Menu Engineering: My Top 10 Ingredients for a great Dessert Menu.

This post is part of a series to help you build a winning menu that will engage with your customers, assist your team and most importantly, drive your bottom line.

We’ve looked at why selling desserts in your business is so fundamental and we’ve drilled down into the philosophy that goes into creating a great dessert menu. In this article, I want to share some of the Patissier’s craft and menu know-how: the basic ingredients if you will...

Oven-fresh bakes served warm
With so many great tarts, pies and cake recipes to choose from, this should be a no-brainer. Bear in mind that guests like to choose something they wouldn’t normally attempt at home. And remember the golden rule: SERVE IT WARM! This gives the impression that it is straight from the oven, even if your dessert is bought in (and there are some good ones on the market). 

Something tangy, fruity, light and moussy
From Key Lime Pie to Passion Fruit Bavarois, a tangy light mousse-like dessert will always be a popular choice after a main course. Personally I love to savour the moment by enjoying this with a teaspoon. 

Mmmm… Chocolate
No self-respecting dessert card should go without a dream choice for Chocoholics. Keep it small, rich and luxurious. And remember a really good quality bitter chocolate pairs beautifully with Red wine… perhaps to finish after that steak?

A Nursery Pud
Old fashioned favourites will never go out of fashion. Serve them hot and with lashings of custard or some ice cream.

The Best Quality Ice Cream you can afford
Always include a selection of good quality ice cream. If you have the luxury of making your own, then offer an interesting choice. Vanilla will always sell, but asparagus ice cream will engage the customer to browse more closely. A great up-sell technique is to pair your flavours with a suitable liqueur to pour over e.g. Vanilla Ice Cream with a shot of Baileys… 

Low Calorie, High Impact

Offer Fresh Fruits and/or Sorbet
Always have a low fat or healthy option so that nobody feels left out when the table is ordering. (My favourite lines from Fawlty Towers when two diners requested if they could cancel their Fresh Fruit Salad: “Ah, I’m sorry, the Chef has already opened the tin.” That’s NOT what I’m talking about here!) 

Classics add class 
Connoisseurs of a good pud will appreciate any nod to the classics. From an authentic Zugerkirsch Torte made with fiery Kirsch from Zug itself to a flamboyant Crepe Suzette flambé cooked at the table (isn’t it time this came back into fashion?). Or perhaps an understated, but perfectly executed Tart au Citron. 

A Creme Brulée to die for..
Personally, I always judge a restaurant on it’s Creme Brûlée. Why? Because with so few ingredients and limited presentation (this is a myth), there is so much that can go wrong. Right? But get it perfect and it’s a real treat. And don’t be afraid to throw in some flavours. Caramelised Roasted Hazelnuts or Berries soaked in rum can really lift a brulee out of the doldrums.

All cheeses great and small
Whether you offer a full cheese trolley presented at the table or a simple plated selection, no dessert menu is complete without it. 

- Here’s a strategy if you have a small operation and are worried about wastage. Choose 3 to 5 good quality cheeses across the range and offer them as a small slice paired with a drink that compliments their flavour. So a vintage stilton paired with a wee glass of Port, or an aged Cheddar with a small bottle of Ale. When I did this in my business years ago, I was amazed at the number of people who chose the cheese option because they fancied that particular drink to round off their meal. Give it a trial.. you might be surprised too. 

Are you making the most of your cheese selection?

Use the full Flavour Palette
- A few for reference: In Winter think caramel, coffee, hazelnut, peanut, pistachio, cinnamon, clove, baileys, whiskey or almond as flavour bases.
In Summer think orange, lemon, lime, vanilla, cardamom, lavender, raspberry, strawberry, passion fruit, mango, banana, Malibu, cointreau and blackcurrant as flavour bases.

And finally, add a touch of humour
Laughter is the best medicine so the saying goes. For that reason, it’s always good to throw in a quote or a funny reference. Here’s my favourite, which I have always put at the top of my dessert menus to get the ball rolling:

“Stressed spelled backwards is Desserts. Coincidence? I think not.” - Anon

Hopefully this advice will give you some inspiration to go back and revisit your dessert menu to see where you can maximise your sales.

And don't forget to keep checking back as I have a few more menu engineering tips to share with you soon, including a Price Point Strategy and, in answer to a great question from Jenny on LinkedIn, the impact your Font choice can have on your guest's perception.

