5 simple business ideas to start tomorrow

5 simple business ideas to start tomorrow

Want to start your own business, but still struggling with a good idea?  I’ve compiled 5 simple business ideas that you could get started on straight away.

Each of these ideas is something I’ve popped on a list to consider, or I’ve heard about being a success from others.

Here are my 5 simple business ideas to start tomorrow:

Gin Tours

Two balloon glases and one tall glass each with gin and tonic, ice, lemon and lime

In my local town, there are ghost walks and history tours. I thought a gin tour would be a fab little one to add to the mix. There are plenty of distillery visits on offer, but I didn’t notice any specific tours (although I’m sure some of you will have been on something of this type!).

Speak to some local hostelries and see who would be up for a visit from a group of gin enthusiasts.  (That would at least cover off the licensing laws).  

If you wish to investigate getting licensed yourself so you could serve up the gins in different locations, speak to your local authority and see what’s involved.

Learn the history of gin (mother’s ruin?), brush up on your gin facts and intersperse these throughout your tour.  

Discover what’s produced locally and showcase some local gins, and well as some of your favourites or some wacky new flavour combos.  

Wander around with your group, drinking the odd gin, and having some fun!  

You may need to stick to tonics if it takes off, as I wouldn’t recommend several gins a day as a healthy option, hic!

Treasure Hunts in your local town

These are already in existence, but you could add in your own twists.

A group of people in a huddle on the street each wearing a deerstalker hat

What are your favourite spots in town?

What historic landmarks can you incorporate?

Are there some fascinating history or legends to weave into the game?  

Why not make it child or family-friendly?

Sell packs online or deliver hunts in person.  

Have package options – a short one, a medium one, and a more challenging one. You can charge accordingly. You could add food or drink options and picnics into the mix to maximise your profits or collaborate with other local establishments in your town. People love a package.

Handy Pandy

A younger person's hand over an older person's hand in care/support

So many people need help and support for those odd jobs, running errands, picking up stuff, a bit of good company, and generally you being their handy pandy.

Print some leaflets, pop them through doors, ask friends to tell friends about your services. Do the best you can for each client and watch the word-of-mouth recommendations flow in.

I bet you will be too busy before too long.

You might need to learn quite quickly when to say no.

Book a market stall

Sell something you’ve made.

Piles of pottery small plates in different patterns

If it’s food-related, you will need to register with your local authority and get a number to trade legally. Don’t forget your basics like food hygiene, insurance, etc.

If it’s craft-related and sales are going well, why not consider setting up some workshops teaching others how to do what you do?

Or simply buy stuff and sell it online (Esty, Not on the High Street, eBay etc) or on your market stall.

It can just be a hobby, something you do for fun that earns a few pennies on the side.

It might just turn into something else.

 Run chocolate workshops

 I had to include this one as I have a business opportunity where you can do exactly what I do where you live. 

Two people making chocolates

I’ve created a huge manual of procedures (you don’t have to remember everything). There is a comprehensive training course that includes how to work with chocolate and all the business elements too. Finally, there is ongoing support and encouragement on hand while you navigate your launch and beyond.

It’s a business in a chocolate box – who wouldn’t want to work with chocolate?

If this has made you think I want to do one of the above, but you don’t quite trust yourself to make it happen, I can hold your hand, badger you, convince you when you wobble and generally be a good thorn in your side to get your idea off the ground. Check out my New Dawn programme and see it if might suit you.

What business is right for you?

What business is right for you?

Many people are coming out of the pandemic ready to make a big change, and some of them are looking at starting their own business as an option.

Time for change written in chalk on a blackboard

I’d love to be my own boss, but I don’t know what to do” I so often hear you say!

Let’s explore what business is right for you:

What do you need to stop?

Something is driving your decision to seek to work on your terms.  

Grab a pen and paper or fire up the laptop and sit and write out a list of everything that drives you nuts about what you do now. Work out why you are getting disgruntled and fed up with your current situation.

It doesn’t have to be work-related. Maybe it’s about the lack of flexibility to explore hobbies or be more creative. 

Could it be related to family and wanting more time with loved ones?

Are you unfilled? 

Losing confidence in your abilities? 

Know it’s not the place for you to be anymore?

When does time cease to exist?

Go to that happy place. 

The moments when time hardly exists, you are so absorbed in, and enjoying what you are doing.

Who are the people you are spending time with? How are you interacting with them? What tasks do you manage to complete with great satisfaction? Which hobbies or special interests do you do that fill you with joy or a sense of satisfaction?

What are they, when are they? Write them down and think about exactly what it is you are doing when you are loving the moment.

If you are not sure, keep a diary for a while and identify those things you like to do. Notice those moments and make a note of them.

You dared to dream

Let’s cast your mind back to those days when the world felt like your oyster, you had ideas and ambitions and you always dreamed you would………..

Now fill in the blank.

What jobs/careers/people inspired you and made you want to grow up to be like them?

Add all the jobs/roles/people/industries you ever dreamed of working in.

What have you learned?

Since those early days, you have followed a path, chosen a career, or experienced various roles. You may have also raised a family, been a supporter, carer, played sports, entertained family and friends.

How many skills do you bring to the table?

What do your friends always say you are good at?

Why do they come to you, what advice do they seek?

Write a list of everything you have done and can do and add this to your notes too.

What do you believe?

I’d love to do something but:

  • someone already does it
  • it’s been done before
  • I don’t think it has legs
  • no one would buy that would they
  • I’m a bit too scared
Hugh Laurie quote

How many excuses can you think up to convince yourself not to try a business venture?

What if you dare to try?

Write a simple plan or what you are going to do, how and when, and stick to it. Give it a go and see what happens. You don’t have to leave the day job.

Here are some surprising things you learn about yourself from running your own business.

Imagine it starts to become a success. It may enable you to leave a job you don’t enjoy anymore and focus on doing more of what you do.

When you do decide, let us know what it is and how we can buy it from you.

Still stuck? Here are some great reasons to consider chocolate? These other ideas might also provide some inspiration.

Good luck.

5 reasons you need to say NO

5 reasons you need to say NO

You have started a business. 

Keen to not miss any opportunity, you are agreeing to all sorts of things.  

Here are 5 reasons you need to say NO to make your business a success:

Your time is valuable

Value yourself and your time.  

Lots of stopwatches in a pile in different pastels shades

You will never get a day back again and nothing is as priceless as your time.  

We often waste time and energy on something that doesn’t work out. Learn and move on. Don’t beat yourself up for time wasted but do take the lessons from what you don’t wish to repeat!

Set Boundaries

Set regular time in your diary for growing and developing your business and honour this as if it was the most important event EVER.  

Family and friends do not always appreciate how disciplined we need to be working for ourselves and may think you are available. It’s your job to educate them as to when you are free and when you cannot be disturbed (except in a real emergency).

Some people are just time vampires. Make sure you set boundaries with them and personally. Stick to them.  

Set start and end times for meetings, let the other person know how long they have with you.

Be a good time-keeper, so you are not on the back foot apologising for being late and allowing this to blur boundaries.

Stick to your principles

Why did you start your business?

If you went through my start-up training this is the first module we cover. Without knowing your why, it’s difficult to plot your path, keep to your long-term strategy.

It’s never just about the money. The money is a lovely bonus, but you didn’t start what you are doing just for money. 

There were other reasons involved.

Take a moment to remind yourself of what you want to achieve, and where you want to go.

Are you allowing someone or something to dictate the direction of your business?  Do you need to say no to someone or something, so you stay true to your path?

It’s your choice

You get to choose. 

One of the most wonderful things about running your own business is you get to do things the way you want to.

I work Monday to Saturday but in a flexible manner. Except in exceptional circumstances, I don’t work on a Sunday, as that is my family time. 

During the week, I take time out to do things like play tennis or meet with friends. It’s not full-time Monday to Saturday, it’s when I want to work, factoring in what works for my customers too of course (like a weekend option). Some years ago I stopped offering evening workshops as they made me too tired. I want balance in my life.

