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.

Decadent Chocolate Tart

Decadent Chocolate Tart

Chocolate and pecan tart
Photograph: Anders Schønnemann/Kyle Cathie – The Guardian

For the chocolate pastry

  • 175g butter
  • 75g golden caster sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 250g plain flour
  • 20g cocoa powder

For the filling

  • 200g Madagascan 64% dark chocolate, broken into pieces 200ml whipping or double cream (whipping cream gives a slightly lighter texture)
  • 200g light muscovado sugar
  • 10g Maldon sea salt

For the topping

  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Maldon sea salt
  • 100g pecan halves

For the pastry; cream together the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and 35ml water and mix well. Then add the flour and cocoa powder gradually until a paste is formed. (If you prefer, this can all be done in a mixer or food processor.) Wrap the pastry clingfilm and pop in the fridge for an hour.

Roll out the pastry until it is about 5cm bigger than your tart tin (your tin should be 24 cm diameter by 2.5cm deep) – sprinkle the surface with flour to avoid it sticking! Line your tin with the pastry, then pop it back in the fridge for another 15 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 180°C. Blind bake your pastry for 20 mins (line the tart with baking parchment and add your baking beans). Lift out the beans and bake for a further 5 + minutes, until the base is dry. Allow to cool.

For the filling; put the chocolate, sugar and sea-salt in a glass bowl – place it over a pan simmering water, ensuring the bowl is not touching the water, and melt together, stirring until glossy and thick. Pour onto your pastry base and once cooled, pop back in the fridge for two more hours.

For the caramelised nut topping; heat a saucepan until warm and add the sugar, gradually mixing until you have a golden liquid caramel. Add the salt, give it a good stir. Pour in the pecans and, mixing thoroughly, quickly pour the mixture onto a parchment sheet and spread out. Allow to cool completely, then break or chop up the nuts into shards or chunky pieces to sprinkle over the tart.

Dawn Says
Dawn Fry

This is so rich, and so amazing, making your taste buds really zing. If you want to offer a bit of a show-off dessert and really please your chocoholic friends – this is the pudding for you. It needs a lot of cooling time, so you may wish to start the day before, making the pastry element ahead of the rest.
Inspired by the recipe Sea-Salted Chocolate and Pecan Tart from ‘Adventures with Chocolate’ by Paul A Young

This is number one is my top of the chocs recipes to make at home. For more inspiration pop to my facebook page.

If you love chocolate, have you ever considered what it might be like to make chocolate your business?

Mocha Mousse

Mocha Mousse

assorted espresso cups
  • 75g dark chocolate
  • 25g dark muscovado sugar
  • 1 tablespoon espresso (strong, freshly brewed)
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 50g white chocolate
  • 80 ml whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon roasted coffee beans
  • 1 teaspoon roasted cacao nibs

Put a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water, ensuring the bowl is not touching the water – melt the dark chocolate and remove from the heat, allowing it to slightly cool.
Make your espresso, and dissolve the dark sugar in one tablespoon of coffee. Leave to cool.
Using the egg yolks (you will use the egg whites later), whisk these in a large bowl and add the melted chocolate and coffee.
In a separate bowl (ensure the bowl is clean and grease-free) whisk your egg whites until they form stiff white peaks. Gently fold in the chocolate/coffee mixture, folding this in gradually with a metal spoon.
Divide this mixture between your espresso cups (it will make 6 – 8 cups, depending on their size). Pop these in the fridge to set.
Now melt the white chocolate (in the same way as the dark chocolate earlier). Allow this to cool. Pour your cream into a bowl and whisk until it forms soft peaks (do not over whisk as this will make the mixture too stiff). Fold your white chocolate into the whisked cream. Spoon this onto your chilled mocha mousses. This looks like the ‘crema’ on your coffee!
Finally, crush your coffee beans and cacao nibs in a mortar and pestle and sprinkle on top of each mousse. Chill the mousse until required. It’s good to allow them up to room temperature again before you eat them, and they will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.