Menu Engineering: The Profit's in the Pudding

Worth a re-read

Especially this:
If you want to enjoy your 'just desserts' through increased dessert revenue, here are three simple rules: 
• Mobilise your team: if they believe they have a fabulous product, they will sell it. 
• Sell the experience: an engaging menu that tells a story will pique the imagination. (Perhaps you recently served a celebrity... Share that story and people will want to try the dish they had.)  
• Keep it simple: reasonably priced, homemade, classic puds served elegantly will always win through. 
(Originally posted on 16Jan11)

Menu Engineering: The Power of 'Recommended'

This post is part of a series to help you build a winning menu that will engage with your customers, assist your team and most importantly, drive your bottom line.

In a previous post, I talked about the importance of having a great introduction on your menu. Suddenly, this gives the feeling of having a conversation with the owner. Now, you ask, which dishes should I try to further the experience. 

The best way is to highlight certain dishes is with a ‘Recommended’ symbol. But it is a minefield. Yes, they have to be dishes that will work best for your business in terms of revenue, but they also have to work for the guest in terms of quality. Balancing that customer satisfaction with meeting the targets of your bottom line is a very tricky business. 

A great example of Recommendations influencing choice.
To start with, every chef will say that ALL the dishes on their menu are good and will naturally gravitate towards the ones they like to eat. But let’s take a hard-nosed approach for a change..

Here are the key questions that you need to ask in deciding a recommended dish:

Which dishes are super-popular and bring people back for more?
A bit obvious, but surprisingly it’s not necessarily the dish the Chef thinks it is. He might think it’s his fantastic Duck a la whatever-he-calls-it, when in fact it’s the lemon tart served after he’s gone home. That’s why patissier’s rule!
Which dishes are really straightforward to prepare in terms of mise-en-place?
The dish looks good in terms of food cost, but it might be killing your labour budget. At St Cross College, our chef loves to serve soup for big functions. Makes sense… doesn’t it? The problem is a waiter can only carry two bowls to a table, so I need more staff. By encouraging the chef to change to a risotto for example, the waiter can carry 3 bowls. Now we can serve 120 guests with fewer staff.
Which dishes are easiest to dress on or have plated during service?
Prepare for success by making sure you don’t get a traffic jam at the stove. It may be popular with the guests, but not if they have to wait for an hour for it to be served.
Which dishes use the least expensive ingredients?
Sometimes a dish can be just that simple; cheap and easy to prepare. Nursery dishes and homely classics will never go out of fashion it seems. So don’t overlook them in favour of celebrity ingredients.
In terms of dietary requirements, which dishes appeal to the widest audience?
This is especially true in banqueting or for weddings where pork, shellfish, beef, horse (couldn’t resist) or fois gras are best avoided, unless of course you know your audience really well.
Which dishes are priced the most expensive on the menu?
One lesson I learned in my restaurants in Kathmandu is that people love to show off. To flaunt their wealth. So let them. Sometimes it does make sense to recommend the most expensive dish.
Here’s a sneaky one: which dish requires one or two sides to make it complete?
The dish itself might seem reasonably priced, but throw in a couple of sides and your bottom line is looking good. Sound familiar?
Another bonus one: Which dishes offer supplementary upgrades? e.g. Prawn vs Lobster Surf n’ Turf?
So you recommend the basic version and allow guests to ‘upgrade’ if they wish. What’s wrong with that?
And would the Chef know which dishes promote the sale of some great wines?
This is where good restaurants become great. Involving the sommelier, the maitre d’ and the chef in the conversation will really drive sales. A very delicate terrine, will encourage the sale of a Premier Cru in the hands of the right Sommelier. But if you allow the Chef to recommend his homely soup, which probably is great and ticks lots of boxes, you do lose the opportunity to upsell on your wine.

I know there are a lot of analytical tools out there to help you arrive at the right recommendation list, but here’s what we did at my place in Kathmandu. We monitored sales over a six week period. Then we costed EVERY SINGLE dish. Next we got the Heads of Kitchen, Dining Room, Bar and Accounts around a table and we thrashed out the merits of each dish on whether it should be recommended or not. 

What we learned was that, our two most popular main courses happened to be our least profitable. (And it’s hard to put the price up when competing with the hundreds of restaurants nearby). We decided to keep them as ‘Recommended’ because people would choose them anyway, and they’ll come back for more if they do. However we offset that with a couple of delicious starters that were surprisingly inexpensive to produce. Our secret weapon however is our dessert menu which we believe is the real differentiator between us and our competitors in Kathmandu. That will be the subject for another post soon.