You choose when you say no.

Look after yourself

Most importantly, take some time for yourself.  

Flowers

If you need to re-charge it’s so important that you allow some time each week doing those things you love. Exercise, nature, good food and hydration, sleep, quiet time. Whatever it takes – make sure you say no to those things that stop you from looking after yourself.

It’s empowering to say NO. You may find it a little worrying or difficult initially. If you focus on what you want to achieve and stick to your guns, you will find the decision process becomes more obvious.

Until you need to say YES – but that’s a story for another blog!

How to work in some WOW

How to work in some WOW

As a small business owner, you are in a unique position to create some wonderful customer experiences in your business.

Quotation about customer service from Maya Angelou

Make it a top priority, it will reap rewards. 

Here’s how to work in some WOW for your customers:

The J word!

Yes, your customers are embarking on a journey with you.

This experience starts before you know they are looking at you. 

Your business personality, via your website and social media platforms, is providing an impression of you and your services/product.  

Have you created the right impression to attract your ideal clients?

Is the journey to purchase something clear, correct, and delivers exactly what is promised?

Not everyone is ready to buy right now.

How can you ensure you encourage further interaction?

Create a strong business personality

Be you. You may be providing or selling something that many others do too, but no one else is you, so you will bring something unique to the interaction.

People see through fake and quite frankly, we have had enough of that sort of thing – be authentic and customers will love you for it.

Feel the fear often. If you are sharing a story or posting something that brings a little fear into your being, then you are most likely hitting the right note. We are programmed to be reserved, especially in a business setting, but bring your whole self and your customers will feel they have got to know the real person behind the brand.

Keep in Touch

Provide some useful information.  

Write a blog!  

Send out a fact sheet or relevant information that would prove useful for your customers.

Invite them to subscribe to a newsletter – then regularly write to them.

Not everyone is ready to buy when they first meet your business. They may be ready to buy some months down the line.

Keeping in touch provides an opportunity to strengthen a relationship with a potential customer. It may also provide an opportunity for previous customers to buy again.

Be Disciplined

Post regularly on social media channels.

 Deliver the newsletter when you said you would.

Respond quickly to enquiries.

ALWAYS do what you said you would, or explain why you can’t.

Gain Feedback

Ask what people liked and didn’t like about working with you.

Listen to what is being said.

Hone and improve where you think it’s necessary.

Talk about what you have learned, inform clients of changes you are going to make.

Get the basics right

You can provide fancy gifts and make grand gestures as much as you like. If you are not providing exactly what you said on the tin in the first place, then this will fall very flat.

Review the whole journey a customer will experience with your business and ensure that everything works properly.

If you employ staff, make sure you train them properly and empower them to be able to make the right decisions.

The right mindset

As soon as we mention customer service, you start to be bombarded with examples of disasters and sob stories. They might be amusing, or we may learn a lesson or two – but this is not the right mindset for creating some WOW.

Let’s give examples of how a company turned a disaster into a success. Let’s get thinking positively. Most importantly, let’s try and get in the mindset of our customers and focus on their needs and what would make them happy.

A wonderful opportunity

Here’s the great news. You only have to do exactly what you say you will do to win some brownie points from your customers.

Then, and only then can you start to add in some WOW. 

These are little extras that make you stand out from the crowd.

I recently came back from a camping trip. Each night the owner would drive around and deliver giant marshmallows on sticks for the guests to toast on their firepits. She did it with such joy and enthusiasm, we all looked forward to the marshmallow run each evening. Inexpensive, a bit of fun, but a huge tick in the WOW department.

Word-of-mouth recommendations are the holy grail of marketing. Nothing says buy from this company than a friend talking about a great experience.

Here are 100 Ways to WOW that you might find useful!

Chocolate Works Wonders

Heart drawn in chocolate

Add a little chocolate into the mix and you have a wonderful recipe for success.

My Getting Sticky Customers workshop works with teams and business owners wishing to focus their efforts on customer experience and of course, includes chocolate.

“Having time out from everyday work to focus on what we do and why we do it was amazing! The session has reinvigorated my desire to help and wow customers and to make a difference to someone’s day. Dawn is excellent at making you think about things in a different way – lots of light bulb moments for me!”  Sarah Henson, delegate, Solihull

What customer experiences have been positive for you – come and share your story on my Facebook page.

Or maybe this has inspired you to start your own business because you know you’d be brilliant at creating some WOW moments for your customers? Why not give us the opportunity!

7 reasons to try camping

7 reasons to try camping

We love a bit of camping in our family and have travelled all over Europe with our trusty tent.

Two tents, one small, one large with awning.

It was one of the main reasons I started my business.  

I wanted to be able to take the summer holidays off and enjoy them with the children. Camping was an affordable and fun activity that made this possible. We didn’t quite achieve the whole six weeks in our tent, we did have regular three or four-week holidays to wonderful locations. It has created some fab family memories.  

We still love camping!

Here are 7 reasons to try camping (and some of my fav campsites):

You can enjoy nature at it’s best

The top of the list has to be the campsite setting. You are in nature. It’s totally good for you to experience living outside. Enjoying a slower pace of life in wonderful surroundings with all that fresh air. Even if it’s raining, you can sit inside listening to the rain on the tent, playing cards, or reading your book.  

Sunset over sea, with tent in the foreground
Photo courtesy of Troytown campsite

Sunrise, sunsets, watching the wildlife – what’s not to love about that? 

Favourite spot for a glorious sunset – St Agnes, Isle of Scilly – Troytown Campsite.

It’s affordable

Admittedly you need to get your kit together and this can be a bit of an investment at the outset. We opted for a huge tent to accommodate our family of five. We each had a bedroom (more than we had at home at the time) and a huge living space for those rainy moments.

It has given us 10 years of fun and memories (so far) so it was well worth it.

You can stay in wonderful locations, for a fraction of the cost of a holiday rental. The shores of Lake Garda, the mountains in Austria, stunning beaches in Spain!

View of lake, boats and mountains

The best value campsite in a wonderful setting goes to Camping Le Brec in Entrevaux (South of France). 

A natural lake, with a cool bar, swimming, free boats, mountains all around and very reasonably priced!

It’s worth the extra effort

Now, all that wonderfulness comes at the cost of a little more effort.

You need to plan where and when you want to go. In normal times, I will spend January pouring through books and choosing my favourite campsites. Then it’s plotting a route, trying to take in all those things we want to visit/see/do.

Getting all your ‘stuff’ together takes some effort too.

We have boxes of kit stored in our shed now, so we just take it out, give it a quick check, and pop it in the car.

A checklist is a great idea.

We swear by the people that are behind Cool Camping. Such accurate descriptions of sites, really well-researched, in great locations. There are helpful descriptions of the vibe and energy of the site included too. Something for everyone either on their website or in their guide books (I use both).

Although there are lots of more expensive Glamping sites covered now, you can still find affordable gems!

Best books/website:  Cool Camping

Enjoy the community spirit

A friend once quoted a wonderful line:

“If everyone could camp together, the world would be a better place.”

I couldn’t agree more. 

There is such a friendly, community spirit on a campsite. People wandering by, stopping for a chat. Sharing bathroom facilities and chatting while brushing your teeth (that takes some practice!)

We got chatting to a family on one campsite and he was a real gin enthusiast. He revealed his extensive gin bar and send us some samples over one evening. It was just like visiting the cocktail bar, with nice glasses, ice, and all the trimmings!

Most campsites will organise some activities like volleyball, boules, pizza nights, etc. It’s fun and friendly and you can mix in as much or as little as you want.

two marshmallows on sticks in front of a firepit

Camping is a real leveller. 

Everyone is the same and that’s just great.

Most friendly campsite: 

Parke Farm Campsite, Pembrokeshire (free tea/coffee and marshmallows delivered each night)  

The world is your oyster

You pack up the car, and you take off and you can go wherever you are willing and able to drive to.

