A Piece of the Pie

March 10, 2017

A Piece of the Pie

Shareable snacks, desserts enhance the communal dining experience.

Shareable snacks and desserts tap into the social aspects of eating and allow customers to sample treats without overdoing it.

“With millennials far more likely than any other age cohort to dine out in large, social groups, shareable desserts have potential if leveraged and pitched correctly,” says Maeve Webster, president of consulting firm Menu Matters.

Terms like “shareable” are turning up with more frequency in foodservice dessert descriptions, although only about 7 percent of restaurants feature such terms on their dessert menus, says Webster, citing research from menu research firm Datassential.

Operators need to avoid “super-sizing” desserts to make them shareable, she says.

“I think it should be less about increasing portion sizes to facilitate sharing but rather shifting shapes, using tableware that makes it easy to share, and possibly disassembling desserts so it's less about everyone digging into one large piece of cake but rather smaller pieces of the cake people can move to their individual plate,” says Webster.

Monica Glass, corporate pastry chef at Philadelphia-based contract foodservice company Starr Catering Group, says sampler plates with small bites that can be shared are on-trend right now, as are shareable sundaes and milkshakes.

“Anything ice cream-based” is always a hit for a shared dessert, she says, including skillet cookies or waffles topped with ice cream.

At Starr “fruit crisps or mini pies for two have always been a big hit,” says Glass.“Churros and mini doughnuts with dipping sauces have also been quite successful.”

Doughnuts, beignets and dessert pizza

The shareable mini doughnut trend as a snack or dessert item has been around for a while, and some high-end restaurants have implemented variations of their own.

At Loosie’s Kitchen in Brooklyn, New York’s trendy South Williamsburg neighborhood, which offers a New Orleans-inspired menu, the shared beignets are a big hit. The beignets are filled and drizzled with chocolate-and- hazelnut spread, dusted with powdered sugar and served with whipped cream.

The shared dessert is perfect for photographing and sharing on social media, says Damien Del Rio, co-owner of the restaurant.

“Whether you are shooting stills or video, the beignets photograph beautifully,” he says, explaining the dessert’s popularity. “It’s one of those things that Instagram goes crazy over.”

The entire menu at Loosie’s Kitchen is designed for sharing, creating a communal atmosphere for the meal. For dessert, the beignets make a perfect snack-sized treat, says Del Rio.

“I find that at the end of a big meal you don't really have any room left in your stomach for more, but there's always room for a beignet,” he says.

At Modern Market, a Boulder, Colorado-based fast casual chain offering freshly prepared, chef-inspired dishes, the company recently added a shared, 12-inch dessert pizza to the menu.

“We thought it would be great for the families that come in — for everyone to have a piece, and that’s how we’ve marketed it,” says Anthony Pigliacampo, co-founder of the 28-unit chain.

The dessert, which feeds four to six people, is made on a strudel base, topped with seasonal fruit, a housemade strudel topping, a yogurt-based drizzle, cooked in a brick oven and served hot.

Fondue comeback

Shared fondues also are making a comeback, operators say.

“There is no better ‘sharing dessert’ than chocolate fondue,” says Jason Miller, manager of culinary development at The Melting Pot, a chain of 125 fondue restaurants based in Tampa, Florida. “An interactive dessert experience such as chocolate fondue allows multiple people to share in the dessert and put the cell phones down and talk to each other face to face.”

Miller says he sees several trends on shared dessert menus, including a growing preference for healthier options and natural ingredients, as well as “clean label” desserts that incorporate agave or other natural sweeteners and organic and sustainably sourced ingredients. Along those same lines, he says he is also seeing increased interest in vegan and vegetarian desserts that taste as good or better than traditional formulations.

Popular chocolate desserts can sometimes be converted into shareable fondue experiences, as is the case with The Melting Pot’s Blackberry Crush Fondue, which Miller describes as “a completely different take on an icon like the molten chocolate lava cake.”

The chocolate cake is first soaked with merlot, then laid across the dark chocolate fondue that has been infused with fresh blackberries.

“The savory wine and sweet chocolate are a perfect match,” he says.

Miller says operators should consider making shareable desserts without using “polarizing” ingredients such as coconut or lemon.

“Sharable desserts need to have broader appeal, which is why many shareable desserts rely heavily on chocolate as a main ingredient due to its universal appeal,” he says. “Chocolate never goes out of style, and you will always see chocolate as an ingredient on a dessert menu.”

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