Milestones in our Lives

Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler described songs as "milestones in our lives". I think he is on to something. If I want to cast my mind back to a happier, or perhaps more melancholy time, I will put on a certain album that reminds me of that moment in my life.

I think it's also true of dishes we cook. Especially if you are a chef. As you move from one influence to another, from one job to another or one country to another, there are certain dishes that become bookmarks in our culinary life. The question is, what sort of menu would they make up today?

Kilroy's Lemon Tart
Anton Mosimann's Bread and Butter Pudding will be a dish that had the most indelible mark on my career and as a result I have a real love/hate relationship with it. On one hand, it opened my eyes to a new way of cooking traditional classics and through it's popularity, I got to travel around the world making it for some very special occasions. On the other hand I made so much of it that today I would have to be super-hungry to eat even a spoonful.

Kilroy's Lemon Tart became my signature dessert over a two year stint in Bermuda where I made about 5000 portions by hand on a Formica table that I hope I never have to see again. And setting up in Nepal allowed me to develop Seared Chicken Breast stuffed with Nak's Cheese (- yes the spelling is correct: if you’re thinking the milk came from a yak, it's worth bearing in mind that a yak is male) and remains the signature dish in our restaurant to this day.

Dessert 'Wizard of Oz'
Thinking back to some of the life-changing milestones in my life's map of discovery, I fondly remember suchdishes as Sauerkraut in St. Moritz or Thukpa in Tengboche or Sel Roti in Sikkim. Which make me think that perhaps the greatest thing about cooking is that the act of doing so - with it's aromas, textures and flavours - will take you right back to that place or moment in time you want to experience again. Like listening to a song.

More importantly, this allows you to ‘emotionally connect’ with your guest in a very fundamental way, either by sharing with them YOUR experiences through a carefully crafted menu or by allowing them to create new milestones for themselves by putting them in a great atmosphere, where the service and food will be immortalised in their future memories and reminiscences.

The Profit's In The Pudding. 

How often have you requested the bill at the 'end' of your meal, without being asked if you would like a dessert by your waiter?

It never fails to surprise me that any restaurant, especially an Indian or Chinese one for example, would pass up the massive opportunity to tap into the profitability that desserts - and liqueur coffees, cognacs or malt whisky - can be to their bottom line.  

Let's think for a moment about the costs involved in selling a steak or even a chicken tikka masala: 
• You have to invest heavily in a marketing campaign to get the customer in the door. 
• You have to invest substantially in the fixtures and fittings to get the venue right. 
• You have to invest in your linen, menu printing, crockery, cutlery and glassware to get the presentation right. 
• You have to ensure great ingredients to get the product right.  
• And you have to invest heavily in your team and your training to get the customer experience to the right standard. 

All this to sell that main course before simply allowing a lazy or incompetent waiter present the bill and letting them walk away without a further sale.    

With just a tiny addition to one or two of the above investments, your ability to sell a dessert makes the enterprise far more profitable, since the hard work has already been done in getting the point of sale already. 
With this in mind, lets think about the additional costs of tagging on that dessert on their bill:
• other than an engaging dessert menu, no extra marketing is needed since you all ready have your clientele 'in situ'. (Although more diners will be attracted on the promise of a decent pudding selection to round off their meal.)
• the fixtures and fittings have been admired so nothing extra required there. 
• The additional linen, menu printing, crockery, cutlery or glassware required is negligible since it was required anyway and therefore already in place.  
• There is an added cost due to the extra ingredients required, however this is instantly converted to profitable revenue with each sale. (In fact I would almost consider this an investment  - chefs will disagree, unless they gratefully count the cash at the end of the night.)
• The service staff are already in place. (And with these happier customers consequently paying bigger bills (and therefore leaving bigger tips), they will be highly incentivised to take on board the small additional training required to make that sale.
• And I have yet to meet a chef who does not want to do more with their knowledge and skill in the area of patisserie. Development in this key area could be just the incentive they need to stay longer with your team. 

If you want to enjoy your 'just desserts' through increased dessert revenue, here are three simple rules:
• Mobilise your team: if they believe they have a fabulous product, they will sell it.
• Sell the experience: an engaging menu that tells a story will pique the imagination. (Perhaps you recently served a celebrity... Share that story and people will want to try the dish they had.) 
• Keep it simple: reasonably priced, homemade, classic puds served elegantly will always win through.