Customer Satisfaction: Unique Dessert Options Enhance Experience

June 4, 2018

Customer Satisfaction: Unique Dessert Options Enhance Experience

Distinctive dessert options enhance the dining experience and increase customer satisfaction.

The grand finale

Offering a unique overall guest dining experience has become paramount in the restaurant industry as a competitive point of differentiation.

It often begins with the ambiance and décor, and ends with the dessert, which has historically been the toughest sell for operators. But some restaurants are winning the last-course battle by banking on consumers’ endless desire for indulgence. Dessert options which offer a feast for all the senses — including visual appeal — can make a guest’s experience memorable and increase customer satisfaction.

“Grand finale” desserts which bring theater into the dining room, such as baked Alaska, have traditionally filled this role, and can still be found on the menus of some high-end venues. Increasingly, however, operators are creating desserts which offer diners a “wow” factor in different ways — through colorful combinations made for social media sharing, or by allowing personalization or even diner participation.

Following are four ways operators are transforming desserts into an exciting element of the dining experience.

1. Visual appeal

For millennial and Gen Z consumers in particular, visual appeal is an important ingredient in the dessert menu mix, says Maeve Webster, president of culinary consulting firm Menu Matters.

“The first thing you eat with is your eyes,” she says. “It sets up the anticipation for the flavor and the overall experience, and I think that's almost triply true of desserts.”

A growing number of operators are taking this approach to the extreme by specializing in “freak shakes.” New York’s Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer has become a destination for its sculptural — and highly Instagram-able — Crazy Shakes, including one that is topped with an entire slice of funfetti cake. Other variations include:

  • Brooklyn Blackout. Chocolate frosted rim with mini chocolate chips topped with a chocolate brownie, whipped cream and chocolate drizzle.
  • Cotton Candy. Strawberry Shake with vanilla-frosted rim with blue, pink and pearl chocolates topped with a pink lollipop, rock candy, whipped cream and cotton candy.

Black Tap’s early experiments with the colorful cotton candy milkshake became a social media sensation and led to long lines outside the chain’s New York original location.

"Fifty-plus people a day were coming in and sticking their phones in my face, pointing to the milkshake and saying, 'I need this,'” Joe Isidori, Black Tap’s owner, told Delish, a website focused on trending food news and recipes.

The four-unit chain has since opened in Las Vegas and is now eying overseas expansion. Meanwhile, other operators have adopted the strategy of menuing over-the-top dessert options which combine milkshakes, waffles, candy, cookies, cereal and more — often all in one mountain of color.

2. Creative approach

Pumpkin Pie Mini Indulgence
Pumpkin Pie Mini Indulgence

While hyper-indulgent treats such as freak shakes have their appeal, Webster of Menu Matters says more subtle — but equally innovative — dessert presentations also can help operators create a memorable experience.

“They need to think about the whole art of plating,” she says. “That doesn’t mean someone has to be in the kitchen with a tweezers pulling together some overly wrought dessert. But if it just looks like a piece of cake with a mound of syrup tossed on it, that’s not going to lead to that ‘grand finale’ experience.”

Operators should think outside the box in terms of variations in dessert shapes and sizes — including smaller, individual portions which offer visual appeal, Webster says.

One example is the Pumpkin Pie Mini Indulgence, introduced last year by casual-dining chain Seasons 52 on its fall menu. The dessert was served in a shot glass that allowed customers to see the layers, and was garnished with whipped cream and a whole gingersnap cookie.

3. Do-It-Yourself desserts

Sundae Service Shareable Dessert
Sundae Service Shareable Dessert

Personalization has been a key tool operators have been using to enhance the customer experience. Giving diners more control over the creation of their dishes drives customer satisfaction and engagement, while providing a one-of-a-kind dining experience.

Maple & Ash in Chicago offers an upscale take on the trend toward personalization with its signature Sundae Service shareable dessert. The dish features house-spun vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream, served alongside a tiered silver tray of homemade toppings — hot fudge, salted caramel, whipped cream, chocolate cookie crunch, toasted nuts, candied coconut, Parisian sprinkles, chocolate pearls, Italian cherries and seasonal fruit.

“The presentation is whimsical and interactive to enhance the experience, as guests build their perfect end to the meal at the table,” says Tricia Mackey, vice president of marketing at Maple & Ash.

“The dessert is meant to bring out your inner child that is giggling with excitement about the different tasty possibilities,” she says.

4. Interactive fun

While “some assembly required” can be a recipe for diner engagement in restaurants, disassembly can be even more fun.

At the Uncle Julio’s chain of casual-dining Mexican restaurants, guests break open their own Chocolate Piñatas — hammer included — which results in a playful splattering of dessert ingredients to be shared by the table.

Chocolate Piñata
Chocolate Piñata

The Chocolate Piñata, a barrel-shaped chocolate shell about the size of a coconut, is filled with:

  • House-made mini churros.
  • Raspberries.
  • Blackberries.
  • Pineapple chunks.

It is served suspended by a metal hook over a tray, and is served with whipped cream and raspberry, chocolate and caramel sauces.

“When our chocolate piñata comes out, it’s a spectacle,” says Ron Vasquez, director of culinary for Uncle Julio’s.

The inspiration for the dessert came from his own family, he says, and also from Mexican culture, in which piñatas are a part of childhood birthday celebrations.

The intent is to make sure guests leave with a smile on their faces, he says. “The Chocolate Piñata is a performance on its own.”

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