It's not usually recommended to try to seduce your customers, but when it comes to the dessert menu, this certainly appears to be the best route to upping sales. Sadly, once diners have got past the starter and main course, many decide to pass on dessert because they feel they just don't have room. But those in the know say it's possible to provide a dessert menu that offers the optimum mix of tastes and textures to temp even the most sated customer.
Matt Owens, a pastry chef with contract caterer Compass and a member of the Craft Guild of Chefs Culinary Team, advises: "Desserts don't have to be weird and wonderful as long as the quality is there. Try to include desserts with clean flavours, such as lemon tart, that will cleanse the palate after a heavy meal. Also, watch the portion sizes - if they're too big people can be put off."
For many diners, desserts remain a type of comfort food, so it's often a good idea to offer something traditional and warm. But don't be afraid to give them a bit of a twist. "Tempt them in with an old favourite and then surprise them," Owens says. "Take hot desserts such as a blackberry and apple crumble - we often create different toppings by adding crushed-up cookies or toffee or candied peel to the crumble to create more interest."
Agreeing with the old adage "less is more" is Claire Clark, head pastry chef at London Piccadilly's soon-to-open pÁ¢tisserie and restaurant, the Wolseley. "If a caterer isn't able to offer an elaborate dessert menu they should stick to simple classic desserts such as crÅ me br-lâe, ice-creams and sorbets and a chocolate mousse," she says. "It's better to develop three good options using fine ingredients than a wider selection of poor-quality desserts."
Clark feels very passionately that desserts should be home-made, as all those served at the Wolseley will be, and more and more manufacturers of ready-made desserts are striving to give that home-made feel to their products because it undoubtedly gives them added appeal for diners.
"Customers love desserts that have a home-made feel to them," says Isabella Gambuzzi managing director of Mediterranean ingredients supplier iB Food, whose own powder mix for crema Catalana - the Spanish recipe for crème brulée - means busy caterers can produce a home-made dessert with the minimum of effort.
Once you have the range of desserts right, the next step is to ensure your menu does its job and sells them.
"Customers don't want the hard sell when it comes to desserts, so don't ask if they want a dessert, just leave the menu with them as this has been found to actually increase the chances of your customers having dessert," says Leon French, Brakes marketing manager for desserts and ice-creams.
"They have longer to decide and as curiosity draws them to the menu they begin to be enticed by what they see. The guilt they might feel is replaced by a wish to treat themselves, and the more people are at the table the more likely the others will follow suit. Ensure you have old favourites like profiteroles, chocolate fudge cake and a summer fruit pudding, then try to introduce some for those who see experimentation as the real treat."
TEMPTING YOUR CUSTOMERS TO TRY THAT THIRD COURSE
"Putting a dessert menu on the table can increase sales by up to 20%. And when you consider that the profitability of premium ice-creams can be as high as 70% if managed correctly, then it's an excellent opportunity to generate revenue with minimal labour."
Mike Godwin, managing director of Scholler Ice Cream
"Offer a variety of dessert sizes. While a large, indulgent pudding or ice-cream sundae might sell on the visual wow factor, some consumers just want a small something to satisfy their sweet craving. Offering bite-sized, quality desserts to accompany their coffee can balance this off."
Ben Woodhouse, catering development manager at 3663 First for Foodservice
"Try tempting customers with lighter options such as ice-cream. You'll find that it holds as much appeal for adults as it always has for children."
Trish Smith, marketing manager for Masterfoods
"Customers view desserts as indulgent and the menu really needs to catch their attention in order to generate sales. It should also be reasonably priced, as most customers may have already ordered a main and/or a starter, and by the time desserts come round the pennies are being counted."
Tim Franklin-Heys, executive chef, UBF Foodsolution
NEW PRODUCTS ROUND-UP
- Macphie has launched a selection of six dessert sauces, including Jamaican Seduction (butterscotch and rum), Drambuie Dreamer (coffee and maple with Drambuie) and FrostBite (white chocolate and mint). The sauces are frozen and packed in 12 x 60g sachets and can be defrosted in the microwave before heating, or heated from frozen in a pan of boiling water or bain-marie..
- Foodafayre has introduced a range of filo cups hand-crafted into a crown shape ready for chefs to fill with their own sweet fillings such as ice-cream, summer fruits and sorbets.
- From RHM come Cadbury individual desserts developed for the food service market to provide a premium chocolate dessert in a convenient format. The freezer-to-table range comprises three desserts - Flake, Caramel, and Orange. Also available are Cadbury Cheesecakes in Choc Chunk, Caramel and Choc Orange and pre-cut into 10 x 120g portions.
- Brakes has introduced three new individual frozen desserts: Apple & Blackberry Flapjack Crumble, Apple and Caramel Pancake Stack and Black Cherry and CrÅ me Anglaise Pancake Stack. They're ready after two minutes in the microwave and available in packs of 12.
- For mixing with milk or water, Nestlâ has developed dehydrated mousses in milk, dark and white chocolate varieties which can be chilled and served or used as an ingredient or filling. The milk and white chocolate mousses come with additional chocolate pieces for incorporating in the mousse or serving on top. Smarties, Crunch and Cappuccino branded mousses are also available.
- Fans, curls and topping sauces from Concept Foods can be used with just ice-cream, or help to create more striking desserts.
Brakes 0845 606 9090
Concept Foods 01296 310200
Foodafayre 020 8805 5775
IB Food 020 7708 8000
Kerry Foodservice 0800 917 3571
Macphie 0800 085 9800
Masterfoods 0800 952 0011
Nestlé 0800 742842
RHM Foodservice 0800 328 4246
Scholler Ice Cream 01483 205500
3663 01494 555900
UBF Foodsolutions 0800 783 3728