This article first appeared in the 1 November 2007 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).
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Noncommercial operators show a much higher incidence of dessert sales, particularly through sales of apple pie, brownies and cookies. On the commercial side, apple pie takes the top spot, with more than a quarter of operators menuing the American classic. Following closely behind on menus are chocolate cake, carrot cake and ice cream.
Among these dessert categories, there's plenty of room for interpretation."I think you can always stretch the menu," says Chef-owner John des Rosiers, who serves wood-oven-baked cookies with chocolate and goat cheese at Bank Lane Bistro in Lake Forest, Ill.
Yet many pastry chefs agree that it's important to maintain crowd pleasers. "We push the envelope in some areas, but the soufflé is a staple, along with crème brÁ»lée and chocolate desserts," says Jonathan Cartwright, executive chef and director of operations at White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine.
Here's a look at how R&I's Menu Census trends translate on the menu:
- Apple Pie: As the perfect conduit for comforting flavors, apple pie ranks highest among best-selling desserts. At Lockwood Restaurant in Chicago's Palmer House Hilton, it's translated into an apple tarte tatin with star anise ice cream, salted caramel and apple chips.
- Cookies and brownies: Convenient as grab-and-go treats, cookies and brownies hold a steady sweet spot, particularly in noncommercial operations.
- Signature cakes: Although chocolate and carrot cakes remain popular, cakes with a unique spin continue to intrigue. At Wave Restaurant & Bar in Chicago, Executive Chef Kristine Subido serves a creamy spiced carrot cupcake.
- Dessert samplers/mini desserts: When des Rosiers added mini desserts four years ago to the menu at his South Gate Cafe restaurant, dessert sales increased 23%. The trend has caught the attention of contract foodservice operators such as Sodexho, and 5.6% of operators say mini desserts are under consideration.
- Ice cream: Among frozen desserts such as soft-serve ice cream, gelato, granita and frozen custard, classic ice cream is the strong favorite, particularly when given a homespun angle. St. Louis-based Hardee's hand-scoops ice cream and blends milkshakes to order. -K.L.