Coffee morphs into dessert

Premium coffee is de rigueur these days, as chains and independents continue to invest in their programs. Restaurants have upgraded their java selection to include robust brews and specialties such as espresso and cappuccino to meet rising customer expectations. Operators now are capitalizing on the growing predilection for coffee quality and flavor, upselling a mere cup of joe by transforming it into dessert. It’s proving to be a win-win for java fans with a sweet tooth.

Although brewed coffee already boasts high margins, this move further boosts profitability. For example, a small cup of coffee at one of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Wildflower Bread Company’s 12 locations costs $1.69. But when the bakery cafe melds espresso with chocolate milk and serves it frozen with whipped cream and chocolate syrup in a creation called Mocha Mania, the price rises to $3.55. Likewise, while gelato is the star at 44-unit Paciugo, the Dallas-based chain takes its coffee program just as seriously. Cross-utilization results in java-fueled desserts including espresso shakes and Gelattes (lattes with gelato) that start at $3.59. 

Stacey Paul, director of sales at Israeli import Max Brenner, a chocolate-theme restaurant and bar with five locations in the U.S., says, “There are those coffee addicts who stick to what they know and like, but there is a large subset of people who seek out new ways to enjoy a familiar beverage.” Recognizing the synergy between chocolate and coffee, Max Brenner created dessert beverages such as its version of a mocha, in which a cappuccino is combined with rich chocolate cream. “Part of the allure is taste,” Paul says. “But the other is how we present our beverages in signature serving ware that elevates the drinking experience.” In the Kangaroo Cup, for instance, chocolate squares are separated from the hot brew and melt into the coffee as the guest sips.

The traditional Italian dessert affogato, in which espresso is poured a la minute over vanilla ice cream or gelato, is one sweet route to spiking coffee sales. Letizia Manfredi, who runs operations for the 18-unit Serafina Restaurant Group based in New York City, says that espresso is a popular follow-up to meals, but the affogato ups the presentation and adds a dessert component to the experience. “It’s served in a wine glass and the waiter pours a fresh cup of espresso over it,” she says. Serafina locations sell 50 to 60 affogatos a week at $10 apiece, whereas an espresso costs $3.50.

At Nico Osteria, One Off Hospitality’s new Italian seafood restaurant in Chicago, the affogato ($11) comes in four variations, but the traditional espresso-vanilla is a best seller. “By adding coffee to gelato we are able to upcharge the cost of the dessert, effectively increasing our bottom line,” says Donnie Madia, managing partner and owner. “The presentation boosts sales; pouring coffee over ice cream tableside creates a far more dynamic presentation, more fully engaging guests.”


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