HOW MANY pub meals include a dessert? It's a question that can have even the best operators scratching their heads and reaching for their spreadsheets. The short answer, though, is 'not enough'.
Desserts provide pubs with an upselling opportunity to boost sales and increase profits.
Tim Shearer, marketing manager for 3G Food Service & Seafood Solutions, believes a few simple steps can help pubs make the most of their dessert offering. "The first step in boosting dessert sales is to ensure you have attractive menu cards displayed at all times, to remind diners about available desserts throughout their meal," he says.
To accompany the 3G Select range of 11 desserts, the company supplies ready-made menu cards to tempt people into purchasing.
Tim adds: "Regardless of the product on offer, presentation really is key when it comes to selling desserts, and a few simple styling techniques can make even the most standard looking dessert appear homemade, high quality and individualised for your venue."
For example, use fruit coulis or cocoa powder to decorate plates, garnish with fresh fruit or sprinkle chocolate blossoms or curls on top of the dessert to make a great visual impression.
Adding colour and contrast to the plate gives desserts a touch of theatre - making them even harder to resist and offering greater perceived value for money.
"Staff should know the products on offer inside-out if they are to provide convincing and positive advice to diners," says Tim. "They should be trained on the ingredients, taste and texture of each dessert. In my experience, it's best to hold taste- testing sessions with staff members so they have the confidence to sell the products too.
"This enables them to offer suggestions on which desserts are best for sharing and which are light if the diner is feeling slightly full and not inclined to choose a dessert. Also, staff should be sensitive to the weather - encouraging purchases of hot, comforting desserts when the weather is cold and refreshing desserts when the weather is warm."
This 'keep it seasonal' advice is echoed by Neil Smith, product marketing manager for desserts, bakery and ready meals at Brakes. "We are seeing the most growth in hot puddings, especially at this time of year where customers seem to want traditional winter warmers that are quick and tasty.
"A large proportion of our desserts come as individual portions or pre-portioned to ease portion control, so controlling costs and wastage," he says.
Simon Muschamp, head of marketing at dairy specialists Pritchitts, believes more effort is needed front-of-house to ensure publicans are exploiting the often overlooked opportunity to maximise profit margins from homemade desserts.
"There is a bit of a misconception attached to what and how much is involved in making desserts from scratch and this needs to be addressed; particularly when we're all experiencing the credit crunch," he explains.
"There is a place for both made-from-scratch and pre-prepared desserts, which undeniably help achieve effective portion control. It's important that you use both to your advantage to differentiate yourself from the competition and to generate custom and revenue."
For example, ice-cream is popular on any dessert menu because it's suitable all year round, easy to work with, and isn't labour intensive to prepare.
By adding extra ingredients, pub operators can serve up a first-rate dish with homemade appeal and charge a premium price.
Try making a knickerbocker glory or add other flavours - mixing in honey, cinnamon, ginger or pieces of mango to vanilla ice-cream enhances the finished dish. And let children add sweets and chocolate chips themselves.
"Consumer demand is returning to simple food that's homely and wholesome," says Simon. "Britain has a strong heritage of puddings, and with well-known culinary figures such as Nigella Lawson advocating a return to simpler classics, the menu's look is changing with a revival occurring in retro hot puddings and cream-based dishes.
"Pubs need to get back to basics and add old crowd pleasers like crumbles, rice pudding and trifle to their menus."
"This will not only satisfy the trend for all things nostalgic, but will allow them to stave off the impact of food price inflation by making better use of key flexible ingredients to make their menus go further," he says.
Pritchitts produces dairy cream alternatives Roselle Supreme and Millac Gold, both suitable for pouring, whipping and piping, while Millac Gold works well in cooking and Roselle Supreme is good for decorating.
"Think about signature dishes. Look at developing dishes using seasonal produce that will help give you the winning edge over nearby chain pubs or hotel restaurants," says Simon. "And you must push your dessert menu whether it is all made from scratch or a marriage of homemade and bought-in."
Diners might not be eating out as frequently or spending as much, but one thing they are looking for is an enjoyable, good quality, value-for-money experience.
Trialling a set menu is one way to generate sales and also ensures you upsell your puddings as you would mineral water or hot beverages. Be as descriptive as possible to make it mouth-wateringly tempting. Why not try suggesting a table splits one or two desserts, rather than trying to sell separately to each guest?
ContactsBrakes: 0845 606 9090 www.brake.co.uk
3G Select: 0870 850 5213 www.3gfoodservice.co.uk
Pritchitts: 0845 1300 307 www.pritchitts.com