In the last few years, shareables and samplers have been a popular way for restaurants to build post-dinner dessert sales. Now, operators are marketing sweets as snacks and low-risk indulgences to encourage guests to purchase dessert outside of that traditional mealtime. Positioning dessert as a stand-alone order can spur business at off-peak times, according to Technomic’s Dessert Consumer Trend Report. Consumers are slowly shifting away from viewing dessert as a post-meal course and increasingly defining it as any anytime occasion. Here's how.
Fast casuals have capitalized on the snacking potential of dessert, positioning cookies, cupcakes and other portable sweets for grab and go. Now, full-service restaurants are getting in the game. Mimi’s Cafe, known for its scratch-made pies, cheesecakes and other desserts, downsized some of its best-sellers to make them more snackable, says VP of Marketing Ann Dalier. Countering the response that diners were often too full for dessert, mini versions of French silk pie, creme brulee cheesecake and chocolate chip croissant bread pudding ($2.49 each) rolled out systemwide in September.
The casual-dining chain is playing up the rollout by promoting more opportunities to enjoy dessert—including to go—and giving desserts more visibility on a new menu insert and table tents. Its mix-and-match menu, which once listed salads, sandwiches and soups, now offers petite desserts—a move driving midafternoon traffic, Dalier says. To attract evening patrons, Mimi’s offers latte and dessert pairings; most customers order the full-size versions at night.
All day sweets
Even the morning hours are seeing a spike in dessert business. “We noticed that people were ordering muffins as dessert after a breakfast entree, so we created a muffin sundae that features a monthly changing muffin,” says Dalier. “It’s resulted in a lot of orders from brunch customers.”
Positioning Mimi’s as a dessert destination any time of day is building incremental sales, especially of the petite line, Dalier reports. “It doesn’t add labor to make desserts smaller, it’s just a matter of portioning. There’s no interruption to operations, but it adds to profitability,” she says.
List dessert first
In the case of Boston Burger Company, a three-unit full-service concept, a menu repositioning resulted in dessert sales jumping from 4% to 11%, says Director of Operations Robert Powers. “Our Freak Frappes now lead off the menu,” he says. The towering ice cream shakes are merchandised with attention-grabbing color photos and their own hashtag—#freakfrappes.
Naturally, Instagram has created buzz around the frappes, says Powers. But the menu redesign and new table tents—old-school marketing strategies—have also sweetened off-peak sales. “Since we switched the menu around, we’re seeing a boost in mid-afternoon traffic from families with kids,” he says.
Another traditional technique, limited-time offers, are also increasing dessert sales at Boston Burger Company. The Frappes of the Month tie into events or the season, such as October’s caramel apple frappe. “Most months, we’re selling an average of 100 LTOs a week at each store,” says Powers.