The “Quarantine 15” is a real thing, and it’s something operators should be paying attention to: Stress revs up the sweet tooth. (When anxious, the brain seeks more energy—aka carbs aka glucose…which is sugar.) So the comfort that comes from a warm chocolate-chip cookie or a tall wedge of cake is perfectly suited to our uncomfortable times. And while budget-conscious operators may view having a pastry chef on staff as an unnecessary luxury, especially with sales down and winter looming, others have found that the investment pays off.
Kelly Whitaker of Id Est Hospitality Group, which owns Basta and Dry Storage in Boulder and The Wolf’s Tailor and Brutø in Denver, notes that despite “being a classically defined position, [pastry chefs] also touch other parts of the menu.” Case in point: Jeb Breakell, Whitaker’s pastry chef across three restaurants, is also tasked with plating the main courses—now a crucial job with a rising number of to-go orders.
Many restaurants, including Smōk Barbeque in Denver, have reported an increase in dessert sales. With those orders up 30 percent, chef-owner Bill Espiricueta has found items like hand pies and banana pudding to be a profitable add-on. “Dessert has been on the uptick. People are indulging more and need that comfort,” he says. Smōk does not have a pastry chef (no surprise for a casual barbecue spot), so the simple-to-execute desserts are overseen by a production chef.
Nadine Donovan, executive pastry chef with Secret Sauce in Denver, has seen a similar rise in dessert sales. With Steuben’s and Ace Eat Serve open in Uptown (Steuben’s Arvada remains closed and Vesta shuttered in July), Donovan states that dessert sales are making up 5.5 percent of total profits per week, increasing from the average of 2 to 3 percent of total profits pre-pandemic.
With revenues down across the industry, that’s nothing to sniff at. And one more thing: Don’t underestimate the power of dessert on customer satisfaction. It is, after all, the meal’s closing detail, the (sometimes literal) cherry on top of the dining experience. Be it a brownie to go or a handcrafted tart with a tuille, a sweet sendoff seems to be causing upward curves on both check averages and guest smiles.
Are your customers gobbling up chocolate chip cookies and silky cheesecake faster than your kitchen can turn them out? Email your experiences (and thoughts, opinions, and questions—anything, really) to firstname.lastname@example.org.