2010 July: Sweet Tooth

“We’ll have two medium pizzas, an order of wings and a two-liter of soda.” Sounds like a good order — but the dessert sale is missing.

Whether you offer a two-buck bit of chocolate or a six-dollar dessert pizza, dessert sales are a simple, inexpensive way to boost your bottom line. “We focus on our desserts because, first of all, it helps bring up the tabs,” says Carol Corrie, general manager for Cloverleaf Bar & Restaurant. “Customer sales come up, it helps the waitstaff make more money because the tabs are higher, and desserts are something that everyone loves.”

How can you increase your after-dinner dollars? It’s easier than it sounds. Take a few tips from pizzerias that have focused on their dessert sales for sweet success.

“We believe in making our desserts extra, extra delicious,” says Stephen Ferruzza, owner of Alforno Ferruzza Pizzeria. “When you do that, that’s your advertising and your sales increase by word of mouth.” Whether Ferruza’s dad is whipping up homemade ricotta for cannolis or his girlfriend is baking the company’s special Sicilian-based goodies, desserts come fi rst at Ferruzza’s, and the staff makes sure everyone knows about the fine offerings.

The company uses a chalkboard to highlight the quality thought and ingredients that go into every bite. “Our chalkboard will say something like, “Cannolis, made with wood-fired maple syrup, natural vanilla, Valencia blood oranges …” Ferruzza says. “We let people know that we’re making everything from scratch the old way of doing things without using anything that’s premade. And that’s what people love the taste of.”

Offering the same-old cinnamon sticks aren’t going to make you stick out in the crowd. Instead, try coming up with a dessert that’s all your own.

“Our success has to do with offering desserts that are unique to us,” says Pizzeria Pulcinella owner Vince Mottoloa. “You can get cheesecake anywhere, but a lot of our desserts aren’t available anywhere else.”

Their special secret? Il Segreto di Pulcinella, the company’s signature dessert, a pizza skin topped with mascarpone, espresso, coffee liqueur and chocolate sauce. They also offer a couple of other rare treats: spumoni ice cream (a Naples original), Profi ttaroli (homemade cream puffs), and crema al limone (a lemon cream with Limoncello).

“We like to make dessert a big part of the meal,” Mottoloa says. “So we also found a local roaster who offers great espresso.” By combining good coffee with quality desserts, you can encourage customers to sink their teeth into a truly unique after-dinner experience.

Had the same two offerings on your menu since you opened the restaurant? Perhaps it’s time to change it up. Nothing sparks a customer’s sweet tooth like a new dessert offering.

“We encourage both our franchisees and our customers to come up with ideas,” says Charlie Morrison, president and CEO of Pizza Inn, which is known for offering its Pizzert, a twelve-inch dessert pizza with a wide variety of toppings and flavors, including s’mores, bananas Foster and Black Forest. “Right now we’re running a contest with our franchisees for new innovations. And a lot of our new ideas do come from clever cooks or from customers, like the one who said, ‘You know what? I want bananas on my pizza.” So we came up with the bananas Foster.”

Getting customers to drool over your dessert offerings is a great way to get them hooked on your sweets. Samples, great visuals and enticing word choices make a big difference between “no thanks,” and “we’ll have two.”

You can try offering small free samples or add them to your pizza bar, like Pizza Inn does. “I’ve seen plenty of instances where we don’t have them on our pizza bar and people get cranky about it,” Morrison says. Dessert trays are also a big winner. “We don’t have a menu because we change our desserts often, so we have trays with all the desserts on them and we take them to the tables,” Corrie says. “Customers watch the tray go by and they want whatever it is they see.”

Customers who aren’t already in your restaurant can be enticed a different way: via dessert-based emails. “The key is to increase the customers’ awareness of desserts,” says Justin Premick, director of education marketing for AWeber. “I recommend having a strong image of the dessert at the top of the email and then spending a couple of paragraphs talking about the ingredients, the flavors, and why it makes such a great dessert to go with pizza.”

Quality ingredients, unique desserts, good promotion –– all of these make it easy to ensure that instead of being the last thing customers think of, dessert is the last thing they taste. And that means a sweet ending all around. ?

Make Your Waitstaff Work For You

? Give samples. Make sure to give samples of the desserts to the waitstaff, the counter staff, the to-go staff, anyone and everyone who works at your restaurant. They can’t sell something with enthusiasm unless they’ve actually tried it. Suggest that they choose their particular favorite dessert to promote to customers — this increases their interaction and trust with customers and means they’ll be able to better describe the dessert.
? Give words. Often, when customers ask, “Well, what does it taste like?” servers are at a loss for words. Give them positive word suggestions for desserts, such as fresh and fruity, moist, crunchy, freshly made, light and creamy. They should also know what ingredients desserts are made of, to better assist those with food allergies, diabetic conditions or who are watching their fat or calorie intake.
? Give props. It’s so much easier for waitstaff to upsell desserts if they have the right tools. Great, photo-heavy menus make it simple to encourage dessert sales, as do dessert displays. Try a dessert tray that can easily be carried through the restaurant or a front counter laden with desserts. In addition, whip up an amazing dessert presentation, so that just carrying a dessert past a table can peak customers’ interests.
? Give kudos. Plan shift-, day- or -weeklong contests to encourage servers to upsell a specific dessert. This is a great way to add more interaction with customers (and even to get them excited about the contest if it’s their favorite server) and it will give servers a reason to mention dessert early and often.

Shanna Germain is a freelance writer based in Houston, Texas. She loves to write about both food and drink, and her articles have appeared in Cheers, Delicious Living, Imbibe and Oregon Home.