with the mixologist. This builds excitement for the event, but it also makes your client more vested in the process and deepens the relationship.
Besides, whether a dinner or sporting event, you don’t want to risk planning something that could make the client uncomfortable.
Some hard-earned lessons in pop-uppery have been obtained through the tried-and-true method of failingly spectacularly. A few closing reminders:
The most important benefit of better client dinners is the intangibles. Your client and their employees will talk about this dinner for weeks after. Every time they do, they’ll mention your name and they’ll sing your praises.
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