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Don't just offer desserts, sell them!

Anybody can offer a dessert menu, but how do you read your customers to know the best approach to make the buy a dessert. Here are some suggestions.

Desserts have always been a great way to goose up the check, but they can be a hard sell, especially these days when so many are trying to watch what they eat. And it’s contagious. You can feel the peer pressure at the table when nobody wants to look like a glutton.

A dynamic you often see are two couples out to dinner. They have their first course, their entree. The table is cleared and the server returns. He looks at the ladies at the table and asks if anybody would care for dessert. Or maybe something more suggestive: the chef has a beautiful peach cobbler with ice cream this evening, can I bring somebody one?

There’s the pregnant pause at the table. You know they both want to say yes. Too often the first woman is reluctant, not wanting to seem over indulgent. She passes. The second woman can’t order one now. And the men acquiesce as well. They may have all wanted dessert, but the concern over self image and peer pressure win out. The restaurant loses the sale and the customer misses the experience.

The important point with dessert sales is to understand the dynamic at the table before you approach with the dessert menu. Have you heard any comments that might lead you to believe one of them is more calorie conscious than the others? Don’t approach that person first. Or, offer a low calorie option. Mark your check with any relevant information and use it to your advantage. This forces servers to really flex their sales skills.

Approach #1

There are many ways to attack this problem. The first line of defense is in the server’s approach and presentation to the table. Some restaurants will teach their staffers to avoid speaking to any one individual at the table. This doesn’t necessarily overcome the problem, but it can increase your odds of success. Another technique that’s often suggested is having the waitperson physically nod as they ask if anyone would like to order dessert. Behavioral psychologists have found that this kind of suggestive behavior works.

Approach #2

Another idea is to address the problem head on. A script may include something like this: “I know everyone’s had a large meal. No one is probably interested in an entire dessert. But we have some wonderful selections I could bring for the whole table. Would you like me to bring one out?”

Approach #3

A third approach is something that’s being practiced very effectively at Darden’s Seasons 52 concept and illustrates why small deserts are such a big trend these days. Seasons has these little desserts they refer to as Indulgences. They’re served in small portions presented in glass containers similar to shot glasses. The server brings the glasses in a stainless steel rack out to the table. The customer can grab whatever they want right there. They are small enough that nobody feels overindulgent. And it’s very quick. Seasons 52 has 110 percent dessert sales, meaning for every 10 people that have dinner there, they sell 11 desserts. Pretty good business.

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