We’ve visited sites in the UK, France, Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, Spain. When you drive to your destination you get a sense of your bearings, the accessibility of other countries and cultures.  When you jump on a plane and arrive at your destination, you just don’t get the same sense of where you are in the world.

We add the odd hotel stop en route for the longer journeys. You appreciate the luxury of your hotel room for the odd night here and there. We love a quirky hotel stop and try and avoid chains where possible.

Saying that some of the campsites we have stayed in have bathrooms posher than most hotels.

The prize for this has to go to a wonderful site in Austria, Grubhof. The gorgeous site is surrounded by mountains (lift passes up to explore the mountains are free) and with stylish, private bathrooms included too.

Campfire cooking tastes great

Nothing tastes as good as campfire-cooked food! 

We haven’t worked out why, but cooking outside is a lovely experience, and whatever you make it seems to taste better.

We tend to go for one-pot wonders. When you have only two gas rings, you need to get a little creative when you are feeding a crowd.  

There are some fab camping cookbooks you can pop into your kit too.  

A great tip is to make some treats before you leave so that you have some lovely cakes and bakes to hand. 

I have some wonderful chocolate recipes to inspire you.

Spend quality time together

There’s plenty of space, so you can invite your family or friends along too. The great thing is you can enjoy each other’s company and have a lovely sociable time. Eating, drinking, and playing together but then head to your tent for your own space.

Two glasses on a table with a view of the sky

Our great friends have been our camping buddies for many years. We cook independently (there are just too many of us) but time things just right that we can all sit and eat together.  

Cheers to that

You miss the outdoors when you get home, all that fresh air is so refreshing. Having your own bathroom and being back in your bed is very welcome too. It makes you appreciate what you might take for granted otherwise!

Is there anything you’d add to the list? Pop over to Facebook and share your top tips.

Happy Camping.

How to get great results with chocolate

How to get great results with chocolate

It’s all about the chocolate

So many of the problems that people face in their home chocolate creations are because they started with the wrong ingredient!  

They bought chocolate – but not the right kind of chocolate!

If you want to get great results with chocolate, you need to buy great chocolate.

What type of chocolate should you buy?

squares of white and dark chocolate in a pile

Now we’ve all heard about the magic 70%; buying chocolate with 70% cocoa content means that it must be a quality bar. Well in some cases that will be true of course. Just because it has more chocolate in it, doesn’t mean the chocolate is of good quality. Please don’t be fooled by numbers – it’s really about what you like the taste of!

Saying that numbers are important!  You are looking to buy chocolate with a minimum of 30% cocoa content – any less, and you will have real troubles trying to get it to ‘temper’, especially if it contains vegetable fat!

Where can you buy the right chocolate?

I recommend the supermarket’s own brands for home chocolate cooking, they have some really good and more interesting chocolate bars in stock. If you are looking for gourmet, Willie’s Cacao and Valrhona are two quality brands that can be found fairly easily at Waitrose and often good deli’s too.

Gourmet chocolate is making its mark, so if you want to explore some fantastic bars, read my interview with Master Chocolatier Paul A Young for some top tips on the best artisan producers and bars around on the market today.

Can you work with different chocolate?

If you are looking to work with either white or milk chocolate, then you need to ensure that it has a minimum cocoa content of 30%. if you are working with dark chocolate, then usually you will be looking at around 70%.  

chunks of white chocolate

It does depend on the flavour profile of the chocolate, one of my favourites is a 64% cocoa Ecuadorian chocolate which has a great depth of flavour. Taste it first, and see what you think!

You can use 100% cocoa (such as Willie’s cacao) to which you would add more sugar to the recipe! Here’s a dark chocolate cake recipe to try.

Experiment and see what you like best. Use the cheap stuff and you will always struggle to get decent results (your average Cadbury bar has only around 20% cocoa content). If you experience a chocolate disaster, take a look at some tips to remedy things.

Too hot to handle!

Temperature is everything with chocolate!  

Molten chocolate and spoon

If the room is too warm then it will not set properly and you will see dull and streaky results. “Ah, I shall pop it in the fridge then” – I hear you cry! NO! Cool too quickly and this can also ruin your finish!

So, the key thing is to work at a cool temperature, but not too cool! Your room needs to be 20° or below. If you go much above 20° you will start to have problems setting your chocolate.

If you were thinking of making those truffles on the hottest day of the year, think again – or get up very early!  

Chocolate does not like humidity either, so a very wet day can also cause problems. Don’t have the kettle on too often and fill your kitchen with steam!

Once you have made your chocolate creations, leaving them to set at room temperature (provided your room is at the right temperature), in a cool pantry, a shed, or even garage is ideal.

When you have properly tempered your chocolate, leave it to cool at the right room temperature, it will start to set fairly quickly.  

Leave it for around 30mins at least to make sure it’s fully set (more for thicker creations). 

You should see a nice smooth, shiny finish and chocolate that easily pops out of moulds or comes off the surface easily, without any hassle!

Losing your temper with chocolate!

Now chocolate is a fickle friend, and the way we handle the chocolate will be key to getting great results. It’s all about getting a good temper on the chocolate – and each chocolate will have a different tempering point!

Two tanks of chocolate

Tempering chocolate changes the structure of the crystals within chocolate so that we get a nice shiny finish and snap to our chocolate when set. To do this we heat the chocolate to 45° to melt away the main crystals, then cool quickly to a very specific point (usually around 30° to 32°) to make the right crystal present. Sounds very scientific and rather complicated, doesn’t it!   

As chocolatiers, we will usually use tempering machines, temper traditionally on marble, or the seeding method (my preferred choice) where we add fresh chocolate to heated chocolate to cool the chocolate mixture to the right point.  

You are not likely to have access to such expensive equipment, or indeed work with such quantities of chocolate, so read my secrets to successfully ‘tempering’ chocolate at home.

Show us what you made! Come and share your creations over on my Facebook page. Let’s talk chocolate!

7 tips for dinner party panache

7 tips for dinner party panache

In the final part of my guide for hosting the best dinner parties, we are looking at ideas for showing off, some cheats and drinkies darling.

In part one we covered off your pre-event planning. We got down to the menu in part two.

Here are my 7 tips for dinner party panache:

Pre-dinner drinkies

A glass of fizz, a gin and tonic, craft beer, a cheeky cocktail?

What is going to set the mood for the evening?

Bloody Mary cocktail with lime and celery

Which drink will complement your nibbles, or which nibbles will go with your drinks?

For a special occasion, I personally love a cocktail. Have this ready-mixed in a jug to serve, as it can take quite a while to prepare. I’m partial to a Bloody Mary. This is a bit out there as it is not the first choice for many. I even have a wonderfully chocolate-inspired recipe!

 With so many artisan gins on the market, you could buy local and experiment. Don’t forget to get a good tonic – as the advert says, most of a G & T is the tonic!

Depending on your budget, champagne is obviously very glam and definitely show-off! I love many of the fizzes out there. Have you tried pignoletto brut? An excellent Italian sparkle!

Wine & Booze

I’m no connoisseur of wine. 

Four glasses of rose wine on a table

I like to drink it, I’m happy to try things and listen to the advice of others and I know what I don’t like. You can resort to the experts, the supermarket write-ups, do some research if necessary.  

Typically, I tend to stick to white for lighter foods (fish/salads, etc) and red for meat & cheese.  A lovely rose on a summer evening

There are always exceptions – light, chilled reds for example.  

Show-off style is to have your wine paired with each course. Include a dessert wine to go with pud, some port to hand round with the cheese, and a tipple to round off the evening. This might be a single malt, some brandy, baileys, or the latest on-trend tipple.

Some guests will go all out and drink away, others are conscious of the next morning and drink accordingly.  

Which leads us to how much wine you need? Half to one bottle per person is a reasonable guide. If you know drinking habits that will help. How many drivers? Don’t forget some soft drinks for those that are driving home.  

