New big dessert trend: Small

News

Small is the new big on dessert menus, where independents and chains alike have introduced mini-portion sweets in an effort to drive post-meal sales. The few-bite offerings often are served in flights of three to five items, boosting check averages as well as dessert-order frequency.

Mini treats, or “Mini D’s,” dominate the dessert menu at Houlihan’s, the 86-unit chain of casual restaurants owned or franchised by Houlihan’s Restaurants Inc. of Leawood, Kan. Dessert sales have doubled across the system since Houlihan’s introduced its Mini D’s, according to Jen Gulvik, creative director and brand manager for Houlihan’s. Company-owned units introduced Mini D’s in mid 2003 and in all franchise units in May 2005.

The chain now has just one full-sized item on its dessert menu, a caramel-topped apple pie, which the brand may pull from its menu later this year, according to Gulvik. “It’s up for discussion currently,” she said.

The Mini D’s menu includes grilled s’mores, chocolate cappuccino cake with vanilla ice cream, Snickers Crunch ice cream dome, crème brûlée, strawberry cheesecake and triple berry cobbler. Items sell for $1.99 each, in a flight of three for $5.49, or in a flight of five for $8.99.

For the six-month period ending in March, nearly 20 percent of all guest checks included dessert, Gulvik said. Additionally, dessert spending per guest has crept up slightly since the transition to a mini-dessert focused menu, she noted.

When the Chicago restaurant Vong’s Thai Kitchen began offering mini desserts at lunch a few years ago, dessert sales jumped 70 percent, according to Laura Windt, publicist for the restaurant, an upscale joint-venture between New York-based chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and local multi-concept titan Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises Inc. The small offerings, priced at $1 to $1.50 each, include warm chocolate cake with coconut sorbet, passion fruit souffle with passion fruit ice cream, coconut-orange cookies and mango “sushi” rolls made with sweet sticky rice, raspberries, mango, kiwi and black and white sesame seeds.

“If people are out on a business lunch, they don’t want to fill up on a big dessert,” Windt said. “They’re also in a hurry, so it’s nice to have something quick.” Another LEYE restaurant, Shaw’s Crab House, also has added a selection of mini desserts that are “very successful,” Windt said.

Season’s 52, an upscale, seasonally inspired grill concept, offers a dessert menu of “Mini Indulgences” presented in 3-ounce portions. The small desserts sell for $1.95 each, and average between 200 and 300 calories. The offering is available at each of Seasons 52’s five units, all of which are owned and operated by the Orlando, Fla.-based Darden Restaurants Inc. Selections include strawberry-mango cheesecake, red velvet cake and key lime pie.