Dawn Says
Dawn Fry

The brilliant thing about these is you can make them ahead, and they look so pretty when you serve them. I like to use different espresso cups and have an eclectic mix on the table. I might have odd sizes too so you can cater for those that can manage a little more than others!
Inspired by Macchiato by Claire Burnet from her debut book ‘Chococo chocolate cookbook’.

This is number two in my top of the chocs recipes to make at home. For more inspiration pop to my facebook page.

If you love chocolate, have you ever considered what it might be like to make chocolate your business?

Dark Chocolate Cake

Dark Chocolate Cake

Dark chocolate cake with white chocolate shavings
  • 180g 100% cacao chocolate, grated
  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 6 eggs
  • 50 light muscavado sugar
  • 125g golden caster sugar
  • 100g ground almonds

For the icing:

  • 250ml double cream
  • 75g golden caster sugar
  • 90g 100% cacao chocolate, grated

Preheat the oven to 170°C.
You will need a 25cm springform cake tin, lined with baking paper.
Put a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water, ensuring the bowl is not touching the water – melt the grated chocolate and butter together and remove from the heat.
Beat the eggs with the two sugars (using your mixer preferably) until pale and doubled in size.
Once cooled, gently stir the melted chocolate into the eggs with a large metal spoon, and then fold in the ground almonds.
Pour the mixture into your tin and bake for 35 mins, or until a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave the cake to cool in the tin.
To make the icing, heat the cream and sugar together until it comes to a light simmer. Remove this from the heat and wait one minute (exactly, put the timer on!). Stir in the grated chocolate until it has melted. Leave this to cool and spread over the cooled cake. You can add shavings or other adornments to your finished cake as you wish.

Dawn Says
Dawn Fry

There is no sweetness in the chocolate as it is 100% cacao. You can add more sugar to taste. You can buy 100% cacao in most supermarkets. Look in the cooking aisle instead of the chocolate section. It does give a wonderful full chocolate flavour. I love the intensity as I prefer things less sweet!
Inspired by the Cloud Forest Chocolate Cake in Willie Harcourt-Cooze’s book ‘Willie’s Chocolate Factory’

This is number three in my top of the chocs recipes to make at home. For more inspiration visit my facebook page.

If you love chocolate have you ever considered what it might be like to make chocolate your business?

Chocolate Brownies

Chocolate Brownies

Chocolate brownies
  • 375g soft unsalted butter
  • 375g dark chocolate
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 500g caster sugar
  • 225g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 300g chopped walnuts (in original recipe – I replace these with more chocolate!)

Preheat the oven to 180°C
Line your tin with baking paper (approx 33 x 23 x 5 1/2cm for this quantity).
Melt the butter and chocolate together on low heat, in a large heavy-based saucepan. Give it a stir now and again and once melted, remove from the heat to cool.
In another bowl beat the eggs with the sugar and vanilla – set aside.
Measure your flour in (yet) another bowl and add the salt.
Pouring the melted chocolate mixture in a slow and steady stream, beat into the eggs and sugar mixture (make sure the chocolate has cooled enough before you do this element)!
Now add your flour and stir to mix.
At this point, I mix it up a bit. I don’t add nuts to my brownies (I love them but the rest of the family prefer more chocolate) if you were using the nuts you would add them now!

Try adding 100-200g of chocolate buttons instead of nuts (depending on the quantity you are making). This might be white, caramel, or ruby chocolate. Dried cranberries and white chocolate are good at Christmas.

Why not try a coffee, cardamom, and caramel combo – it’s delicious?
Dissolve a heaped teaspoon of coffee granules in a tablespoon of hot water (or use coffee essence to taste). Add this to the melted chocolate mixture when you remove it from the heat. Split 4-5 cardamom pods and extract the seeds, grind the seeds in a pestle and mortar and add with the flour and 100g of caramel chocolate buttons.

Combine well and then pour into the lined tin.

