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How to host a virtual cooking class

Host of a cooking class
Photo by Jason Briscoe

Even with concerns about the Coronavirus and shelter-in-place mandates keeping many of your customers at home, there’s still a great opportunity to connect and enjoy incredible flavors together virtually. Hosting a virtual cooking class is not only a fun way to engage your community online during these challenging times, but it also provides an opportunity for you to show off your restaurant’s personality—and your own knife skills—and share how you’re doing during COVID-19.

Orchestrating this production may seem daunting, but it’s as simple as using the camera on your mobile device. Follow these 10 simple steps, and you’ll be running your own cooking school in no time.

1. Determine the menu

You’ll want to select recipes that can be easily followed by people of all skill levels. Share the shopping list in advance, and avoid ingredients that are difficult to find in standard grocery stores or have substitution ideas for anything out of the ordinary. Alternative ingredients are also appreciated by attendees who have allergies or can’t get to the store. You could also consider selling hard-to-get ingredients—or everything needed for the class—in a kit or box that’s available for pickup or delivery (see step 4).

When selecting your dishes, factor in prep and cooking time to ensure the class doesn’t take too long. Once you’ve figured out the ideal length, you can set the expectation with your guests as to how much time they’ll need to set aside for the class. 

2. Pick the channel, day, and time

If you have a strong social media following, take advantage of that and go live on one of those platforms, like Facebook Live or Instagram Live. If you prefer something more along the lines of video conferencing, try Zoom or Google Meet.

To figure out when you should host the class, check traffic and interaction trends for your business on your chosen platform, and see what times of day you have the most engagement. Remember to keep time zones in mind if you expect students from around the country (or the world). You may even want to poll your customers to ask them what day and time works best for them. 

The timing of your class could also map to a meal or date that you’re typically busy for, like Sunday brunch or Taco Tuesday. This helps capture customers who would typically be dining in with you on that day and time.

3. Create a run of show

To reduce anxiety and increase preparedness for a smooth video, it helps to create a detailed outline of the class to be shared with both your guests and your co-host (for more on the importance of a co-host, see step 9). This will set expectations and help everyone to be prepared. Include the ingredients and necessary kitchen tools you’ll be using. This will help your guests follow along easily when it’s time for them to join you online and go to work in their own kitchen.

Don’t forget about the end of your class. Plan ahead for how the class will end and what you want people to do next (see step 10).

4. Promote the class—and your recipe(s) 

Once you know what you’re making, when you’re making it, and where your customers can follow along, spread the word far and wide. Promote the event on your website, Yelp Page, social media sites, and to your email lists. Share enticing pictures of the dishes you’ll be making to help drum up excitement about the class.

Be sure to prominently display the ingredient shopping list, and even point customers to where they can purchase the ingredients ahead of time. 

Pro tip: Create pre-packaged ingredient boxes—it’s a great way to sell directly to your customers and open the door for the sale of complementary items, like a bottle of wine, a cocktail kit, or a dessert. If your brick-and-mortar location is open for takeout, consider allowing the option for guests to pick up the ingredient boxes prior to the class.

5. Set up a practice run

It’s important to set aside time to do a practice run-through. You’ll want to have your cooking area set up so you can test your camera angles, lighting, and sound. Invite your co-host to see how everything looks from a viewer’s perspective.  

6. Premeasure and prepare

Leading up to the event, continue to promote the recipe, and remind your attendees to have all the ingredients on hand and to premeasure everything to keep the show running smoothly. You’ll probably have attendees asking for alternatives and substitutions, so offer those ahead of time if you have some in mind. 

Pro tip: On the day of the live event, premeasure all of your ingredients. You’ll also want to have a completed version of the dish in case anything goes wrong. 

7. Go live! 

Take a few minutes at the start of the class to welcome everyone and make them feel comfortable. You’ll want to go through the run of the show and set expectations for how you will be monitoring your live chat and any answering questions that come up throughout. 

If you’re on a video conferencing platform, walk attendees through the control panel or any features they may need to use during the class. Prior to beginning the actual cooking portion, walk through the ingredient list one last time, and point out that you have premeasured the ingredients—this will encourage others to do the same, if they haven’t done so yet.

Lastly, encourage everyone to take pictures as they go: chef selfies, kitchen set-ups, progress on the dishes, etc. Tease that there will be a contest announced at the end of the class (see step 10).

8. Move slowly, remember your audience, and repeat yourself

The attendees cooking along with you will have a wide range of skill sets. It’s important to pace yourself and instruct them in an easy-to-follow manner. Certain terminology that may be commonplace to you could be something a viewer is hearing for the first time, so use basic cooking language. If you use more complex terms, make it an educational experience and explain what they mean to your followers. You’ll want to speak slowly, and don’t be afraid to repeat yourself—sometimes people miss an instruction, so repeating your message will help everyone stay on track. Repeat the measurements for each ingredient multiple times: Despite your recommendation to premeasure, not everyone will. 

9. Have your co-host be your personal assistant

Having someone co-host with you is invaluable. They can do the filming, share questions for you to answer in real time, type answers to questions as necessary in your platform or channel, share resources with the audience, and even make introductions throughout the event. This allows you to stay focused on cooking and providing instructions, while your co-host helps facilitate the one-on-one connection and more personalized experience. 

Pro tip: If you’re using Instagram Live, be sure to pin important messages within the chat so they are readily available throughout the live stream. 

10. Wrap it up with your call to action

Once the dish is finished, what’s next? Will you finish with closing remarks and then let attendees enjoy the meal on their own, or will you encourage attendees to enjoy the meal together on video with a live Q&A? Be sure to have a dedicated call to action at the conclusion of the class. How can consumers continue to support your business? Give them something that encourages them to do more business with you, attend another class, or engage with you on social media. If you have an email list of attendees, we recommend sending a follow-up email thanking them for their time and encouraging them to share photos of their dishes on social media.

Pro tip: Sharing a video recording of the class on your website and social media is a permanent way to help more people be a part of the experience. A photo competition for the event is another great way to encourage engagement on social media. Have attendees share their masterpieces and tag your business for a chance to win a gift card (and then be sure to reshare).  

Virtual cooking classes are a great way to engage your community and stay connected during these challenging times. They take a bit of pre-planning, but once you are ready to go, they can be a fantastic opportunity to expand your reach and increase your connections through a memorable digital experience.

Yelp’s Community Management team has also been partaking in the fun, partnering up with local business owners across North America to host virtual events—bringing a wide range of experiences right into consumers’ homes—including cooking classes, like Yelp Indy’s sushi-making class, hosted by @yelpindy. Check out the Yelp Events page and search your area for virtual events featuring nearby local businesses. 

Want to share how you are connecting virtually with your customers?

Tweet us at @yelpforbusiness or email

The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.

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