Sweet success - ideas for dessert menus

By Sheila McWattie

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags New moon pub Desserts English cuisine

Sundaes, like these using Almondy, are still a winner on pub menus
Sundaes, like these using Almondy, are still a winner on pub menus
Sheila McWattie looks at ways pub operators are making their dessert offers, from ice cream to American imports, stand out from the crowd

Sharing treats

Combining regional appeal and pub classics with a twist, New Moon Pub Company’s Pudding Plank (£14.95) at Manchester’s Beef & Pudding offers an assiette of sticky toffee pudding; chocolate tart; cheese-glazed Eccles cake; Bakewell pie and banoffee cheesecake, with custard, whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Founder and chef Dave Mooney says: “We’re selling at least 100 of these classic home-made desserts, served on a plank, every week. The opportunity to try a bit of everything makes this unusual assiette a very tempting, sociable dessert option, and, of course, encourages customers to share images on social media — a great form of free publicity. With a GP of 74%, it’s worth going the extra mile to incorporate local ideas, such as the Eccles cake.”

Bringing the past alive

Commemorative events provide an excellent opportunity to theme desserts and boost interest. Pub chef finalists in BBC2’s Great British Menu​ marking this year’s 70th anniversary of D-Day are James Durrant, owner of the Plough at Longparish, Hampshire, who prepared sticky toffee apple pudding for the north-west heats, and Emily Watkins, chef-owner of Oxfordshire’s Kingham Plough, representing the south-west, who added authenticity to her ‘street party’ dessert with poppy-seed remembrance tuiles. Durrant based a four-course à la carte banquet (£65) on his commemorative menu for 40 customers to accompany the TV screening of regional judging, with 20 more drinking in the bar. Plough desserts that hark back to the past include peanut butter and jelly (peanut butter parfait, cherry jam, cherry sorbet, cherry jelly, peanut brittle) (£8).

Spirited addition

At Peach Pub the White Hart in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, manager Sam Aylard has noticed an encouraging increase in wet sales, especially at Easter and Christmas, by matching dessert wines with seasonal menus. Rhubarb & custard trifle, ginger shortbread is offered at £5.75, and customers are urged to add a ‘touch of sweetness’ with a 50ml glass of Monbazillac or Moscatel (£2.50) on the spring dessert menu. The five-cheese sharing board plus apple, celery, rye biscuits, a warm mini-loaf and chutney (£13.50) is given a lift with a glass of Tanner’s Late-bottled Vintage Port 2007 (£4). For the pub’s Chocolate Night, which attracts 12 guests at £28 each, a sticky dessert wine is paired with dark chocolate fondant & salt caramel ice cream.

American imports

Bespoke American desserts designed and made to order by Catherine Howe, of Sweet Surrender, for American owner Annie Spaziano at Annie’s Burger Shack and Freehouse in Nottingham, have proved a major time-saving hit with staff and customers. The business partners were introduced recently via Nottingham Food & Drink Forum. “Partnership with local businesses is an exciting way forward for our new pub,” says Spaziano. “Demand has rocketed for our speciality burgers and we’re serving up to 600 a day, so it makes sense to focus on evolving our burger menu, while Catherine produces a range of sweet pies and cakes to match our American style, such as cherry pie (pictured). Each portion brings us about £1.35 profit.”

Striking a chord

On the last Thursday of each month, the Wig & Pen, a St Austell’s lease in Truro, Cornwall, advertises special puddings on chef-proprietor Tim Robinson’s special Jazz Evening menu to attract new and repeat trade. Alongside quality entertainment, salted caramel parfait with chocolate-covered peanuts (pictured), lemon curd doughnuts, and poached rhubarb help to maintain the pub’s Quills restaurant’s reputation for diverse, affordable food. Marketing manager Georgie Robinson says: “Taking up to 25 bookings for our jazz evenings boosts trade by about 20% on the Thursday closest to pay day. People enjoy seeing menus in advance and many opt for a main and dessert (£22.50) while others prefer three courses (£26.50). We’re happy to cater for special dietary needs, so all our customers feel comfortable.”

Cosy alternatives

At Enterprise lease the Montpelier Inn, a traditional sports-oriented Brighton pub, co-tenant Laura Eden-Brown makes all the Sunday puddings from scratch, balancing the lower GP from more indulgent puddings such as Nigella Lawson’s chocolate brownies, which include four bars of expensive dark chocolate, with higher profits from simpler syrup sponges, crumbles and tarts, producing an average GP at the wet-led pub of around 56%. One choice is offered at £3.50, three items for £4.50, four for £5.50 and five for £6.50, with the trio being most popular. Each item on the same plate can be complemented individually with cream, ice cream or custard. Around 20 combinations are sold on a typical winter Sunday, when comfort food is a top priority.

Back to the future

Bird’s custard served with scone & butter pudding (£6) is a poignant reminder of childhood at Moleface Pub Co’s four Nottingham pubs. Founder John Molnar is strongly in favour of using traditional products that do the job well. “We’ll always give credit where it’s due,” says Molnar. “Staff and customers agree that Bird’s is a market leader, so why not use its product alongside old-school type puddings to give an authentic feel to Sunday lunches? Bird’s custard has a distinctive flavour; it’s practical for the kitchen and adds interest to our diverse menus. Our ‘proper puddings’ dessert offering underlines our commitment to traditional favourites. Customers appreciate our honesty and the appeal of a familiar product encourages whole families to keep coming back.”

 A higher mark-up on a sundae

Sundaes are still a popular choice on dessert menus. Almondy cakes are traditionally enjoyed as a stand-alone slice, but caterers can add value — along with a higher mark-up — by serving them as a sundae alongside ice cream.

Ideas include Toblerone sundae, Daim sundae, and peanut and caramel sundae to help operators tap into the growing demand for confectionery-inspired desserts.

Andrew Ely, MD of Almondy, says, “The perfect match of ice cream with popular confectionery brands has already been harnessed by high-street chains and is evident in the success of McDonald’s McFlurry partnership with Crunchie and Smarties, and Pizza Hut’s Munchies ice cream. Sundaes are a winning combo for adults and kids alike.”

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