Bake for about 25 minutes. I usually check after around 20 mins – if you bake them too long, they lose the gooey essence that makes them brownies.
When it’s ready, the top should be dried to a paler brown crackle (they will cook a little more as they cool). Pop on a cooling rack and enjoy the smell that fills the kitchen.

Dawn Says
Dawn Fry

I never make this much – I usually halve the recipe. Sometimes I even do a third – otherwise, I’ll eat them all. I’ve taken to writing the different quantities in my cookbooks. I don’t have to keep working the difference out every time!
Inspired by Nigella Lawson’s brownie recipe as appears in ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess.’

This is number four in my top of the chocs recipes to make at home. For more inspiration pop to my facebook page.

If you love chocolate, have you ever considered what it might be like to make chocolate your business?

Chocolate Crunchy Nut Squares

Chocolate Crunchy Nut Squares

Chocolate crunchy nut squares with mini marshmallows
  • 200g dark chocolate
  • 100g milk chocolate
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 3 x 15ml tbsp golden syrup
  • 250g salted peanuts
  • 4 x 40g Crunchie bars
  • 1 baking or foil tray, approximately 30 x 20 x 5 cm. (if using a baking tray, line with parchment or greaseproof paper)

Add chopped chocolate, butter, and syrup to your saucepan and place over low heat. Bash up your crunchies, measure out your salted peanuts and mix together in a separate bowl. Pour the melted chocolate mixture over the nut/honeycomb mixture, stir well and pour into your tin. Smooth out (add extra goodies if you wish, like mini marshmallows or edible glitter) and leave to cool. Once cooled, pop in the fridge for a few hours, then remove and cut into squares. Bet you can’t eat only one square!

Dawn Says
Dawn Fry

Use good quality chocolate. Minimum of 70% cocoa for the dark and 30% cocoa for the milk chocolate. You can buy some supermarket own-brand chocolate for this.
I buy honeycomb in chunks for my chocolate workshops – so I use this instead of buying Crunchie bars. I add a little extra milk chocolate too to compensate!
Inspired by Nigella Lawson’s Sweet and salty crunch nut bars, as appears in ‘Kitchen’

This is number five in my top of the chocs recipes to make at home. For more inspiration pop to my facebook page.

If you love chocolate, have you ever considered what it might be like to make chocolate your business?

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?

Creating some ‘WOW’ requires more than just chocolate!

Creating some ‘WOW’ requires more than just chocolate!

I love people (and chocolate too of course) which is why I created The Melting Pot. Creating the best possible experience for customers is a true passion of mine. A workshop environment provides a golden opportunity to really cherish every guest and ensure they leave happy (with bags filled with chocolate)!

A group of people at a hen party

The Customer Journey

The experience itself is just one part of a journey for my customers – one that starts long before I’m aware of their presence. They will be experiencing my business via my website and social media platforms. I must build a relationship with them (whether they decide to take part in a workshop or not). I need to keep in touch over a period of time, strengthening our connection until they are hopefully ready to buy.

Your Business Personality

I work hard at creating the right business personality for The Melting Pot. This involves first impressions. The way I present myself and my business. How I act on social media, my writing style, aiming for quick response times, sending regular newsletters, and of course, my workshops. I’m fascinated by learning more so I always ask for feedback too. Gaining insights from my customers means I can continually review, hone and improve what I offer.

Getting Sticky Customers

One business entrepreneur once said to me “I want what you’ve got in your business – I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, but I want it in mine.”

Never one to pass up a challenge, I set to identify all the elements that go into creating a great customer experience.

I created a workshop called Getting Sticky Customers. We cover all the basics on getting good at creating the best customer experiences and I added chocolate into the mix too! The aim is to get our customers to stick around while we might get a little sticky with the chocolate too.

What makes great customer experience?

My aim is on building the best relationships with clients (and creating a ‘WOW moment’ now and again to really make me stand out from the crowd). It starts by doing exactly what it says on the tin. If you mention it, it needs to work in the way it’s described/expected. Simples but so many companies don’t do this. Until this element is nailed, don’t bother trying to make your customers go WOW as it won’t work.

