Desserts can often be an afterthought for quick-service operators, due to stocking limitations and the operational challenges of incorporating new or rotating menu items. However, there is a lot of potential for restaurants to increase earnings, simply by adding dessert options to their list of offerings.
Seasonal desserts are particularly attractive to consumers and can be very lucrative for brands. By implementing limited-time offers (LTOs), restaurants can increase interest in a menu item and also provide front-of-house employees with an opportunity to upsell.
When incorporating dessert items into a menu, there are a few things that restaurateurs should consider.
“Operators have to create a balance between incorporating something that is operationally friendly and also appealing to customers,” says corporate chef Robert LeSage of Haliburton International Foods.
LeSage recommends working with components made from fresh, seasonal ingredients— especially berries and stone fruits—in order to maximize application of the product across the menu. A fruit sauce, for example, can be used as a sundae topping or a drizzle for cake, but ideally, operators can also use this kind of product for other dishes, including smoothies, salads, and sandwiches.
“It’s better to keep things simple,” he says. “By keeping ingredient decks as short as possible, chefs can highlight whatever fruit or sauce they are using to keep food identifiable while maximizing the usefulness of a product. If you have great ingredients, you don’t have to doctor them up.”
To attract customers, it’s optimal for operators to play up seasonal flavors. LTOs perform particularly well in the wintertime, according to LeSage, when people are looking for warm, comforting dishes.
“There are specific flavors that people relate to in winter,” LeSage says. “Restaurant guests want things like citrus, pumpkin spice, caramel, chocolate, and s’mores. Warm, decadent desserts—such as a pumpkin date roll or a sticky toffee pudding—are so comforting.”
But it’s not just about the sweets. There are standard flavor combinations, such as chocolate and orange or chocolate and raspberry, which play particularly well in dessert sauces because the sweetness is balanced with acidity.
“When you’re building a dessert,” LeSage says, “you want sweetness, of course, but also brightness, acidity, a touch of salt or sour, and textures as well. If you have a crunchy element, a dessert sauce provides moisture.”
By adding seasonal desserts to their menus, operators can increase traffic and revenue, particularly during the winter months. By using fresh, simple ingredients, brands can ensure they are highlighting the flavors that consumers most want while also maximizing the use of the product across menu items, ensuring efficiency and profitability.