Courtesy of California Raisins; www.calraisins.org
by Kathleen Furore
Flan, fried ice cream, Tres Leches cake, churros and sopaipillas. Those are the sweets, and popular ones at that, typically found on Mexican restaurant menus.
But today’s customers are looking to better the basics when spending their hard-earned dining out dollars. Does your dessert menu offer enough creative confections to tempt them?
Postres, it seems are often an after-thought at many Mexican- and Latin-themed restaurants—even though they can play an important role in a eatery’s overall success.
“Dessert is a great way to boost the bottom line, as desserts typically have a healthy profit margin,” Christopher Koetke, vice president of the School of Culinary Arts at Chicago’s Kendall College, says.
Crafting a menu of tempting desserts doesn’t have to be a daunting task. According to the culinary pros, there are several trends Mexican and Latin restaurants can tap into to build a more enticing dessert lineup.
Small portions; mixing sweet and savory; working with comfort food and familiar ingredients that are re-crafted into something original and sophisticated; and liquid desserts are among today’s hottest dessert trends, Koetke says.
“This is really pretty straight-forward. Starting with traditional Mexican ingredients and recipes, upscale them, make them more creative and innovative, and smaller. You can also incorporate some savory concepts into dessert—moles and chiles, for example,” he says. “The big trend is to look at the traditional ingredients and recipes and apply the chefs’ creativity to this. For instance, tres leches with different milks (almond or coconut) or focusing on local fruits and locally made chocolate. There is an amazing level of creativity among Mexico’s great chefs right now.”
One example is the Epazote and Hoja Santa Ice Cream created by Chef German Garcia Tamez, the executive chef of the Monterrey campus of the Universidad del Valle de Mexico UVM), who taught a two-week master class at Kendall on regional Mexican cuisines.
Another: the Pastel de Elote Chef/Owner Jeff Smedstad offers at Elote Café in Sedona, Ariz. The dessert is a simple corn cake served with dulce de leche, raspberry jam and sweet corn ice cream.
“We do a lot with corn so our corn ice cream sundae does well, as do the crepas de cajeta with sweet spicy pecans and canela ice cream,” Smedstad says. “But our star is the Pastel de Elote.”
Other ideas include the Paste de Pina, a pineapple upside down case served with vanilla ice cream, coconut shaving and caramel sauce served at Agave Azul in Orlando; horchata ice cream with canela and pecans, which celebrity chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken feature in their book, “Cooking with Two Hot Tamales; sweet dessert tamales; churros accented with ingredients like plantains, chocolate or caramel; and simple ice creams and sorbets made with ingredients such as plantains, coconut, papaya and mango.
Upgrading your dessert menu is one thing; getting customers to order from it is quite another.
As Koetke notes, customers are often too full to consider ending a meal with a sweet. “The problem is that many times the customer is full and the dessert menu is either too rich or too uninspired to tempt the customer for more,” he says. “Also, if the portions of the appetizers and entrees are too large, you are setting yourself up for a decrease in sales and missing an opportunity to add more profit dollars.”
Koetke suggests making entrée and appetizer portion sizes reasonable, offering desserts that are unique and interesting, and also experimenting with small portion desserts—one fourth to one half the size of a regular dessert—at a reduced price.
“While you may make less profit on selling a small dessert, it is certainly better than not getting any profit at all,” Koetke stresses. “My experience is that if you offer a number of small desserts, customers will all have something for dessert and often have more than one small dessert bite.”
Teaching servers how to approach diners about dessert is another important factor, says Jeff Mowatt (www.jeffmowatt.com), a corporate trainer and international speaker who focuses on subtle, ethical ways to enhance service and boost revenues.
Simply asking a customer if he or she would like dessert is not the most effective approach, Mowatt stresses. “If they say ‘Yes,’ they might give the impression of overindulging. So many customers refuse out of politeness. Result—no sale,” he explains.
Savvy servers, he notes, just assume people who are dining our go out are treating themselves—meaning that they’ll undoubtedly want to splurge on dessert. “In this case, the server pulls up the dessert tray and says, ‘To finish off your meal with a little something sweet, I brought the dessert tray over for you. Would you like to hear about the most popular ones?’”
But the process of upselling isn’t over with that. “When the customer agrees, the server doesn’t just list the desserts by name; he describes their benefits. So rather than saying, ‘This is a Chocolate-Chile Dessert Tamale.” Instead he’d say something like, “If you like chocolate with a bit of spice, you’ll love this. We’ve got a chocolate dessert tamale that melts in your mouth and makes you wonder what the ordinary people are doing today!”
Focusing on the customer’s needs is key. “Don’t try to sell the customer something you wouldn’t buy if you were in their shoes,” Mowatt says. “It is totally irrelevant whether or not this purchase suits your needs; what is relevant is whether it suits the customer’s. That perspective empowers you to upsell effectively and with integrity.”
Ultimately, how your customers end a meal is just as important—and possibly even more so—than how they begin their lunch or dinner. As Koetke concludes, “Dessert is the last food that the customer will experience. Think of it as a good night kiss. It can make or break the dining experience and can influence the customer on whether this is a good establishment to return to and spend one’s hard earned money.”