Operators face demand for labor-intensive product in a tight labor market.
Consumers’ increasing interest in artisanal and handcrafted desserts is clashing with the staffing pressures operators face in the current environment.
“For a small restaurant that’s just a single unit, I really can’t recommend making your own desserts,” says Ray Camillo, founder and CEO of Atlanta-based Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting.
However, operators can deploy a range of tools that help them become more efficient in creating a house-made cachet for their dessert menus.
Following are four strategies restaurateurs can deploy to optimize their dessert menus while maximizing efficiencies and labor cost management:
1. Partner with local purveyors
Teaming up with other local businesses is one way to offer desserts that have the appeal of being craft-made even though they might not be assembled on the premises. Consider offering a selection of pies and cakes from a well-known local artisanal bakery. These could form the entire dessert menu or they could complement some easy-to-make desserts created in-house.
“One of the other things we recommend is for restaurants to work with another local venue to have product produced for them,” says Danny Bendas, managing partner, Synergy Restaurant Consultants. “The restaurant can promote the bakery that produces it, and the bakery can promote them, and it's good for the community and good for their mutual businesses.”
2. Offer dessert items that are simple and experiential
Operators can also get creative with some easy-to-make, yet visually interesting handcrafted desserts.
Bendas suggests offering table-prepared s’mores as a dessert that would require little labor on the part of the restaurant, but could create a memorable dining experience for guests.
“You buy some graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate, and then it’s all about the show,” he says.
Other simple desserts that offer strong visual appeal include an ice cream cake made with an OREO crust or perhaps a sundae with churros.
“There’s a lot of latitude between making desserts totally from scratch and buying frozen desserts that are totally premade,” says Joe Abuso, chef/principal of Recipes & Rotations, a Houston-based consulting firm.
3. Speed-scratch cooking
Speed-scratch is a process in which operators use partially prepared ingredients — frozen pie dough or pastry sheets, for example — to build desserts in-house.
“Instead of making a cake from scratch, you buy a mix, and then you can flavor that mix or customize it to your particular menu,” says Bendas.
Abuso suggests, for example, a Black Forest chocolate cake made with a high-quality cake mix, but finished with a house-made ganache or with some cherries that have been soaked in brandy.
Another similar concept might be a peach or berry cobbler prepared with frozen fruit and topped with a biscuit mix and added sugar for a quick-and-easy instant cobbler.
Buying premade ingredients such as pastry dough also adds efficiencies, Abuso observes. Using a frozen dough and a house-made custard, for instance, allows for the creation of a signature, handcrafted dessert with minimal fuss.
4. Employ a commissary kitchen
If a restaurant has multiple locations, a commissary kitchen that produces desserts for all or some of the locations can also add efficiencies. Commissary kitchens can be either self-contained, stand-alone units, or can be housed within an existing restaurant location, space permitting.
This allows a multi-unit operator to spread the costs of dessert preparation out across all of the locations in the market.
“You're still making the desserts in-house, but you are just allocating the cost across different restaurants,” says Bendas. “You can do that a lot more economically than having to have the square footage, the equipment and the talent in every location.”
For example, fresh&co in New York, a fast-casual restaurant specializing in bowls, salads and sandwiches, does batch cooking from a 25,000-square-foot commissary on Manhattan’s West Side. It supplies baked goods and desserts, among other items, to the chain’s 19 units across Manhattan and also supplies product for fresh&co’s catering business.
Camillo of Blue Orbit recalls that when he was working at a Washington, D.C. restaurant that shared ownership with another restaurant next door, he would pick up many of the premade desserts and ingredients — such as the mix and flavorings for soufflés — from the partner restaurant, which had its own pastry chef.
“They were doing all of the high-skill items,” he says.
Opportunities abound for restaurant operators to offer their guests handcrafted desserts that can be produced efficiently — helping to drive both sales and profitability.