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chocolate cupcakes and milk

Let’s be honest, selling dessert shouldn’t be hard. Simply glancing at a display of sweet treats is enough to get mouthwatering. Dessert marketing, however, is the tough cookie of the restaurant business. If that delicious display of desserts isn’t presented well, it makes getting that final sale a little harder. Yes, even for the cutest of cupcakes.

Using the internet and social media to help your treats stand out from the crowd is the cherry on top for restaurants with quality goods that are simply too good not to be shared, but there are ways your restaurant marketing strategies can turn your casual “would you like dessert?” offer at the end of the meal into a revenue generator. Making sure your guests are not only buying the first time but coming back for that cake.

Find out how your restaurant POS software can help you identify your top-selling selling items.

1. Take Advantage of Restaurant Social Media for Your Desserts

Guests love social media. And they love contests. What better way to convince people to check you out in person than to have them enter a contest online?

We’ve seen restaurants challenge fans to name 30 songs with the word ‘vanilla’ in it. The first 30 correct answers were eligible to go to the restaurant or bakery and receive a free cupcake. Not only does this strategy make the customer feel included and connected with the company, it also encourages participation and eventually purchasing. Always keep your business at the top of your customers’ mind.

Here is another example of a dessert marketing idea you can try with Facebook.

Bakeries and dessert shops have a delectable daily inventory. They also have customers who salivate over their sugary treats and are more likely to share food photos than any other fans we’ve come across.

In an effort to take Facebook fans from their desk chairs to the dessert counter, a cupcake shop named MORE in Chicago, Illinois came up with a great idea. The cupcakerie began by posting delicious photos of their cupcakes every once in a while. Their fans would “ooh” and “ahh” and the post would get a dozen shares and dozens of comments.


Restaurant Bakery Tasting Flight Small Business Saturday


In January of 2010, MORE decided to try capitalizing on this interest with a little contest: Fans were excited about free cupcakes and maxed out the Facebook limit of 50 tags per image quickly. Since then, fans with a serious fondness for sweets have been tuning in regularly for a chance at a free cupcake, redeemable by Sunday of that week.

Two years after the first contest, it sometimes takes only a couple minutes for any one cupcake to meet the tag limit.

To appeal to fans further, MORE adds pizzazz to their posts by including a branded play on words with each picture, like “Open the door of your day with a MORE Key Lime!” or “One MORE because we are nuts for Coconut Cupcakes!”

Fans are encouraged to ask for “more” cupcake pictures to tag themselves in, and when they do, MORE responds with posts like, “One MORE for Jessica! Feel better!” and “One MORE for Matthew because he wants everyone’s day to be merrier!”

Players do try to get away with cheating, though. When this started happening, MORE told their fans:

This is supposed to be fun. Unfortunately, some of you are not playing fairly, which ruins it for those who do. There is a lot of double tagging going on as fans tag their friends. We are removing the doubles but documenting the name. If this becomes a pattern with certain fans, their name will be removed entirely. If you notice you have tagged yourself more than once in error, please be kind and remove one.

Still, the longevity of this promotion proves that it’s been a winner for this cupcake company. Interpret it into your own creative dessert shop or bakery marketing as you will. Read more gourmet food and drink marketing ideas.

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red wine being poured into wine glasses

2. Train Your Servers On How To Sell The Dessert Menu

Let us not forget that that server tips and tricks are the secrets to selling your menu. And often, your desserts are not just the cakes and pastries. They can be the wines and brandies, too! Analytics from your bakery POS can help you identify best-sellers, making upsells easier on your staff.

Dessert wines are a special blend of sweetness that can be the perfect ending to a delicious meal. Whether paired with a delicious treat or on their own, these pleasant wines are almost too good to wait until the end of the meal.

Dessert Wine Pairings: The Rules

There are three general rules of thumb when choosing any wine pairing, but for dessert wines it’s important to consider:

  1. Acidity
  2. Intensity
  3. Sweetness.

Wines with more acid go well with citrus desserts, while a more intensely flavored wine would pair well with something equally intense like a rich flourless chocolate cake. Sweet dessert wines should be sweeter than the actual dessert.

Let’s dive into some examples and suggestions.

Dessert option: Apple pie or citrus-based desserts

Wine pairing: A wine that will highlight the fruit and spices will really please the palate. Try a pink sparkling wine, Champagne, or even an ice wine. These drinks have a lot of flavor, but still taste fresh and refreshing.

Dessert option: Creme brûlée or other custard-based desserts

Wine pairing: White wine like a late harvest Riesling or a sparkling wine work well here because the lightness blends well with the butter and vanilla flavors of the dessert.

Dessert option: Caramels, chocolates, and rich, bold flavored sweet treats

Wine pairing: With the boldness of the dessert flavors, a wine is needed that can match the intensity. Dark red wines like a late harvest, full-bodied Pinot Noir would pair well, as well as a vintage Port.

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When in doubt, Port, Champagne, and Sherry are great standard dessert wines that pair well with a wide-range of dessert options.

3. Focus On Food Trends

A recurring restaurant food trend is highly focused on eating local and thus in season, so you can concentrate on serving desserts only made from products that are grown right on the land. This business idea may seem like they would be lost navigating the fast highways of the Internet, but if you’re constantly linking your Facebook fans and friends to what you have available fresh this season, you can really drum up some excitement.

But don’t forget about the desserts of the moment, too!

Some people have a sweet tooth all the time and others have a sporadic taste for decadent desserts. Whichever best describes your guests, offering irresistible desserts all the time, with some seasonal options, is a way to get guests staying longer and enjoying themselves a little bit more.

a tasting of small finger cakes on a plate, one vanilla and one chocolate

Of course, dessert comes in a variety of options. There are cakes, pies, cookies, ice creams, gelatins, and puddings. Fruit is also included in dessert frequently. People have been indulging their desire for sweets since ancient civilizations enjoyed dried fruits, honey or nuts. Since then, dessert has become a major option at most restaurants, with some establishments focusing entirely on sweets.

