It almost goes without saying that Americans love chocolate. It’s the nation’s second most popular snack — eaten on just 10 fewer occasions per person per year than fresh fruit, according to consumer research firm NPD — and it’s a perennial favorite on dessert menus.
A number of quick-service chains are betting that chocolate desserts will convince more customers to indulge in dessert, and have introduced new chocolate offerings in the past year.
Arby’s, for example, is currently offering a new Chocolate Molten Lava Cake as a limited-time offer through April. The $1.99 dessert is served warm, has a liquid chocolate filling, and is topped with cocoa crumbles.
Taco Bell added a $1.29 chocolate chip cookie sandwich filled with vanilla ice cream to its menu at the end of 2012. For the holidays, El Pollo Loco added a dessert of chocolate tortilla chips drizzled with chocolate and marshmallow sauce and dusted with powdered sugar as part of a new $20 three-course family meal.
In the full-service segment, IHOP offered Red Velvet Pancakes with cream cheese icing, powdered sugar and whipped topping last summer. Chili’s took advantage of its new ovens to introduce freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.
Shane Schaibly is the corporate chef at The Melting Pot, a fondue-themed casual-dining chain at which 80–90 percent of customers order its only dessert: different varieties of chocolate fondue. He said desserts with a twist are the most popular options.
“The pure milk chocolate fondue is probably our third most popular,” he said. “The Flaming Turtle and the S’mores are the top two items.”
The Flaming Turtle is melted milk chocolate mixed with caramel sauce and pecans that are flambéd tableside. The S’mores is melted milk chocolate with marshmallow, flambéd tableside, sprinkled with graham crackers, and also served with graham crackers as one of the treats to be dipped in the chocolate.
Yin and Yang, which features a swirl of dark and white chocolate in the same pot, is another popular option. On Valentine’s Day, The Melting Pot offers a passion fruit white chocolate that's dyed pink with red passion fruit syrup.
The chain also launched a “Skinny Dipping” limited-time offer through the end of March for New Year’s resolution makers. The offering pairs melted dark chocolate with fruit — such as banana, pineapple and strawberries for dipping — without the usual cheesecake, brownies, pound cake and marshmallows.
Schaibly said he’s currently working on a limited-time offer tentatively called Dark à L’Orange — dark chocolate with candied orange zest and candied orange syrup.
Although many guests are looking for something new and fresh in their chocolate desserts, that’s not true of all of them, Schaibly said
“We find that we have a lot of guests that know what they like and will come in and order it hands down, and they’re not willing to experiment,” he said. “They know what they want, and that’s what they’re going to get.”
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