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3 ways to tweak desserts to accommodate dietary restrictions

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In years past, dessert menus only had to accommodate two kinds of people—those who wanted a thick slice of chocolate cake and those who were watching their weight by eating a small bowl of cut fruit as their after-dinner treat. Today, however, with consumers following different dietary restrictions such as non-dairy diets, vegan diets or gluten-free diets, restaurant operators are working hard to ensure those diners can still order dessert.

Beyond dietary restrictions, consumers are also more interested in better-for-you foods, such as natural ingredients. Check out a few ways operators are catering to these preferences and restrictions.

Gluten-free comfort food favorites

According to Technomic’s recent Dessert report, baked goods are the most common dessert on restaurant menus—80% of the top 500 limited-service restaurants serve them and 92% of the top 500 full-service restaurants do. Within that category, chocolate-chip cookies and brownies reign supreme, with other cookie variations coming in third.

These nostalgic, familiar sweets are ideal for the dessert menu thanks to their instant recognizability, but for diners who are abstaining from gluten, they’re not very diet-friendly. Operators can easily swap in gluten-free baked good options, though, such as gluten-free brownies or cookies. They can also add flourless cakes, such as a decadent flourless chocolate cake, or nut-based tortes that call for almond or hazelnut flour instead of wheat flour.

Veganized and non-dairy treats

For consumers who can’t or don’t want to eat dairy, the solution doesn’t have to be skipping sweets altogether. In fact, 26% of consumers—even those who aren’t following any specific diet—say that they are more willing to try dairy-free desserts than they were two years ago, according to Technomic’s Dessert report.

With a variety of non-dairy ice cream options available on the market, operators can offer non-dairy milkshakes or ice cream sundaes, as well as treats such as cakes made with oil instead of butter, like carrot cake, or pies without butter in the crust.

Spreading the word and ensuring food safety

Ensuring that diners have diet-friendly dessert options to choose from is simpler than many operators may think, but to make them worthwhile on the menu, staff and signage should call out the fact that certain desserts are great for those who are following special diets. Waitstaff can mention these desserts’ diet-friendly qualities when reading the specials to diners, and menus should mention clearly that the new desserts are dairy-free, gluten-free, low in sugar, made with all-natural ingredients, etc.

Additionally, to ensure that these desserts are free from cross-contamination with other desserts that may not be gluten- or dairy-free, offering consumers individually wrapped options can be another option. From crispy rice treats to cookies and chocolate brownies, individually wrapped options take the guesswork out of the equation for diners, and this way, they know their post-meal treats are safe to eat.

Updating the dessert menu to accommodate consumers’ changing dietary needs doesn’t have to be a big undertaking for operators. Rather, they can offer some of the same items, with diet-safe ingredients swapped in, and promoting those items as such to ensure they take off. With just a little bit of tweaking, the dessert menu can be enticing for just about anyone.

This post is sponsored by Sweet Street Desserts

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