2011 July: SWEET ENDING

We all love the sweet melodious sound of our cash register’s “cha-ching” as we make another sale, and I want to help you make that happen more often. Selling desserts is one easy way to
accomplish that goal.Collectively we’ve tried it all, from going around the neighborhood putting door hangers with special offers on them to couponing, networking, school programs and sponsorships. Let’s face it — we’ll do just about anything to increase our sales and, frankly, all too often we overlook the obvious. It’s definitely important to constantly find new ways to introduce ourselves to potential customers that don’t currently dine with us. I have come to understand that an even easier way to increase sales instantly without any real investment is to increase our check average with the customers that we have already won over as “regulars.”

Desserts help accomplish this. Many folks, after eating in our restaurants or picking up dinner from us, will grab dessert or ice cream somewhere else simply because we don’t offer anything sweet (or, if we do, our options are mundane).

Desserts are not inherently easy to sell. Nine out of 10 customers in my restaurant leave with a to-go box because they’re too full to eat anymore. If a server asks, “would you like to hear about our desserts?,” or offers a peek at the dessert tray, the answer is always a resounding “no.” To sell desserts, we have to display them in an attractive way. In my restaurant we have a beautiful dessert tray, and it is mandatory that my servers show it to every customer. Even though our guests are too full, they usually can’t resist.

Don’t offer dine-in? Place desserts in clear takeout containers so customers can see them. Display them near your carryout counter.

Another important factor is to make your desserts unique. A chocolate cake is not going to overwhelm the masses. When I opened my current restaurant, I knew there was no way I could make my own desserts in the beginning. I purchased desserts that had a “wow” factor to them to get me started. But once things calmed down and I had a little more free time, I began methodically replacing each dessert, one by one, with house-made offerings. Now, all of my desserts are made in-house!

Like my menu offerings, I like to create unique desserts that folks won’t find anywhere else, leaving them with a craving for something they can only get at my restaurant. Originally I wanted to offer spumoni ice cream with raspberry (melba) sauce, but none of my suppliers carried it. So after much thought, I decided to take the flavors of spumoni ice cream (chocolate, pistachio, and cherry) and create cake batters of the same flavors. I swirl them very gently like a marble cake, then frost it with a cream cheese icing. I also stream a little raspberry sauce over the cake and plate for a great presentation. It’s my best seller.

To do this, make your batter from scratch or start with a white cake mix and add the flavors to it. Add cherry extract and red food coloring and chopped cherries for the cherry cake batter. Add chopped pistachios, a few drops of green food coloring and a couple of tablespoons of almond extract for the pistachio cake. I simply use a chocolate cake mix for the chocolate batter.

In the South, red velvet cake is a huge thing — but everybody has it. So I created a new cake and gave it a slogan: “Move over Red, there’s a new velvet in town.” This is for my blueberry velvet cake. I take a basic white cake batter and add blueberry extract and blue food coloring. I then make a cocoa flavored cake batter and swirl that into the blueberry batter. I use the same cream cheese icing on that cake as well, and it is also a huge seller.

Mini cannoli are fast and simple desserts that are great for catering. Start with a rich and very smooth, super fine ricotta. Add powdered sugar and a little almond extract and you’ve got a great cannoli filling that you can pipe into the pastry shell with a pastry bag. Then dip the ends of the cannoli into mini chocolate chips and chopped pistachios.

As you can see, it only takes a small amount of creativity to provide a “wow” experience to your guests and increase check averages.

I hope you give some of these desserts a try, and I really hope they create a very sweet ending to each and every day!

Jeff Freehof owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia. He is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today and a speaker at the Pizza Expo family of trade shows.