This article first appeared in the 1 September 2005 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).
R&I is the USA's leading source of food and business-trend information and exclusive research on operators and restaurant patrons. Editorial coverage spans the entire foodservice industry, including chains, independent restaurants, hotels and institutions. To find out more about R&I, visit its website www.foodservice411.com
The dessert course is a last chance to make a favorable impression, and few foodservice operators pass up the opportunity to sweeten guests' experiences or check totals.
Chocolate reigns supreme, with few operations believing that "less is more." The Great Wall of Chocolate at P.F. Chang's China Bistro frosts six layers of chocolate cake with chocolate chips. Chef-restaurateur Emeril Lagasse kicks up a traditional dessert with chocolate crème brûlée at Delmonico Steakhouse, Las Vegas.
If anything approaches chocolate's omnipresence on menus it's cheesecake. Olive Garden combines the two, making its white-chocolate cheesecake with raspberry swirls a top seller.
Not surprisingly, no one does cheesecake variety like The Cheesecake Factory, which menus more than 30 options, from lemon-raspberry-cream to pumpkin-pecan. Junior's delicatessen in New York City made its name with cheesecake and today serves 14 choices.
Brownies make the top five most-popular desserts in R&I's Menu Census research and there is no shortage of serving ideas. Panera Bread isn't just baking ciabatta loaves; chocolate-raspberry and Very Chocolate (topped with chocolate sprinkles) brownies are coming out of its ovens. Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar's Blue Ribbon Brownies contain hunks of chocolate and nuts and are drizzled with fudge sauce before being nestled between scoops of vanilla ice cream.
The trend to fresh flavors has brought an increase in fruit-focused desserts. Key lime pie makes frequent menu appearances, as do seasonal-berry creations. Olive Garden couples zabaglione and seasonal berries, with raspberry sorbet as accompaniment. For those who need their fruity dessert to go, Jack in the Box offers blueberries-and-cream shakes as a seasonal treat.
On the Menu
"Give them something to talk about" appears to be operators' philosophy about desserts. Over-the-top indulgences and surprising flavor combinations characterize many.
- Chocolate fudge pie; peanut-butter pie with hot fudge. -Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab, Chicago
- Tahitian-vanilla crème brÁ»lée with sesame tuile and rhubarb ragoÁ»t. -The Manor, West Orange, N.J.
- Warm rum-raisin bread pudding with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. -Old Ebbitt Grill, Washington, D.C.
- Chocolate Lasagna: layers of chocolate cake and buttercream frosting. -Olive Garden, multiple locations
- Chocolate Thunder From Down Under: House-baked pecan brownie with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and chocolate shavings. -Outback Steakhouse, multiple locations
- Pumpkin-walnut cheesecake; chocolate-fudge pudding cake. -Colorado College, Rastall Dining Hall, Colorado Springs (Sodexho USA)
- Caramel-Apple Empanada. -Taco Bell, multiple locations
- Fuji Apple Spring Roll with Tahitian vanilla-bean ice cream. -Tao Asian Bistro, New York City
According to R&I's 2005 Menu Census, these desserts appear most often on foodservice menus: