There´s a new trend on the horizon as restaurants across the country take the mint dish off the host stand and begin appealing to the customer´s sweet tooth with a complimentary tableside confection.The night’s Final-Final.
While restaurant sales at every level of the industry are remaining flat, operators and chefs are creating sweeter then dessert sweets and offering them to every customer in the house, on the house, nightly. In an attempt to keep loyal customers loyal and good customers coming back high end restaurants are developing sweeter than sweet programs as the guide a complimentary sweet cart through the dining room.
Candy may not be the one item that diners expect at the end of an evening, but since none of us have yet to meet anyone who didn´t crave candy, it may be a meaningful marketing gesture. The confection cart is possibly more work than most restaurant kitchens have time for but for high end specialty shops it is appearing more and more.
Chicago´s Tru offers a tri-level cart at the end of diner laden with 12 to 15 ever changing selections of confections hand made in the kitchen. One of the top tantalizers – the hand made lollipops injected with various flavors. Customers report that the peanut butter and jelly filling is a phenom that rivals any PB&J sandwich. Other delights; petit fours, house made marshmallows, bubble gum, nougats and meringues are finding sweeter futures and are breathing new life into the after dinner world that once was controlled by stale mints in a pressed glass bowl.
The confection cart may be fine for four star restaurants with a pastry crew in the kitchen. However, time consuming confection creations that grace the carts of San Francisco´s Ritz-Carlton and Masa´s, and The Essex House in New York are highly impractical for the neighborhood bistro that struggles to make a profit. But that doesn´t mean the idea isn´t a worthwhile marketing tool. It may just need to be altered to fit the needs of the kitchen while still sweetening the deal for the customer.
Famous Monterey, California chef, Robert Kincaid has made the after dinner sweet morsel one of his signature trademarks. Currently served at Robert´s White House in Pacific Grove, and before that served at Kincaid´s Bistro, Kincaid has acquired a skill for specialities that sweeten the evening. The first silver bullet in his sharp shooter repertoire is his milk shake in a bag. Hardly a morsel, this is a course in itself. It would be the perfect entrée if your mode of transportation were a Big-Wheel, however developing a plan to eat the entire package, as you drink the velvety, chocolate liquid, requires the mind of someone of two-wheeler ability.
Listed on the dessert menu this is hardly a complimentary sweet cart confection, but it could be sized down using a ruffled candy wrapper and offered as a chocolate shake shooter. Kincaid creates the chocolate bag by pouring melted chocolate into a brown paper bag until the insides are coated with the semi sweet mixture. He then peels the bag away after the chocolate is chilled. Viola, The Chocolate bag.
Another of Kincaid´s culinary trademarks is the sugar glazed strawberry that compliments every dinner check presentation. Kincaid laid claim to this ritual, I believe, while he was at Masa´s in San Francisco. Simply presented on a plate for the table the strawberries are offered with the chef´s compliments. And, it certainly sweetens the evening.
Another rendition of the dressed strawberry is o coat it in chocolate. A quick and simple task that can be done a few days ahead of time and the fruit and confection medley will keep perfectly on a parchment covered sheet tray. The trick here is to cover the sheet tray with clear wrap after the strawberries have cooled. It is also a great inventory guard against cooler bandits. These too can be delivered tableside with the simple elegance of a gesture from the chef.
As the battle now begins in earnest for the culinary dollars that people will be cutting back on, the large restaurants are going to be pulling out all of the fancy stops. Don’t wait to see if this works. It will. Few restaurateurs, however, have the space in a dining room to accommodate a rolling cart or the manpower in the kitchen to create the items to fill it. So begin your complimentary confection program on weekends.Keep it simple. Gear your response. And you can simply do it with a plate, tableside, as Kincaid has done so graciously over the years.