It’s all in the detail

 If you really want to gain wins in the show-off stakes, try some of these:

a loaf of sourdough bread
  • Make your own bread
  • Buy posh butter (the one that costs double and is full of salt crystals)
  • Serve something to cleanse the palate between each course and/or an amuse-bouche (a bite-sized morsel of something delicious before your main course)
  • Include a pre-dessert (little sweet treats which you have before pudding)
  • Ensure all accompaniments are home-made (mayo, mint sauce, chutneys, etc)

Cheating

Buy from the right outfit and you can still show off, even when you cheat.

brownies and raspberries on a platter

I’ve mentioned our local baker already. He makes the best lemon tart I’ve ever eaten. It’s tart, sharp and the pastry is to die for. Only made to order. You can’t walk in a buy one, you have to pre-order it. So we do, and we try and keep it to a special occasion.

You can still add in some homemade biscuits, biscotti, chocolate truffle, even if you have cheated with buying something.

I cheated the other day with some of his brownies and just threw on some raspberries!  

If you have a fab deli, baker, or farm shop why not showcase their wares and treat your guests to something you recommend.

The ambiance

Don’t have every light in the house blazing! You will want to create an ambiance. Some soft lighting, candles, music.

candle in a rounded holder

If you want to show-off you can really go to town on the table. Think about all that you are going to eat, have all the right cutlery in place. Use all your lovely nic naks to make the table look fab. Include a little table gift for each guest, have place names, flowers. 

Don’t forget all the different glasses you need for your drinks (fizz, white & red wine and water). Include butter knives, serving equipment, pretty pots for condiments.    

 Like everything there will be trends for the way to lay a table – take a look online and see what takes your fancy.

Themes/Games

You could theme your dinner party. You might choose to showcase food from a specific culture or country.  

Ask guests to come in costume or fancy dress to support your theme if that would work for you all.

Host a murder mystery party and play the game whilst enjoying your dinner party.

Enjoy Yourself

People touching glasses of various drinks in a cheers motion

Finally, revel in your hostess with the mostess status. You’ve earned it. Be confident in your evening and all the hard work you have put in. Put your glad rags on, don your going-out shoes and enjoy.

Here are 7 tips for dinner party panache:
  • Set the tone – start with a killer cocktail or fancy fizz
  • Pair wines to each course
  • Show-off with the little things
  • It’s OK to cheat – but do it in style
  • Create some WOW with your table
  • Theme your food
  • Enjoy!

 There, you have all my top tips for planning a great dinner party. Have you got any special tricks up your sleeve? Why not pop over to my Facebook page and share your story.

7 tips for planning the best dinner party menu

7 tips for planning the best dinner party menu

In part two of my guide to hosting the best dinner parties, we are dealing with the big deal – the menu.

It’s a bit dry – not a drink in sight. Please don’t worry as tipples, and some great ideas for showing off (and a few cheats) are covered in part 3.

Here are my 7 tips for planning the best dinner party menu:

Canapes/nibbles

Smoked salmon and sour cream on crackers

Push the boat out or open a posh bag of crisps and some nuts? This will depend on what (or if) you are doing for a starter.

If you are just opening some nice crisps, you could make a dip or two to serve with them to make nibbles a little more exciting.  

I sometimes just do posher nibbles/canapes at this stage and go straight to the main at the table rather than a starter too.

What do I mean when I say a posh nibble?

Well, it can be easy like smoked salmon and cream cheese blinis (you can cheat on buying the blinis. 

They are quite simple to make though if you want to be totally home-made).

We have a wonderful local baker that does the best crostini ever. I love to make toppings for these and hand these around with drinks. This might include homemade pesto, crab cocktail, smoked mackerel pate, or tapenade for example.

 There are some really elegant ideas for canapes, and you can spend a lot of time making gorgeous bites of delight for your guests to enjoy. Your call – but it can set the tone for the evening.

Remember to keep things small so they can be popped in, in one bite.

Starters

three dips in white bowls with bread

What’s for main – this will determine what type of starter you want to create?

I love a fishy dishy. 

I would probably avoid this if I’m having fish as a main (although I have been known to opt for double fish when ordering off a menu). I’m the daughter of a fish merchant from Billingsgate. What else would you expect?

 Veggie is perfect as it tends to be lighter and will not likely clash with what’s coming next. Beetroot, mushrooms, salads, fruits and cheese are all great. Don’t get too cheesy if you have planned a cheese course.

Go a little daring with a souffle?

Get ahead with beautiful little tarts, terrines, or a pate?

You can make or buy some wonderful breads and simple dip into quality oil and vinegar.  

I love to make dukka (a middle eastern nut and spice blend that is so simple to make and super-tasty). 

You dip your bread in oil (go for something like rapeseed for this) then into your dukka.

All rather rustic and a bit of fun.

Mains

The star of the show.

Why not take the opportunity to splash out and go full-on farm-shop meat fest, or something special from the fishmonger?

It’s an excuse to try that cut you would never add to the Sunday lunch. Go gourmet with your fish, which is a bit too extravagant for every day. 

If this is the case, you will wish to work the rest of your menu around your very special main. Keep other courses lighter if this will ensure that the main doesn’t get overwhelmed.

I still love to focus on what I can make ahead here, especially with the main course.

Beef goulash in a bowl with a wooden spoon containing pepper

A posh fish pie, a wonderful stew or casserole, a large roast joint, a whole fish. I love to bring something big and beautiful to the table. 

Your sides need to sing in harmony too. What goes well together? Think about colour and textures, what do you need on the plate? Will a decadent potato dish will make the grade? Remember less is more here. 

If you are serving lots of other courses, you don’t need lots of accompaniments too.

You may decide there will not be a star, but a whole host of supporting acts working wonderfully together – a buffet of delights?  

If you need to factor in special dietary requirements – go to tip 7.

Puddings/desserts

If chocolate is your go-to pud, take a look at my top of the chocs for some inspiration. Let’s face it, finish a meal with chocolate and your guests will love you forever.

Is pud your thing or not? 
Chocolate pudding in a glass with blueberries and raspberries

I would probably focus more on the other courses to be honest. I think you can legitimately cheat here too! More on this in the next instalment…..

Make sure the pud compliments everything else. What textures would work well with the rest of the meal? Have you had any pastry yet for example? Do you need something refreshing, something lighter and fruity perhaps?  

You may wish to offer a choice. Have one or two big puds, or instead, a range of mini puds. A trio works well. Make sure each of the puds is a good contrast, nothing too samey.

If they are really good friends, you may find they bring a pud with them and you are totally off the hook.

Cheeseboard

Two cheeses, one soft and one blue cheese

I LOVE CHEESE.  

I also love a good cracker, some like a bit of bread. Don’t forget the grapes, the celery, the chutney, chilli jam, or gorgeous quince paste (membrillo). Have you tried your cheese with cake – this is also delicious. You can get some interesting cake-flavour crackers. There are some really good quality crackers out there, don’t skimp on these if you are showcasing some great cheese.

You can decide if you are being British or French in the order you serve your cheese course.  

I find guests often nibble at cheese throughout the rest of the evening. I often serve cheese last and leave it in the middle of the table. 

If you prefer ‘du fromage’ – then serve your cheese course before pudding.  

It may be that you decide on only fruit and nuts and something nice with coffee, without a big pudding option if you are going all out on the cheese. Yum.

So if I’m being a generalist – I will ensure I have a blue, something soft and smelly, a bit of goat, and something hard like manchego, gruyere, or a really strong cheddar.  

If you can, pop to a local deli and ask their advice about what wonderful cheese they have to recommend. 

Coffee/teas & Petit fours

espresso coffee, biscotti and sugar cubes

I’m partial to a decent coffee and like many have invested in a coffee machine at home. If offering espresso’s these are so nice from the machine – full of wonderful crema. You might wish to go Italian-style and serve in a Moka pot, or a cafetiere. Please don’t serve the instant stuff. After all your hard work in the kitchen, we don’t want the coffee to let us down. Remember to grab some decaf, as some will not want caffeine that late in the evening.