In my opinion, it’s not about theory, spouting statistics on customer retention, and yet more examples of bad customer service stories (yawn, we’ve heard them all before). It’s about getting in the right mindset, sweating the small stuff, and noticing examples of what we CAN DO to create some WOW moments for customers. It’s about getting inspired!

Mindset Matters

Quotation from Maya Angelou

I believe the biggest factor is my mindset – how much genuine emphasis I put on making things the best for my customers really matters. If anyone is going to part with their hard-earned money and spend it with me, I really care that I do my best for them. That has to come above anything else.

Then I keep a close eye on all the operations, customer interactions, and managing expectations. If you spell out how something is going to work, the customer understands the process and is not left to worry. The way I act on the phone, at events, such as conferences or networking, face-to-face meetings, and via written word all count. I am always the face of the business in whatever setting I am in.

I need to ensure the basics are working properly first – it’s as simple as doing what I promised I would. If I can’t do that I need to hold up my hand and explain why. I then need to keep in touch and keep the customer informed of what’s happening and when to expect a result (or not). Only then can I look at how I might create some WOW for customers.

This has to be done authentically, and I have to be myself, albeit a ‘business-personality’ style version of me! Don’t try and be false, or act in a way you can’t sustain. That’s just exhausting and people will see through it eventually.

Add Chocolate

Mention chocolate and some of the work in getting people excited is done for me, I do agree. But get the experience wrong or treat the customers badly and no amount of chocolate will win them over.

If you are interested in working with chocolate, here are five reasons that might be of interest!

Chocolate therapy

Chocolate therapy

I welcome groups of people to my chocolate tanks.  There are two tanks, each of which holds up to eight kilos of molten chocolate that has been tempered prior to their arrival and is ready for chocolate-making.

Two tanks of chocolate

Chocolate aroma

The first thing people remark on is the smell.  The whole space is filled with the aroma of chocolate!  We do some fun activities at the outset, and people are giggling and letting their guards down, then finally we start to dip fillings into the chocolate tank. 

Chocolate trance

It’s quite amazing the effect this has on everyone.  As they dip, they reach a level of calm.  The sensation of dipping, smelling and making chocolates seems to seep into each of them and they relax completely.  They open up and share stories – the dipping process has a totally therapeutic effect on them. 

You can’t hide

Each participant places the chocolates they have made onto their mat and this shows their personality – without fail.  They might start with neat lines and order, but eventually they will reveal their true identity by the way they place and decorate their creations.  It’s quite something to witness!

I often refer to this element of the workshop as ‘chocolate therapy’! It amazes me every time and is a total privilege to offer.   It’s so rewarding to see the positive and rather magical effects chocolate has on people.

Sometimes life can be very harsh – for instance, I’ve worked with children who are unable to be in mainstream education and their short lives have already been difficult and complicated, but still the magic of chocolate will weave its spell and create a small moment of peace, calm and creativity for them. 

The healing powers of chocolate

A daughter bought her mother to me.  They had lost their husband/dad almost a year ago and the mother had hardly been out of bed.  Her daughter booked the workshop just to try and help her mum as the first anniversary approached.

We had a magical morning, working with others enjoying ourselves, being creative, supportive and having a bit of fun.  They were almost in tears as they left saying how good the experience had been for them.  What an honour to have helped in some small way in such circumstances.

Squeak, squeak

Often the excitement is palpable. 

A lady treated her best friend to a workshop for a significant birthday and didn’t reveal the surprise until they arrived.  I’ve never heard so many squeals, her total delight was present throughout her whole experience and it was completely infectious. 

Imagine making someone so happy and excited – it’s a wonderful feeling.

So working with chocolate goes far deeper than you could imagine and continues to be a total wonder to me – the way it can help, encourage, support and excite others is just incredible!

Catch up with other chocolate stories on my Facebook page.