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It’s time to shake up your dessert menu


Lino Cordeiro has seen thousands of desserts in his time. As a classically trained chef who worked in the hotel industry for years before joining Rich Products of Canada, he’s been able to assess a lot of dessert menus. And he has one word for all too many of them: boring.


By Lino Cordeiro



I’ll go out for dinner, and I’ll often find that the dessert menus are boring. You tend to see the same four desserts: cheesecake, chocolate cake, scoop of ice cream, or warm brownie with a scoop of ice cream. How can you keep expecting your diners to order the same four items? Even the servers look bored offering these desserts.

A lot of people now have a good espresso maker at home, and they can walk into the bakery section of a retailer, take home some amazing cakes, and enjoy dessert at home for much less money than they’d spend at a restaurant.

Also, you can get a specialty coffee experience at doughnut shops today, while a lot of restaurants just don’t have such great coffee. So there is a definite need in the marketplace for a better dessert experience.

This situation is certainly improving. You are starting to see specialized café dessert sit-down places. One example is Sud Forno – a bread bakery with great desserts and great coffee. There is a need for this type of place to meet the demand for great dessert options.

Depending on the restaurant, if the desserts are boring, they represent a very small percentage of sales – perhaps seven to eight per cent – and because of the low sales, these operators tend to concentrate on their mains. But when done right, when you give diners the experience they’re looking for, the last course can represent more than 20 per cent of a diner’s cheque. That gives servers the confidence to upsell the dessert menu.

It’s really simple to do a better job with the dessert menu. First, operators need to see what’s happening in the market. Go to places that specialize in desserts, and try to incorporate them into your menu. Create a signature dish, something that will bring guests back to your restaurant.

In many cases, traditional desserts are still what consumers crave, but you can make them interactive and shareable, with visual appeal that creates a “wow”. Take the classic strawberry shortcake.  I try to play on that by cutting up a sponge cake, placing fresh strawberries on top with whipped topping. It’s shareable, plus it gives you that wow factor and is something diners would not usually eat at home.

I’m also seeing a lot of variations on the trifle. Eight years ago we had those glass cups with the layered cakes and different types of flavours. Those were trifles. Then we saw the pub theme, with trifles served in Mason jars. Now we are seeing soaked cakes, built like a trifle. Trifle has been around for a long time but with a lot twists that keep it current.

Ice cream is definitely on trend, but not just a (boring) scoop of ice cream. Think mile-high cakes made with ice cream and different flavours built in. You can serve it with a warm chocolate sauce over that ice cream tower to add to the stage effect. When the server walks through the restaurant, people see the dessert and wonder what that is.

Dessert should be playful, a fun discussion for the table. Look at smartphones. Diners like to snap their food. Desserts if done right seem to be one of the most shareable things on social media.

Lino Cordeiro is National Account Culinary Manager for Rich Products of Canada,