As operators pare the choices they offer guests, making strategic use of dessert menu real estate is crucial.
According to Technomic’s recent Dessert Consumer Trend Report, over the past three years, operators cut items on their dessert menus by 9.2% (limited service) to 12.9% (full-service). And over the last year, pandemic-driven streamlining across the menu has limited offerings even further. Now more than ever, dessert menus are under pressure to deliver a mix of familiar, popular tastes and compelling twists to drive orders.
Frozen desserts and treats deserve a spot on any menu, both for their popularity and versatility. Overall, ice cream ranks only behind fruit and cookies as a favorite dessert, according to Technomic. More than a third of consumers—36%—choose ice cream for dessert at least once a week. Not surprisingly, ice cream is also one of the most-menued dessert items, with 36% of limited-service and 68% of full-service restaurants offering it.
Ice cream satisfies another appetite, especially by younger customers, for customization. According to Packaged Facts’ Millennial Menus: Culinary Trend Tracking Series study, the mix-and-match “made for me” nature of fast-casual restaurants has had an impact across the industry. Millennials, who have grown up with this style of service, expect to have a say in how their meals come together. Ice cream, frozen yogurt and custard, sundaes, milkshakes and concretes present a blank canvas that restaurants and patrons can alter to display creativity or suit personal preference. Being able to easily personalize with ice cream flavors and add-ins is the ultimate in dessert customization.
After the standard toppings of chocolate syrup, whipped cream and nuts, Technomic’s Dessert report found that candy pieces and cookie pieces rank among the most popular ice cream toppings. For frozen yogurt, candy pieces rank only behind strawberries, cookie pieces and nuts. In both cases, younger consumers were more likely to favor candy pieces.
When it comes to toppings and mix-ins, familiar and preferred brands can help drive orders, too. Some 33% of consumers told Technomic they like to order restaurant desserts prepared with name brand ingredients. Operators understand the draw that easily recognized and in-demand ingredients provides to their menus.
For example, favorite offerings at Dairy Queen and Friendly’s – such as Blizzards and Friend-Zs— leverage beloved candy brands to appeal to patrons. The Butterfinger® Friend-Z is described as “everything you love about Butterfinger® candy bars,” with chunks of the peanut buttery confection blended into ice cream.
Swirling candy chunks, bits and bites into housemade ice cream preparations can lend a welcome texture and premium flavor to otherwise-everyday treat. Sundae’s Homemade in Indianapolis carries a 32-flavor rotation, with an entire topping section devoted to cookies, candy and chips, many of them branded; among the selections are a peanut butter-Butterfinger® combination.
Nifty Fifty’s, a group of four retro-themed diners in the Philadelphia area, claims to have the world’s largest soda fountain with the capacity to create thousands of combinations. The extensive lineup of milkshake flavors includes Baby Ruth®, Butterfinger® and other familiar candy and cookie brands.
Always ready, ever appealing, frozen desserts prepared with custom toppings and mix-in ingredients hold strong appeal with a wide cross section of restaurant guests.
This post is sponsored by Ferrero