How to run a supper club
I was asked (via Twitter) about how to run a supper club, so here are a few pieces of advice. If you’ve got any of your own then please comment below and I’ll add them in as appropriate (with credit naturally).
How do you run a supper club?
Firstly you’ll need;
- a venue
- agreement from the owner (if it’s not your house) as to what you’re going to do there, best get a deal in writing
- how are you going to decorate it? It may be appropriate to theme the evening according to your menu, but make sure you’re not spending all your time on style over substance – if the high point of a supper club was your outfit you should have concentrated on the food
- enough cutlery, crockery etc
- if possible try to get enough that you don’t need to turn any of them round during the night, make sure you have +10% to allow for breakages
- have a think about the cutlery & crockery, if you insist on using the cheapest stuff you can find it’ll show and it doesn’t last. I’ve now got the things I use day to day and then different sets for supper clubs
- facilities to cook for however many guests you’re planning on having
- this can be quite surprising – cooking for large numbers can sometimes be as easy as for small numbers, other times it’s not practical. I once went to a dinner where one course was 8 scallops served to 8 guests over 45 minutes, overcooked & cold at the same time, all due to not realising the capabilities of the cook and their equipment.
- If you can’t cook something to the absolute best of your abilities then don’t do it, naturally we all make mistakes, but don’t set yourself to fail by over estimating your capabilities, simple food done well is a thing of beauty
- Initially I set the ticket price to cover ingredients & overhead cost and then asked for an optional tip at the end. I’ve decided to move away from this, I’m not the sort of person who enjoys sticking an envelope under my guests’ noses at the end of an evening. From 2016 my events will be a set price which will be all inclusive. How you do this is up to you though.
- Make sure you can seat people comfortably, no one likes to feel like a sardine in a tin. I’ve reduced my maximum numbers to ensure that everyone can fit round one large table, part of the fun of supper clubs is meeting like-minded people so, if you can, put people on large tables rather than cramming 2s and 4s in every nook and cranny
- There are some ticketing sites that will process sales for you, Eventbrite, Designmynight etc the benefits of these are that they can take card payments which will make your life a lot easier. I let people know that tickets are non-refundable, but I will always try to sell on cancellations and refund. Sadly we do live in an age where people will promise to come to something and then cancel, which will leave you seriously out of pocket after you’ve paid for all the ingredients etc
- Very much up to you. If you go into running these with no motive other than trying to make money I’d strongly suggest you don’t – your guests will know and vote (quickly) with their feet. One of the great things about supper clubs is that you can have great quality food at very reasonable prices. I work out how much the ingredients etc will cost me and then add a set amount for overheads and a (small) profit. Nobody is going to enjoy an evening where it feels like they’re being treated like a cash cow.
- Through Twitter and other friends I’ve managed to market myself fairly well and get the message out there. Having a website and especially a mailing list is valuable if not vital.
- If you want to get some more publicity you could invite bloggers/reviewers to the event. If you do this make sure anything they write about you is clearly marked as such – that the meal was complimentary. I’d strongly suggest you pick who you invite carefully – read blogs and invite people who seem to like the same kind of food as you’re going to be cooking
- Despite the above point, none of my reviews have been for free food, I once swapped 2 tickets to an event for the design of this site (so I think I got the better of that deal)
- Be proud of your suppliers and name them, if you’re not happy about whose produce you’re using maybe you should rethink that aspect. If your guests are used to a certain level of quality they will notice if you start substituting for inferior produce.
- Don’t use auto-tweet apps, especially the ones that put out the same generic tweets once (or more) a day at the same time, they clog people’s feeds and become very irritating
When Things Go Wrong;
- No matter how good a cook/host you are there are always times when things go wrong. I always make sure I’ve at least 2 portions of everything extra in case of disaster.
- Always have a plan B, hopefully you’re a capable enough cook to change things up last minute. I once came up with a new recipe for white chocolate mousse by managing to drop half my eggs on the floor – it’s a better recipe than the original and is now the one I use.
- Seek feedback from your guests, people will tell you what’s good or not, if the dish worked as a whole.
- Pay attention to what your guests say, you’ve been stuck in the kitchen – you didn’t experience the evening in the same way. What works for you might not work for everyone else.
- If there’s a problem with a guest (or group of them) speak to them after the event – I think it’s best to do so via a direct email and offer to meet them in person. If you’re in the situation where all your other guests have complained about an individual, well it’s up to you, but I’d suggest that that person isn’t welcome anymore.
- I’ve had to do with one “incident” which was dealt with easily and is now a bit of an in joke, the person is still a regular at events.
- I’ve also had to deal with an individual who was the cause of numerous complaints, I emailed them and then met them, explained what the issues were, their response was to steal from me, lie to and about me and start subtweeting – you don’t need people like that at your events (lifetime ban).
- It’s highly advisable to have some help, plating up 8 or so courses for 8-12 guests is a very different thing than knocking up a midweek supper for two.
- Having some help with the waiting on tables, making sure the water jugs are topped up etc will give you time to concentrate on the cooking. You’ll find that the evening will be much more enjoyable if you’re slightly overstaffed rather than having to run around trying to do everything at once
- When people help me out I offer free food & drink on the night and a ticket to a future party/supper club in exchange which works very well
- When choosing someone to help out make sure that they’re funny, knowledgeable about food, charming, good looking, able to hold their booze, can carry plates without spilling and are a master of the 3D Tetris game that is the dishwasher. Then again, if they weren’t all these things already they wouldn’t be your friend right?
I suppose the best advice I can give is to do what feels right for you, if you’re not ok with what you’re serving or the way the event is going then it’s not likely that anyone else will be either.
And finally, and most importantly, have fun.