Peppermint/jasmine/camomile teas are lovely and refreshing at the end of the meal. If mint is in season, pop some in your pot/individual cups and pour on boiling water – fresh mint tea is the best.

Even though everyone is full, you can’t beat a little sweet treat with your coffee. Make some truffles, buy a posh box of chocolates or after-dinner mints to hand round.

The veggies (or vegans) are coming

We eat vegetarian food most of the time. At first, I wasn’t overly confident and tended to ‘cheat’ a bit with veggie alternatives. Now I’ve learned to make the veggies the star of the show.  

Salad leaves, pear, lentils and beetroots

I often make a series of smaller veggie things to enjoy together. In the summer, I love to put up a range of salads for example. If I can, I will try and get a little adventurous with ingredients. The dressing can make or break a dish.

 Vegan diets I do find a little more challenging because I can tend to panic about what I can’t do. With a bit of planning and a calm head, there are many wonderful options you can make. There is no excuse not to find great recipes to cater for all dietary requirements and lifestyle choices.

You need to decide if you will serve up different menus or decide on courses that everyone can eat. (I did try to look up the etiquette for this but did not find a definite answer.) It’s about making everyone comfortable, included, and providing a warm foodie welcome.

Check on dietary requirements, allergies, etc, and ask their advice if you are not sure.  

Happy eating – here are 7 tips for creating the best dinner party menu:
  • If you have a fav dish you are dying to try, work the menu around that. Something that you want to do will jump out at you, be that starter, main, or pud. Once you have this element, you have something to work with.
  • Are you having nibbles or canapes?
  • What’s for starter/main/pudding?
  • Any cheese, please?
  • Care for coffee and chocs?
  • Does everything flow, compliment, and go together – do you need to add any texture or colour to the menu?
  • If you are having trouble with inspiration, look at food bloggers and food magazines and get some ideas for what’s on-trend!

In part one we got all your pre-dinner planning underway – now you have inspiration for your menu. Tune in for tipples, showing off, and cheats in the third and final part of my guide.

What are you putting on the menu – come and share on my Facebook page and let’s get chatting about all things food! 

7 Tips for Planning the Best Dinner Party

7 Tips for Planning the Best Dinner Party

As we are allowed to invite guests into our house again, it’s time to dust off those cookbooks and get planning some foodie gatherings.  

There is so much to say, so I’ve broken it down into a handy three-part guide. This is our starter. What to plot and plan before we even get thinking about the actual menu (covered in part two).  

In the final part of my guide, we will finish our dinner party with a flourish. We tackle the booze, some cheats, and most importantly how to enjoy yourself.

Here are my 7 tips for planning the best dinner party:

Confidence Levels

Kneading dough on a floured board

How are you feeling about your forthcoming dinner party? Really on it and ready to show off, or feeling a little rusty in the dinner party cooking department? Be honest with yourself and devise a menu that might push you a little out of your comfort zone, but not too much. If you are worried, then keep it simple (but not too simple, see tip 3 below).

It’s not a Competition

My best friend is one of the best cooks I know. Whenever I go to hers for dinner it is amazing. She’s ambitious in her choice of menu. She creates outstanding food, and she is such a natural at it. I’m not as good as her in the kitchen. I’m more than fine and I do a fab job, but she is just better at it than me. I can find myself worrying about what to serve her when she comes to us. We are not in competition. I have to do my thing, my way.  

Remember it’s not just about the food. It’s the fact that you have been invited out, the ambiance of the evening and blimey, someone is cooking your dinner. Don’t try and be something you are not, your guests will be delighted to have been invited! 

Banish the Spag Bol

plate of spaghetti bolognese

If it’s something you serve up all the time for family dinners, don’t put it on the menu. It’s likely your guests will be eating the same at home too. Let’s change it up a bit. Be a little bit more ambitious in your food choices. Your guests won’t want to come out to eat something they have at home every week. You don’t have to do something super-complicated, but you can try something new(ish), trendy, fresh, and still keep it fairly simple.  

What’s for dinner?

pile of cookery books

This is my absolute favourite bit (as well as seeing friends of course on the big night). Getting out the cookbooks, pouring over recipes, and coming up with the menu is as much fun as the big night for me. I can spend hours pouring over stuff. When I’m happy with the whole thing, I just know. I have to tweak and fiddle until I get that feeling that it’s just right.

Don’t panic, help on menu planning is at hand. I’m going into more detail on the specifics of your menu in part two. You want to aim for balance, texture, interest, variety, colour. For example, you don’t want to serve a monster pie for the main course, followed by a pastry pudding. Think about what accompaniments you can add to the main course to ensure you are not serving up 50 shades of beige!

Most important, and key to the success of the whole thing, is my next tip…….

They came to see you

You have to decide how much time you are willing to be in the kitchen at your dinner party. Maybe you are hosting the outlaws, or your partners’ colleagues and the kitchen is feeling rather appealing!

For me, planning a menu that gives me maximum time with my guests is imperative. I will often not add a dish to the menu if there is too much last-minute faffing. If I’m set on serving up something which does require some effort in the moment, then I will ensure that my other dishes are make-ahead or minimum effort so that I minimise my time in the kitchen overall. It can hamper your choices a bit. That will be your call, however, the more you can do ahead, the more you will feel in control on the big night.

The table plan

Lady laying dinner table

Who are the people you are inviting? Will they get along? Are you aiming to mix in some new friends? This element can be a little out of your control (yes, we’ve all had that awkward experience). You may have every good intention of mixing new people, but you can’t guarantee the chemistry. If you want to ensure a good atmosphere, make sure you mix in some good friends who will come to your aid should the conversation dry up a little.

 Formal/informal on where people are to sit – it’s up to you. You will want to be closest to the kitchen with easy access to and from the table. 

You may wish to mix couples up, so they get to talk to different people.  

Use name places if you want to be more formal about it – there are some lovely and fun options around. 

I have a set with names on like ‘stud’, ‘flirt’ etc, so if you know them well enough that can be a bit of a giggle to get started!

Timed to perfection

Two cartoon chefs beside a clock with an fried egg in the centre

Many years ago, I went to a lovely Sunday lunch, hosted by a London socialite friend who had got a great bunch of interesting people together. It was a lovely summery lunch, with a whole salmon and all the trimmings – but she got her timings so wrong. I don’t know if she forgot to switch the oven on, or if the oven wasn’t working properly. She had oodles of gin of offer and everyone was completely plastered well before lunch was served. We even got sent to the pub for an hour while she got back on track. Needless to say, most of us couldn’t remember the lunch. 

We did have a fabulous time and a real laugh about it and here I am still talking about it today.

You need to decide when you wish to eat your main course and work backward from there.

How long will you allow for drinks/nibbles?

Are you serving a starter? 

Factor in the time required for this, plus a little rest time between courses.

Bear in mind you usually eat later, and people have saved themselves for a bigger meal. You may find you don’t want too many drinks before you eat. I love a pre-dinner drink, nothing tastes quite as lovely. I am conscious I’ve still got to get the meal out!

Once you have served your main course, you can relax and take things a little slower. I sometimes pop the rest on the table all at once. It may not be quite the done thing? If I put the puddings and cheese on together, I can sit back and take a deep breath – all the hard work is done!

In summary, my 7 tips for planning the best dinner party are:
  • How are you feeling?
  • Who are you going to ask along?
  • How much showing off are you going to want to do?
  • What are you not going to serve (maybe you done it before and want something new)?
  • Work out how much time away from your guests is involved.
  • Think about your timings for the night.
  • Get a long list together of potential menu options

In part two of my handy guide to hosting the best dinner parties, we shall be looking at the main event – the menu – in more detail.   

 If you want to discuss food, drinks, and chocolate then please pop to my Facebook page.