Here are some of the trendy ones to be sure you have as an option on the menu.

House-made and artisan ice cream

You don’t have to go to the freezer section for ice cream anymore. Many restaurants are now creating their own in-house, with some fancy flavors in addition to traditional ones. Restaurants are also promoting their creations with some creative ice cream marketing strategies!

  • The Chelsea Royal Diner in West Brattleboro, Vermont makes its own ice cream in-house and offers some great options, including a maple walnut pie sundae. Special hard ice cream flavors and frozen yogurt options are offered in season.
  • 30Boltwood, a restaurant at The Lord Jeffrey Inn in Amherst, Massachusetts also creates its own ice cream and sorbet in-house.
  • Al Forno in Providence, Rhode Island offers a coffee malted ice cream sandwich, which is hand-churned ice cream with homemade pecan brownies.

melting ice cream cone

Bite-size / mini desserts

Bite-size and mini desserts are great for sharing and experiencing new flavor combinations. The mini option is also great for guests that only want a little taste of something sweet after their dinners.

Cupcakes are one dessert type that comes well in mini form. The Duck and Bunny in Providence, Rhode Island make a variety of mini cupcakes and even have gluten-free and vegan options. Some of the cupcake menu’s highlights include chocolate cheesecake, consisting of chocolate cake and a cheesecake center with chocolate sour cream frosting. The date-nut spice cupcake has dates and chopped walnuts with brown sugar frosting.

Savory desserts

Some of the most unique desserts include a savory aspect to complement the sweetness. Savory desserts are being developed all over the country and some of the options are intriguingly delicious.

  • For instance, Atwood Café in downtown Chicago has bacon root beer donut on its dessert menu.
  • Gramercy Tavern in New York City offers a blueberry corn ice cream sundae with toffee popcorn.

Deconstructed classic desserts

Deconstructed desserts are exactly what they sound like: desserts that have the traditional ingredients but they are combined in a different way and sometimes in a different form.

Finale in Cambridge has a Boston Cream dessert that features yellow cake, cream and chocolate with whoopie pie, a vanilla gelato and fresh fruit.

Dessert flights / combos

Flight menus allow guests to try smaller dessert portions that often combine popular elements.The Orange Squirrel in Bloomfield, New Jersey offers a dessert flight menu that consists of cookie crumbles with pudding and whipped cream. Some ingredients are gingerbread, dark chocolate and peppermint mouse.

These trending dessert options allow restaurateurs to offer new options to their guests.

Bonus Tip: Highlight them on your dessert menu!

Restaurant menu design is both an art and a science. There are design elements that, when executed correctly by a pro, can make your menu look better than ever and direct eyes to certain sections of the menu through design wizardry. However, the other half is pure science—there actually is something of a right and a wrong way to design a menu, even when it comes to restaurant dessert menus.

There are design elements that, when executed correctly by a pro, can make your menu look better than ever and direct eyes to certain sections of the menu through design wizardry.

Want to make sure you’re doing it the right way? Here are some restaurant marketing strategies that will ensure that your dessert menu game is as strong as possible.

There are five C’s that every dessert menu should contain.

According to Eatocracy, there are five elements that every dessert menu should incorporate:

  • Chocolate (need we say more?)
  • Citrus (sorbet will entice the crowd that stays away from chocolate)
  • Coffee (a popular European and fancier post-dinner option)
  • Caramel (alternative to chocolate for those with a sweet tooth)
  • Cheese (With a traditional cheese platter or, you guessed it, cheesecake)!

Here are three other things to keep in mind.

1- Keep desserts separate from the main menu

If guests “see an eye-catching dessert at the beginning of the meal, they’ll skip an appetizer,” explains Thrillist. Which means that the smart thing to do is to keep a separate dessert menu and present it to guests after their meal so they aren’t tempted to skip anything in the name of the dessert, but they still have the chance to be wowed by (and order) a delectable dessert after.

couple looking at a menu

2-Take eye scanning habits into consideration

No matter how delicious your desserts are or how separated they are from your main menu, if you don’t take your dessert menu’s design seriously there’s a good chance that customers will scan right over it without seriously considering the offerings. “For years restaurants have been designing their menus under the assumption that customers’ eyes are naturally drawn to the ‘sweet spot’ in the upper right-hand corner… however, new research suggests that customers tend to read menus like a book, starting in the top left corner,” explains 99designs. Your best bet is dividing your menu into logical sections and adding elements like illustrations and boxes to break things up. It’s also important to choose the right typeface for your brand and to use color smartly—it might not hurt to bring in the pros for this one.

3- Follow the balanced menu ratio

Thrillist also mentioned that there’s a golden ratio for menu design: 10 appetizers, 10 main dishes, and six desserts. Chart out your menu based on how many appetizers and entrees you want to have an offer half that amount for desserts to stay in the gold range of menu balance.

Bottom line: If you’re worried that these marketing strategies don’t apply to your business, don’t worry. There’s always a silly shtick that gets the customers in the door. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t love dessert and customers go back to where they received a great product at a reasonable cost with outstanding customer service.

Check out Upserve’s marketing strategies guide!

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In a perfect world, Theresa would spend her days reading good books and writing all the time... and she'd own all the shoes her heart desired. When she's not on the hunt for shoes, you can find this Rhode Island transplant on the hunt for food that comes close to "Long Island". Her favorite? Caffe Dolce Vita in Providence's historic Federal Hill.
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