Cooking up ways to offer better service

Demshar’s Chef Danny Connolly shows local residents how he mixes together the ingredients to make the dressing for an Arugula Red Beet Salad with Lemon Dijon Vinaigrette during a cook demonstration on Friday.

Paul and Linda Hodge sat down in the back of a side room at Legacy Restaurant at Nancy Lopez Country Club on Oct. 14 at lunchtime. They weren’t there for a midday meal, but to hone their own culinary skills. The restaurant was hosting a cooking class for more than a dozen attendees. Multiple local businesses, from retail to restaurants, offer classes providing their customers an opportunity to learn something new. Woof Gang Bakery & Grooming has held grooming workshops, Starbucks employees teach people about its coffee at workshops held at Captiva Recreation Center and Demshar’s hosts its own cooking classes.

These experiences are part of a larger business trend called customer centricity, which is where businesses provide additional experiences beyond their normal products or services, according to Peter Fader, a professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania.

Customer centricity is gaining more attention in the business world. Fader has received an increasing number of inquiries about customer centricity, and it was a topic at the National Retail Federation’s conference earlier this summer.

Examples include holding a class, like Legacy did, or a customer appreciation day. These events aim to please regulars and get the attention of potential customers.

Joe and Kelli Carvalho, the owners of Corkscrew Winery, hold make-your-own wine and beer classes as part of their regular business, but also recently hosted a paint-and-sip class and a cider-brewing demonstration.

Classes like this attract new customers by piquing their interest in the subject — like cider or painting — even though they might not know of the winery.

Corkscrew’s owners have received positive feedback from the events they’ve already hosted. Kelli said she would enjoy having a yoga-and-wine event in the store in the future, and they’re working out how to make it possible at The Villages’ location.

“I love seeing people have fun,” Kelli said.

Legacy general manager Joe Suleiman has found in addition to bringing in new customers, classes can reinforce the connection they have with existing ones.

The restaurant started offering cooking classes about three months ago. The Oct. 14 class had several residents who’d attended a previous class.

People don’t cook with the chef in the cooking classes Legacy holds. Instead, they watch and learn as the chef prepares three courses at a mobile station with a mirror above him so people can view each step of the process.

Chef Maurice Bichette showed the group how to prepare dishes like chicken in puff pastry, lamb-stuffed manicotti and an apple tart. At the start of the lesson, each student was given the recipes for what he was making, and through the session he gave suggestions about ways they could personalize the dishes and tips on how to prepare it at home.

As he finished a recipe, the restaurant’s servers brought out portions of the dish for the students to sample themselves. Suleiman then asked the group for feedback about what types of classes they’d like to see in the future.

Linda said she considered Bichette’s course very informative, and Paul thought he was very entertaining, even if his favorite part of the event wasn’t the chef.

“I gotta be honest,” Paul said, “it was the dessert.”

The Hodges, of the Village of Piedmont, said they liked the chef’s suggestions and they’re likely to use some of his ideas in the future.

In centricity, business owners evaluate the interests of their regulars and ways to incorporate them. Owners work harder to build relationships with the customers they see frequently, which Fader said is more natural for small businesses.

“We can stay ahead of the pack with the relationships we foster,” Fader said.

Fader also said customer centricity is a way to combat rising digital competition. Websites might be able to predict what people will buy based on what they’ve bought in the past, but they can’t bring an extra biscuit to the table where a regular is eating or place a special order for someone who needs it.

“It’s not just about having data,” Fader said, “It’s being able to act on it in a meaningful way.”

Demshar’s has cooking classes twice a month. People can sign up by going to Demshar’s or by calling 352-633-3007.

People can find more information about Starbucks workshops by checking the Recreation Social Calendar at districtgov.org.

Legacy Restaurant at Nancy Lopez has two cooking classes every Monday afternoon. People can sign up by calling 352-753-1475 or emailing josephsul.legacy@gmail.com.

Staff writer Amber Hair can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5284, or amber.hair@thevillagesmedia.com.