The Clandestine Cake Club – A Quick Guide for Businesses

Hungry bird's eye view!

The Clandestine Cake Club is about baking, meeting, sharing and talking about cake. It’s a simple and sociable concept – go along, meet new people, make friends. It’s Clandestine because you don’t find out where the venue is until a few days before.

There are currently over 167 clubs in the UK and internationally. Clubs meet for about two hours in coffee houses, tearooms, hotels, places of interest or peoples homes. Each event is based around a creative theme; this gives a starting point for ideas about what to bake e.g. Continental Cakes, Tipsy Cakes, Fruit & Veg. People buy refreshments and share cake. The organiser writes a piece for the website.

So, that’s all very well – ‘Let them eat cake’ as someone is alleged to have said – but what’s in it for businesses?

The Loughborough Clandestine Cake Club decided from the start to match the event themes to the venue and to support local attractions or businesses. So, when we went to the 1940’s NAAFI café at Great Central Railway we had a wartime cake theme; an event in the woods had a fairytale theme, a candlelit event had a costume drama/historical cakes theme and a talk about the History of Cake from a local food historian.

The Clandestine Cake Club and local business

The Loughborough group recently met at Chocolate Alchemy – an independent coffee and chocolate shop set up in 2009, the cake theme was of course, chocolate.

I met with owner Pete Gardner after the event to ask him what was in it for the business, and if it had been worth it.

‘We had to stay open late, we didn’t sell a lot over the counter on the night, we made a fair amount selling drinks – but that’s not the reason why we did it.  Our reputation is built on the time we spend with people. It’s all about getting the right people to see our products and services.’

Twenty people attended the event. Dan from Chocolate Alchemy not only welcomed us – but he’d also baked a cake (middle pic below – what a talent!). About 45 minutes in Dan gave a short talk about chocolate and how it differs across the world, he demonstrated this with a chocolate tasting. Dan really got his knowledge and enthusiasm about the subject and the company’s products across to the group. We also got to look around the chocolatiers kitchens and chat to Pete, who shared some of the secrets of chocolate making that are taught in their popular workshops. More than half of the group had never visited the shop before.

I contacted the local press and provided them with photos and they ran a story mentioning the name of the venue four times.

Pete’s perspective on the evening is focused on the long view –

‘I think I spoke to everyone that night. After the event our Facebook and Twitter followings increased by 20 – 30, people have come back, and people have placed orders with us.  We’ve built relationships with these people and they will talk about us – all of this strengthens our brand at a local level.’

CA goods

Pete’s also on the board of the Loughborough Business Improvement District, or BID as it’s known. This initiative put in an application for Loughborough to become one of 27 towns to receive funds as part of the Portas Pilot Scheme, which emanated from the well-publicised 2011 independent Portas Review into the future of our high streets.

Pete explained how the BID is helping new business start-ups, developing training programmes for traders and ideas to set up Enterprise Investment Bonds, and how student mentors have been supporting traders in the use of social networking to promote their businesses.

In 2011 Mary Portas told a press conference that ‘high streets had been “displaced” by out of town shopping centres so people no longer felt they belonged to towns.’

Loughborough BID is all about encouraging people to come into and make the most of the town centre.  Relationship marketing, which is essentially what the Loughborough Clandestine Cake Club visiting Chocolate Alchemy was about – is an effective way of creating new connections for your business.

See the Love Loughborough website for information about the town centre and the Love Loughborough Loyalty Card


A Quick Guide for Businesses – hosting a Clandestine Cake Club event

First of all – you don’t have to be a cafe or food business to host a cake club. Group members have a range of interests and bring their own cake – all you need to do is to supply drinks for sale or access to making them. People have a wide range of interests, membership is free and the numbers per meeting are tailored to the size of the venue. If you’re interested in hosting a group and want to have a chat about how it could work just get in touch with your local organiser via the website. They’ll be able to let you know if your venue’s suitable for their group. You’ll find a list of existing cake clubs here.

What the group needs

  • A place to meet for a couple of hours.
  • A table or surface to put cakes on.
  • Plates, napkins, forks, to purchase or make hot & cold drinks.

What the group organiser does

  • Comes up with ideas and themes for events.
  • Liaises with venues.
  • Creates a buzz and tells people about the event using the national website, Facebook & Twitter before, during and after the event.
  • Very often they will contact the press.
  • Manages the bookings & waiting lists etc.
  • Takes photos and writes up a blog on the national website, group members often also do so for other sites.

Things to think about &  discuss with the organiser

  • Timing – Think about the days of the week and times you can make space available. Most clubs meet after 5pm or at weekends. Will it be good to visit your space in a particular season or month?
  • Practicalities & Creativity – Talk about the event both in creative and practical terms to see how you can make it work for you both.
  • Sign up – Have a way for people to sign up to your mailing list at the event should they choose to.
  • Demonstrate – Do you want to run a demonstration or show & tell related to your business.  20 mins long is usually fine and it’s a great way to show what you do without using ‘hard sell’.
  • Participation – If your business is about making or doing something (e.g. crafts based) – can you organize a way for the group to have a go?
  • Join in  – Be there and talk to people, they will be interested in what you do – even bake a cake!
  • Press & PR – Discuss any opportunities the event may generate with the organiser. Come up with a mutually beneficial strategy. Be prepared to do some leg-work on this, the organiser is doing this as a volunteer and already has a lot of other associated tasks.
  • Shh! – Remember that the venue is secret until a few days before!
  • Facebook & Twitter – Think about & discuss the best way to use your social media accounts to promote the event before and afterwards. The organiser will often be using both as well.
  • Giveaways/special offers – Often the group that comes to the event is only a percentage of the full membership of that local group, do you want to extend an offer to the whole group for a time limited period afterwards?

There’s more about nurturing relationships with existing and new customers in this short PDF document.

Janet Currie is the co-organiser of the Loughborough Clandestine Cake Club. She’s also the creator of The Refectory Table which helps creative people get better at business by providing sociable creative business workshops with excellent content & fabulous food for small groups.

Clandestine Cake Club encompasses (at the time of writing!) over 200 clubs in the UK and internationally, a website with over 5000 active members, a Facebook group with over 8000 members and the equivalent Twitter following.  Lynn Hill – the originator of the Clandestine Cake Club is also the author of The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook which has gone to reprint on the strength of pre-release orders alone.

If you’d like to go to a Clandestine Cake Club you’ll find a list of all upcoming events here.