An increase in the number of health-conscious consumers may not appear to provide the perfect basis for pubs to focus on their dessert menus, but when punters come to the pub they’re not always thinking of their waistlines. So let them eat cake!
Research from Tate and Lyle’s Golden Syrup Dessert Survey shows that 60% of consumers prefer desserts to starters when eating out, making it crucial for pubs to provide a sublime sweet offer.
A greater variety of desserts, including more innovative and new options, tempted more than half (54%) of those surveyed to purchase a pud.
Pricing is also important for consumers, with 45% of respondents agreeing the optimum price point for a dessert on a menu is between £4 and £6.
Heath Ball, licensee of the Red Lion & Sun, in Highgate, north London, which was placed 37th on the Top 50 Gastropubs list, reveals the secret to making desserts work is to be original and by creating the dishes fresh on-site.
He says: “Unfortunately, most pubs cannot afford a pastry chef. In this case, stick to good, honest desserts. For example, if you cannot make ice cream, ensure you buy the best quality you can. Whatever you are capable of making, the classics – such as sticky toffee pudding – work well. Try and keep to those classics and don’t try and be too clever.”
It is true, pub chefs don’t have to be experts at making desserts themselves, claims French food manufacturer Tipiak.
International development project manager Marie-Emmanuelle Chessé says the company’s chilled, gluten-free macarons are becoming more popular, adding: “People eat with their eyes, which is one of the many reasons macarons have become the dessert to have on menus. They are also an internet sensation, boasting almost 3m posts.
“Customers love French desserts and, given their popularity on social media, they could help caterers expand their base even further and reach new people.”
But while happy guests post their food across social media, there is a segment of customers who can make things a little more challenging for pubs and their chefs.
Catering for vegans
Dessert menus need to be stronger when it comes to the 500,000-plus vegans in the UK, along with the increasing number of consumers who are choosing to avoid other ingredients such as gluten, dairy, nuts or eggs, for health reasons.
Frozen food distributor Central Foods managing director Gordon Lauder states that the free-from market is huge and urges operators to remember this when compiling dessert menus. “Something like a non-dairy, ice cream-style dessert is a great choice because it will suit a wide range of customers with differing dietary needs and is ideal for the summer menu,” he says.
“Dining out is still regarded as a bit of a luxury. One trend suggests that ‘tastes of yesteryear’ – comfort food that provides memories of childhood and home – will be big this year.
“With the political upheavals going on in the UK and US, I can see this trend will appeal to consumers during 2017.”
Another venue listed in the Top 50 Gastropubs, the White Post in Rimpton, Somerset, which was placed at 34, agrees that patrons visit the pub to spoil themselves with fantastic food, and diets go out of the window.
The pub dedicates an entire event to desserts as licensee Brett Sutton explains: “We run a pudding club once a month, which we started around nine months ago and it is always fully booked.
“This involves a pudding cocktail on arrival, a light main course (so diners still get something savoury) and then we do a procession of puddings,” he adds.
While offering the sweet-toothed troupe a huge variety can play to an operator’s advantage, Sutton also suggests sticking with the classics.
He adds: “Customers really like their staple puddings. We have served a sticky toffee pudding since the day we started and I would be in trouble if I took it off the menu! But we serve it with a little bit of personality – in a little copper pan, topped with glazed banana, a bottle of toffee sauce with salted caramel and honeycomb ice cream on the side.”
The dish is a firm favourite with customers, he says, and the figures speak for themselves, with 60 sticky toffee pub portions sold a week out of the pub’s 250 to 300 covers.
Providing something different
Top 10 desserts
Rank Dish Average price (pubs)
1 Ice cream (sundae) £4.17
2 Ice cream £3.51
3 Cheesecake £4.45
4 Chocolate (brownie) £4.62
5 Sticky toffee pudding £4.89
6 Chocolate fudge (cake) £3.97
7 Sundae £3.88
8 Profiteroles £4.28
9 Apple (pie) £3.76
10 Cheese (board) £6.83
The licensee and chef reveals his success is down to making everything on the menu from scratch and advises taking that extra step when differentiating desserts from competitors.
“Try to give customers something they can’t completely make at home. It is something we do throughout the menu but focus even more so when it comes to pastry,” he adds. “Offer something out of the box, but ensure you keep it fairly simple for yourself too.”
However, Swedish bakery Almondy believes ready-made, frozen options should be a big consideration for operators adding benefits to their bottom line alongside customer satisfaction.
Managing director Andrew Ely says consistency is the holy grail of any operation and buying in pre-made products can play a role in achieving this.
Taking health concerns into account when it comes to a sweet treat is important to consumers, but this doesn’t mean operators need to compromise on quality and taste. While customers are constantly contemplating their waistlines, a Sunday lunch or a weekday treat is something they just can’t seem to go without.
Ensure your offer stands out from the crowd, but gives guests something classic they can relate to and you can’t go too far wrong.