Top of the Chocs – five recipes to make at home

Top of the Chocs – five recipes to make at home

I’m sharing my top five fav chocolate recipes for you to make at home:

Sweet and salty crunchy nut squares

Nutty chocolate bars with marshmallows

In at number five, my son’s all-time favourite and the easiest thing to make in the world. The original recipe is by Nigella Lawson from her Kitchen cookbook. You know they are going to be decadent, extremely naughty but so nice! She mentions being inspired by sitting on the sofa simultaneously eating a mixture of salted nuts and chocolate.

You melt a mixture of dark and milk chocolate with butter and golden syrup, then pour this over crushed crunchie bars and salted peanuts – mix, leave to set then cut and eat! It’s totally delicious and sooo simple!

Full recipe

Everyone’s favourite – chocolate brownies

Chocolate brownies

If you’re anything like me, you’ve made 100’s of brownies over the years and probably tasted a fair few too. I like Nigella’s (Lawson again) recipe from her ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess’ cookbook for the best results.

Mix it up and experiment with different flavours. I add white chocolate buttons, or perhaps a mix of white chocolate and cranberries for Christmas! The current fav is to put some coffee, cardamom and caramel choc in the mix. It’s really a really good combination. What would you put in yours?

Full recipe

A truly decadent chocolate cake

Dark chocolate cake with white chocolate shavings

Did you see the documentary about Willie Harcourt-Cooze some years ago on Channel Four? It’s worth a watch – entitled ‘Willie’s Wonky Chocolate Factory’ I don’t know about chocolate enthusiasm, he has a chocolate obsession!

This cake is inspired by one from Willie’s book, Willie’s Chocolate Factory – a Cloud Forest Chocolate Cake. It uses Willie’s 100% cacao (Waitrose currently stock this in their baking section). It’s a solid block of pure chocolate you grate into the cake mix.
It makes a truly deep and wonderfully flavoured chocolate cake, which has no flour!

Full recipe

Mocha mousse

Espresso cups

A little get ahead dinner party treat served in cute espresso cups! My inspiration for this came from the founder and co-owner of Chococo (award-winning chocolate biz based in Dorset) – Claire Burnet. I have a copy of her first book, ‘Chococo – chocolate cookbook’!

It’s rather a rich pud and just a small amount goes a long way. The finished effect is like a little macchiato – and sprinkling the tops with a little coffee powder and some cocoa nibs* mixed together is a very nice finish!
*Cocoa nibs are chopped roasted cocoa beans that you can buy in most supermarkets or a good chocolate shop.

Full recipe


Dinner party wow pud

Chocolate tart
Photograph: Anders Schønnemann/Kyle Cathie, The Guardian

This comes in at No 1 – top of the chocs. Inspired by Master Chocolatier *Paul A Young’s sea-salted chocolate and pecan tart. it really does taste as good as it looks.

I’ve made this a few times, and it never fails to delight. Taken from Paul’s amazing book ‘Adventures with Chocolate’. Go the whole hog, make the chocolate pasty, follow Paul’s directions and use fantastic chocolate and you will be totally bowled over with the result.

*Paul A Young is my favourite chocolatier – read my interview with him!

Full recipe

I hope you enjoy making these. Why not share your go-to chocolate recipes and I can re-create a readers list!

Love to do more than just play with chocolate? My previous blog, five reasons to work with chocolate, may just inspire you!

For further recipes and inspiration pop to my Facebook page

Five reasons to work with chocolate

Five reasons to work with chocolate

Here are five reasons to work with chocolate, although the first one is glaringly obvious, the others you may not have considered:

The biggest and best reason to work with chocolate is that you are…… working with chocolate!

You will never look at chocolate in the same way again – you will discover the amazing world that opens up to you – festivals, experts, academics, tastings, blogs, magazines, events, travel, education, history and developments. 

It’s a funny thing isn’t it, that as soon as you start to pick up on something new, you suddenly see or hear it everywhere.  So, imagine a world where chocolate is your main focus – how good does that sound? 

Once chocolate is your ‘business’ you can legitimately go on tastings, sign up for tasting clubs, go to chocolate events, seminars, talks – visit new shops, try out new products, champion master chocolatiers, understand weird, wacky and wonderful pairings of flavours from the best in the business.

There are always exciting developments too – producers who are supporting farmers to cultivate rare and flavoursome beans, producing exquisite chocolate that tastes like nothing you’ve ever experienced before.

Five reasons to work with chocolate - make some truffles

Supermarkets are selling good quality own brands of chocolate, making it accessible and affordable for all.  The quality chocolate shops are more visible on high streets, and we as consumers are being exposed to more gourmet options (as well as all our old favourites too).

The chocolate world becomes your truffle!

Work with chocolate and notice the amazing affect it has on others

The Latin name for cocoa is ‘theobroma cacao’ which literally means ‘food of the gods’.

It contains tryptophan, a chemical in the brain that is used to produce the neurotransmitter, serotonin.  High levels of serotonin stimulate the secretion of endorphins and produce feelings of elation.  (Serotonin is found in the anti-depressant Prozac, and the designer drug ‘ecstasy’.)

Five reasons to work with chocolate - make people happy

Chocolate also contains a chemical called phenylethylamine – high levels of this neurotransmitter help promote feelings of attraction, excitement and giddiness!

So, working with chocolate and encouraging more people to eat the good stuff actually will make you, and the world, a happier and seemingly more attractive place to be!

We need more chocolate in our lives right now!

Say ‘chocolate’ and it will (almost) sell itself

How do you feel when someone tries to get you to change utility provider?

What about when someone knocks on the door and tries to sell some double-glazing, or cold calls, or leaves a message about that accident (you never had) for claiming compensation?

If you are anything like me, you wonder how anyone does their job if that’s what they have to sell?

Five reasons to work with chocolate - it's easy to sell, we heart chocolate

Now think chocolate!

How easy is it to sell chocolate?  Let me tell you, you don’t have to, it sells itself.

When people ask me what I do and I tell them I work with chocolate, I watch their reaction and it’s totally predictable.   They get all animated and excited and start telling me what chocoholics they are.

They’re sold, just by me telling them what I do, without even having to ask them to consider buying!

At the bank, at the make-up counter, at the hairdressers, at the supermarket, buying a car, the dry-cleaners, shops, schools, travelling.  Everywhere – these are all genuine places I’ve discussed chocolate and people have asked me for my details!

Next time someone asks, “What do you do?”, how cool will it feel to say, ‘I work with chocolate!”

The chocolate calendar is ideal for family life

So how many weeks holiday can you take a year?  What with holiday entitlement and fitting in with colleagues and if you have little ones it’s a constant juggle, a total guilt-trip at times, especially over the long summer holidays. 

the excitement of children making a bag of chocolates

What if you worked to your own timetable?  Being your own boss means you can take holidays to suit the whole family, but here’s how the chocolate calendar works:

  • January:        quiet time to plan the year ahead
  •  February:      Valentine’s Day
  •  March/April: Mothers Day/Easter
  •  May/June:    Birthday and hen party season
  •  July/Aug:      More hen parties and the wedding season –it’s also often a bit hot for choc so ideal for time out with the family!
  • Sept/Oct:     Birthdays/treats and Halloween
  •  Nov/Dec:     the build-up to Christmas

Ideally suited to maximising chocolate sales and enjoying quality family time too! 

Unleash your creative side working with chocolate

Working with chocolate, you can do something totally creative and earn money doing so too.

the wonderful creativity chocolate inspires

Chocolate is luxurious, it’s always been seen as a special treat since it arrived in London in 1650 – definitely not a fad and guaranteed not to lose popularity anytime soon.

People just love chocolate.

It’s tricky to work with, so an amateur at home will experience difficulties, especially when tempering chocolate.   There will always be people looking to a trained ‘expert’ like you for help. 

What you can do with chocolate is endless – making chocolate creations, running workshops, offering tastings, tutorials, cocoa ceremonies and so much more.

What would you do with chocolate?

