Dessert can be the most indulgent, the most flavourful, the most decadent, the most whimsical or the most sophisticated part of a meal. Customers love to treat themselves to something sweet, so be sure to draw their attention to your dessert list.
In terms of dessert sales, the baby boomers are an important demographic. Members of this large population segment have more disposable income, tend to eat out a lot, and are more likely to order dessert.
Despite trends toward more health-conscious diets, customers still want to indulge themselves. However, the general trend toward smaller portions is influencing desserts, according to industry research firm Technomic. Customers may be looking for a taste of something decadent, rather than a hearty dessert. Current trends include smaller portions of richer desserts, such as individual portions with intense flavours.
Since everyone loves dessert, your dessert menu should have something for everyone, so diversity is key to a great list.
According to StarChefs.com’s survey of 350 pastry chefs, chocolate is the perennial favourite flavour. Make sure it makes an appearance on your dessert menu, but include other flavours as well. Gourmet chocolate and very dark chocolate have been popular recently, according to market research firm Packaged Facts. This trend may be related to the health benefits of dark chocolate discovered in recent years.
Many diners like to see a fruit dessert on the list, because some people like to think of fruit desserts as lighter or healthier than other options. Apple is one of the most popular dessert fruits, particularly in the fall. However, fruits such as strawberries, blueberries or peaches are always popular when they are in season.
Caramel – often in combination with chocolate or other flavours – and vanilla are also popular now, along with tropical influences such as mango, banana and key lime.
Exotic flavours such as green tea or lychee are appearing on more dessert menus, and the trend toward balancing desserts with savoury notes remains strong. At the opposite end of the spectrum, old-fashioned choices such as apple cobbler have comfort-food appeal.
Selling more desserts means making sure your customers know what’s on offer, and making it look and sound tempting. One of the keys to selling desserts is to display them to their best advantage. While a pastry cart is not always possible, servers can play a role in bringing special desserts to customers’ attention.
One option is a temptingly arranged sampler tray that servers can show to guests. Servers can also describe popular desserts to guests at the start of their meal, perhaps mentioning them along with the daily specials, when customers are still making decisions about appetizers and entrees, so that dessert may be on their minds from the get-go.
Innovative serving strategies may make desserts more appealing to a broader audience. Smaller serving sizes – even as small as petit-fours – can be appealing. Sampler platters of four or five different desserts may encourage a table to explore sweet sensations.
One recent development that has affected some dessert sales is the trend toward snacking that has accompanied the rise in popularity of premium coffee bars. These outlets have expanded the role of desserts from the end of a meal, to an afternoon nibble. The items most affected by this trend are likely to be grab-and-go, hand-held items such as date squares or brownies, that customers can take with them and eat in the car or back at the office.
Desserts are one part of a meal for which interesting presentations can draw a lot of interest. Having a pastry chef on staff to make unique desserts from scratch is wonderful, but family and casual dining operations that don’t have such resources can still serve signature desserts by creating innovative presentations.
Pre-made desserts can become house specialties with creative plating using dessert sauces, fruit, whipped cream and nuts.
Dessert bars, such as carrot cake or brownies, need not be cut into squares. Triangles or diamond shapes can be more eye-catching, especially if drizzled and garnished.
Similarly, traditional cake slices can be stood on their ends, pointing up, for a more distinctive presentation.
Dessert bars can also star in tempting new concoctions. Try placing a brownie in a martini glass with some ice cream, and garnish with fruit, a chocolate pencil or a cookie, and a drizzle of dessert sauce.
A bit of ingenuity, and a creative eye, can help make desserts a memorable part of any meal.
With contributions from Gourmet Baker
By Patricia Nicholson