<em>Experience</em >: CHOCOLATE Logo

A Different Agenda

Boston Business Journal
August 10, 2007

by Naomi R. Kooker


Client entertaining -- it's all about lunch at the latest power spot, right? Not necessarily. We look at a few meeting and entertainment ideas that are a little bit off the beaten path.

Bruce N. Anderson knows the power of a chocolate and wine tasting. He has, after all, hosted these do's for 25 business clients. There's nothing like a good chocolate-and-wine combination, he says, to build and solidify relationships. It's an ice-breaker, encouraging flow of communication with strangers. And if you're not careful, it can blow your gustatory mind.

"This is embarrassing, but I hardly even knew there was a difference between chocolates," said Anderson, CEO of Wilson TurboPower Inc., a Woburn company that produces a power-generation turbine with technology from MIT.

"It's probably the most memorable and talked-about event that I ever hosted or attended," he said. "I thought they were all created equal. I've always been sort of a milk chocolate guy, and I was totally transformed that night."

It's become his client-entertainment venue of choice. It's no power lunch -- but that's the point.

Gone are the long, drawn-out events with passed hors d'oeuvres and the nine holes of golf. More and more, event planners, hosts, CEOs and anyone who wants to engage, impress, woo or just plain get to know clients are looking for new and different ways to do so. The new trend is to hold events in unique venues, make them brief, small, memorable and somewhat interactive so attendees can get to know each other without staring down at the "HELLO! MY NAME IS ... " name tag. Less food, environmentally friendly sites and a touch of edginess are in.

The Boston Business Journal has compiled a short list of client-entertainment ideas that might be a bit ... off-topic...

THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT: Chocolate tasting.

WHERE TO DO IT: Experience: CHOCOLATE LLC, Boston, 617-840-4766, www.experiencechocolate.com

THE UPSIDES: Aside from the endorphin rush you get from chocolate, these events can produce a positive, lasting impression on clients.

THE DOWNSIDES: "I guess you could eat too much chocolate and not feel well in the end," says Suzanne Oakley, founder of Experience: Chocolate LLC, a company that specializes in chocolate tastings.

THE COST: Experience: Chocolate charges a $350 flat fee plus between $15 to $25 per person, to cover the cost of materials; plus cost of wine if including wine tasting with chocolate.

Chocolate tastings are successful for the same reasons wine tastings are: They're different, memorable, fun and often delicious.

"It's a way to network, a conversation starter," says Suzanne Oakley of Experience: Chocolate LLC in Boston, whose own love of chocolate drove her to start the company a few years ago.

What's also becoming popular is chocolate and wine tastings. Chocolate's flavor variance can be as deep and interesting as wine, as discovered by Bruce Anderson of Wilson TurboPower.

Oakley navigates groups between 10 to 200 people through the joys of chocolate, weaving in the history of chocolate and how it's made. One of her top clients is in the legal field. "I think it's something novel," says Oakley. "People are interested and it's something fun. Who would think of going to a fun law event?"


Chocolate pieces