I’ve covered five reasons to work with chocolate…… why not pop to my facebook page for more chocolate inspiration!

We need to choose to do things that make us happy and fulfilled – everyone deserves to do a job that they enjoy, you may even start blogging about it! What’s not to love about working with chocolate?

100 Ways to WOW

100 Ways to WOW

Making your customers go ‘WOW’ from the service they have received from you will help build loyalty and commitment. You need to get the basics right first. Here are some ideas that might help:

How chocolate makes you feel

100 ways to WOW!

1. Smile – it really does go a mile, even if it’s on the phone you can still hear it!

2. Send a thank you email

3. Even better, send a thank you card, handwritten and sent in the post

4. Pay tribute on Twitter – dedicate a #ff (follow Friday) to them and explain why!

5. Send a link to a video that would make them laugh

6. Send a link to a song that captures something you have shared

7. Send a link to an interesting/funny/relevant article

8. Send cupcakes

9. Even more stand out, send customised cupcakes – a picture of you or them or a message included

10. Send chocolates

11. Send a chocolate slab with a piped message

12. Send chocolates with a logo embossed on them (yours or theirs)

13. Have chocolate business cards created (everyone loves chocolate!)

14. Send flowers

15. Send them a money box with a promise of savings

16. Send them a football (or something related to their favourite sport)

17. Get it signed by their favourite sports personality

18. Do something quicker than you said you would

19. Hand deliver something that you said you would post, say hello

20. Phone and ask how it went (when you know they were exhibiting, speaking, training etc)

21. Wish them a happy birthday on Facebook

22. Send them a birthday card

23. Sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to them – get you/your team to don silly hats and record a version of happy birthday to send

24. Wish them a happy anniversary – and don’t think wedding, think their first year in business, two years since they became a customer with your business

25. Send them a birthday gift

26. Send them a gift for being a loyal customer

27. Send them a business book that you have recently enjoyed – tell them why

28. Invite them to an event

29. Turn up at the airport with a steak dinner (after reading a tweet that they were hungry) – true story from the USA!

30. Blog about them

31. Write an article about their business and publish in your newsletter

32. Buy a roof rack via eBay on their behalf for their camper van (another true story, honest)

33. Send them a cocktail

34. Make them a tea or coffee

35. Fill up your coffee loyalty card and send it so they can claim the free cup

36. Buy them a beer

37. Listen

38. Retweet one of their tweets to your audience

39. Share their event or product on Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn

40. Write a recommendation on LinkedIn

41. Say thank you to everyone that RT’s your tweets

42. Say hello and tell them why you are pleased that they are following you on twitter

43. Send a personal message on Facebook telling them why their post really spoke to you

44. Remember a face and greet warmly using their name

45. Be kind

46. Send something for their pet

47. Deal with an issue yourself, don’t pass someone around the system and don’t let them go until they are satisfied with the outcome

48. Follow up – check to see that they were satisfied

49. Care about them – get in touch about a family or personal issue

50. Put someone in touch with your recommended plumber, builder, electrician and help with a domestic issue

51. Wish them a happy holiday

52. Recommend a good place to visit on their holidays

53. Send them a travel book

54. Send them a map – highlight attractions

55. Recommend a good restaurant

56. Arrange for a bottle of wine to be sent to their table

57. Send tickets for the theatre, museum, theme park (family ones ifapplicable)

58. Recommend a good person to work with them

59. Say sorry

60. Admit to your mistakes, explain what you will do to fix

61. Ask them what they would like by way of an apology

62. Treat them like a visitor to your own home

63. Send them a wall planner – populate with key events/dates

64. Send them a diary or calendar – ditto above

65. Send them a mouse mat with a great message

66. Be helpful

67. Make them a special offer

68. Support their charitable activities

69. Choose to raise funds for a charity that is significant to them

70. Get involved in a community project and invite them to take part

71. Be genuine and honest

72. Be friendly to everyone – whatever their position

73. Introduce people to each other at events – saying something nice about each of them on introduction

74. Have a positive ‘can-do’ attitude

75. No matter how bad a day you are having, keep it to yourself when dealing with customers (it’s not their fault)

76. Don’t react to anger, stay calm and empathise – show you understand and really care

77. Make people laugh

78. Tell a great story

79. Send them a mug – everybody loves a cuppa

80. Send them a t-shirt

81. Send them a baseball cap

82. If you are relying on information from a third party, explain that to the person waiting for your response

83. Send a bookmark, write a personal message on the back

84. Solve their problem

85. Say YES!

86. Record a video saying thank you – upload onto YouTube and send out the link

87. Have some prescription spectacles to hand for people reading your menu (an award-winning restaurant in Leeds does just this!)

88. Body language and posture matter, act like you mean it

89. Personal appearance speaks volumes

90. Send them a prize – best customer of the week, month, year (and why)

91. Put a small bag of sweeties in with each order

92. Start a like-ladder on Facebook and get your community to offer mutual support

93. Make time to think (about ways to show your customers that you really love having them around)

94. Do a little jig

95. If you know them well enough, give them a hug and/or a kiss

96. Have happy music playing in the background

97. Send a lottery ticket

98. Share your values

99. Be so much better than average

Dawn Fry

100. Did I say SMILE?

101. Don’t stop there . . . .

Hope you found this list fun and useful and that it prompted at least one good idea!

Do tell me how you got on, it’s always great to get feedback on WOW moments.

Me, Chocolate and Channel 4

Me, Chocolate and Channel 4

Chocolate has created some amazing opportunities for me personally. It’s amazing what the world of chocolate can open up for you.

I’ve regularly been featured in the local & national newspapers, including The Sun and The Independent. Been a guest on various radio shows and yes, even appeared on TV.

Here’s a little true story about me, chocolate, and Channel 4

Just say YES

Choclate key with the words success written on it

My first experience of TV was as a guest on Gala TV.

A scout approached me via email as they wanted a chocolate expert to chat with the presenter. I was a bit scared, but I said yes anyway. You have to feel the fear regularly and this definitely fit the criteria!

Gala Bingo

While clients are playing bingo, they have celebrities (not me) and specialist guests (that’s me) to talk about various topics of interest. I asked what to wear (no green) and told me to put on more make-up than usual! 

Ushered into a tiny studio, miked up, then told which camera to talk to.  

As I was scared to look at the wrong camera, I think I was a bit wooden at first. Once I got chatting about chocolate and getting the presenter to take part in a chocolate tasting I was in my stride.

I was a guest on numerous occasions for Gala Bingo and it was always great fun.

Channel 4

On my way for another visit to the lovely people at Gala TV, I was on the platform waiting for my train to London.

My mobile rang and the voice at the other end said:

“Hi, it’s Simon here from Channel 4 are you free to talk.”

Now I just presumed this was a wind-up. I’d been teased a bit about my appearances on Gala Bingo. Here I was on my way to Gala TV and I was convinced someone was pretending to be from Channel 4.  

So, I said rather sarcastically:

“Yeah, sure it’s Channel 4, now who is this?”

The rather offended reply came back:

“This really is Channel 4, we are doing a ‘small spaces’ special with George Clarke and wish to consider your summerhouse in the ‘shed of the year’ competition!”

Whoops, back-pedaling quickly – I made all the right noises and listened to what was required.

Opportunity Knocks

What a fabulous potential opportunity. I couldn’t believe the irony of heading off to London to appear on TV and being approached by another TV company!

Now despite numerous phone calls, copious form-filling, and being ‘available’ on certain dates, I didn’t get a visit from the lovely George Clarke or the film crew.  

I think the researcher was a big fan of chocolate and thought what better than to consider a visit to me for ‘shed of the year’ and lots of chocolate tasting.

Shed of the Year

Large shed in the garden with the double doors open

This is a fabulous competition. If you have seen any of the finalists over the years, people have created incredible spaces to work in. I love my shed full of chocolate, but I’m not sure it could compete with some of those entries.

She Sheds

Summerhouse in the sunshine

I did get contacted again by Channel 4 a couple of years later. This time for a pilot that was to be hosted by Davina McCall. She wanted to do a feature of what women were doing in their sheds. The shed was no longer considered the domain of the man only. Women were doing some amazing things in their spaces too.

At the time of writing, I didn’t hear further.

Once you say yes to an opportunity, who knows what might happen next!

How to be the best teacher

How to be the best teacher

Tales from the chocolate tank – part 2

I visit lots of primary schools, running chocolate workshops for classes.

You can imagine the excitement when a visit from ‘the chocolate lady’ is on the cards!

How to be the best teacher?  Just add chocolate – look at what you can do:

The history

Astec drawing

Chocolate has a fascinating past. Originally thought to be discovered by Mayans. It was so valued; it was used as currency at one point. Emperor Montezuma would throw lavish banquets, where many jugs of chocolate were served. Shocking fact: women were not allowed to drink it! (You can imagine how that fact is received in class!)

The geography

Chocolate is grown in exotic and faraway places. It needs a particular climate to survive, which is only found close to the equator. 

The science

The art of working with chocolate is real science. Learning about the crystalline structure to allow it to be tempered. The science community is still learning facts about this magical substance. As chocolatiers, learning this element of working with chocolate is crucial for success.

The process

Cacao beans

We cover the bean-to-bar story. Harvesting pods from the trees, fermenting, drying, and shipping the beans. Then what happens to turn the beans into chocolate. 

It’s food that everyone loves, and the process is complex and fascinating to learn. Of course, I throw in a tasting for good measure!

The design

chocolate lollipop with sprinkles

Children are designing, making unique hand-made lollipops as well as creating chocolate bars wrappers on paper and harnessing Willy Wonka powers!

I enjoy going into schools, the children are truly original and creative in their designs. 

They ask lots of wonderful questions, and they are so affectionate and funny too.  

Pupils will constantly come up to me and throw their arms around me and tell me ‘You’re the best teacher we’ve ever had! Or ‘I love you, Miss’.  It is amazing the effect a tank of chocolate has!

Depending on their age, I might help them create a lollipop. They let me know the design they are thinking of, then I just help with the outline. Best request from a young man was:

“Miss, can I have me, in my car driving along, with my dog with his head out of the window and his ears flapping in the wind?”

Everyone is Equal

One of the things I love the most about working in schools with the children is the way that the chocolate projects are completely inclusive. The abilities of the children in a class are often very varied. Lots of extremely bright and capable children and a few that find things a struggle.

The sense of achievement that you get from helping every child make something original and delicious is rewarding. The compliments often come from the children that struggle the most, as they were able to take part and enjoy their chocolate project as much as everyone else.

What a wonderful way to spend my time – helping, inspiring and having fun. A large cuppa is required when you get home. There are more reasons to work with chocolate than you imagine!

Follow other tales from the chocolate tank, including the odd disaster.

Thank you to all the teachers out there – you are the best. You may have some lovely/funny stories (with or without chocolate)? Pop over to my Facebook page if you want to share!

Tales from the Chocolate Tank (part 1)

Tales from the Chocolate Tank (part 1)

I’m not so keen on telling this story, as the re-telling brings back ‘bad’ memories.

Two tanks of chocolate

Most of the tales from my chocolate tanks bring back happy memories, inspiration, and joy. I will be sharing more tales in future blogs, so watch this space!

I’m kick-starting my tales with a total chocolate-disaster though darling!

It’s all in the planning

I was booked for a corporate chocolate team-build, and I always check the venue and access beforehand. I had some concerns as there was no on-site parking, but I was assured of a loading bay for access.

On arrival, the loading bay was blocked. As time was ticking on, I had to find somewhere else to park. The nearest alternative was a multi-storey car park. I found a spot and told the venue I had arrived. I was unloading my car when it all went very wrong!

Disaster struck

In case of access issues, I had bought a trolley (premonition on my part?). Including my large chocolate tank, I loaded up the trolley and set off.

Two paces from the car, the whole trolley load fell to the ground. My chocolate tank toppled off the top, spilling all its contents (eight kilos of molten chocolate) all over the car park floor.

Not only did it spill, but it also splashed all over my body and clothing leaving me dripping in chocolate and a total mess.

I couldn’t deliver the event for the client at all. Even if I had gone along and ‘made do’ with the other chocolate activities we had planned I was unfit for purpose. Covered head to toe in chocolate is not the best look!

Honesty is the best policy

I phoned and explained what had happened, and to my shame I even found myself getting upset on the phone. It was only a fun thing for them, but I always wish to deliver what I promise and I was truly devastated to let my client down.

Of course, I offered their money back and to do the event on another day. To their utter credit, they just asked me to make the chocolates on their behalf and deliver them at a later date. No question of me giving them a refund. How kind is that? Of course, I bought an extra treat for each of them and popped that in their bags of chocolates too.

Meanwhile…..

Back at the car park, kind people were coming up to me and asking if I was OK. Snivelling, covered in brown ‘stuff’ – how brave were they to approach me at all!

The icing on the cake came when a lady driving a huge 4 x 4 drove straight through the chocolate puddle and got me covered in even more chocolate. Without even a backward glance – it was the final straw!

So I packed up my wares and headed out of the multi-storey, only to find that I had forgotten to validate my car park ticket in the mayhem. Getting out of my car to go and see the attendant, he saw me approach, took one look at me immediately opened the barrier. I thanked him and said, “I think you will find there is a bit of chocolate on Level 3”!

It was a great to experience how good people are when you are honest, open, and do your best for them, despite the difficulties you are facing! I have also definitely learned from this rather messy mistake.

It’s also provided a good few laughs at a dinner party or two – you can borrow it if you like, but I don’t recommend repeating the experience!

Come and tell us your funny stories over on my facebook page.

Chocolate’s on the menu

Chocolate’s on the menu

Of course chocolate’s on the menu, but usually as your favourite dessert.

Have you considered trying chocolate in all your dishes, both savoury and sweet?

Rabot 1745

Head to Borough Market in London and you will find this little chocolate gem of a restaurant.

Restaurant Rabot 1745 is part of the Hotel Chocolat empire, and in fact there is a shop and cafe beneath the restaurant if you just want a hot chocolate and a chocolate treat.

Book a table at the restaurant and you will find every course includes chocolate, even the mash! It’s a wonderful experience and well worth a trip.

Read on to see what I chose from the menu…..

One for the Bucket List

The London restaurant is inspired by the original, located on the island of St Lucia in the Caribbean. You can visit the Rabot Estate, stay in the boutique hotel, book yourself and tree to bar experience, and eat in the restaurant.

It’s definitely on my bucket list when the world opens up again. In the meantime, if you can make it to London you can try the next best thing.

Head to the Toilets!

If you want to get into the mood, then firstly head to the toilets. You can hear cicadas (piped into the loos) and (almost) imagine you are in a rather more exotic location.

A great first impression

Once you sit down you are greeted with a small plate of freshly roasted cacao beans from the St Lucia Estate. They are wonderful, and really set the tone of the evening.

The menu

I started with a bread and dip selection, that included cacao pesto & cocoa infused oil. It was really tasty.

Next I opted for some fish that included a cocoa nib crust. Chocolate is quite savoury in it’s natural state, so it did not seem odd for the fish to have a cocoa addition at all.

We had to try the mash as we’d heard it talked about by others. A white chocolate-infused mash sounds quite disgusting, but i can confirm it was delicious.

A trio of chocolate mousse

Of course, by the time you get to pudding, it’s all very familiar territory, but I opted for a trio of mousse which showcased different strengths and styles of chocolate and it was truly decedent and another scrummy dish. Sorry that I took the picture after I’d eaten a bit too much, there definitely should have been a before shot!

The menu changes with the seasons, so why not take a look and see what you would choose!

If you decide to visit, don’t forget to pop to my facebook page and tell us about your experience.

What’s was on your chocolate menu?