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QSR Feature
Less is More
Especially when it comes to Americans and waist-expanding desserts.
Mini-dessert pie.

When pastry chef Kirk Parks downsized his creative homespun confections at Rathbun’s, a fine-dining restaurant in Atlanta, he saw dessert sales skyrocket. Today, 80 percent of his customers buy mini desserts.

Diners tend to be more adventurous when ordering entrees and appetizers than desserts, Parks says. “They’re more like, ‘What did my mother make? What did my grandmother make?’”

He believes mini desserts, with a lower price point and less commitment, encourage customers to experiment. Customers are lured by the novelty and promise of flavor without the guilt. “There’s only a couple bites; it’s not as big of an undertaking,” Parks says.

At Rathbun’s, that mentality is boosting register receipts. Not only have dessert sales risen nearly three-fold since the restaurant went all-mini, related sales of after-dinner coffee, cocktail, and wines zoomed, too. “People think they’re only spending $3 on dessert, so they figure they can spend $10 on a nice port,” Parks explains.

The mini desserts at Rathbun’s are simple treats, easily recognizable to customers, and replicable by less sophisticated kitchens. On the menu are banana and peanut butter cream pie, key-lime cheesecake with strawberry sauce, gooey toffee cake with Jack Daniel’s ice cream, apple-cider doughnuts, and Butterfinger bread pudding. Parks steers clear of structural designs, spun sugar, and wafers. There’s cake, pie, brownies, maybe a scoop of ice cream and sauce. “It’s not as complex or over-fussed as at some places,” he says.

The desserts are four to five bites each, and four fit on a six-inch plate. Diners will sometimes order one apiece, or split a $10 platter as a group.

“It’s that indulgence, but it’s not indulgent,” Parks says. “They get a spoonful. Miniatures have a good future for a while because everyone’s aware of their health. Less is more.”

What Parks has experienced is in keeping with a recent National Restaurant Association Internet survey of chefs. Some 83 percent of 1,282 surveyed members of the American Culinary Institute deemed bite-size desserts “hot,” labeling little desserts trendier than green ingredients (locally grown produce at 81 percent and organic produce at 75 percent) and the kindred small plate (73 percent). Bite-sized delectables beat out other top-10 items such as specialty sandwiches, artisan beer, sustainable seafood, grass-fed items, and energy drinks.

The public seems to be delighted with what they see as guilt-free indulgence. Even Prevention magazine recently hailed mini desserts as a “trend we love.”

And there’s much to love about mini desserts: big taste in a small package, pretty to the eye, guiltless pleasure. But the biggest draw? Mini desserts let customers have their cake and eat it too. “The big allure is that it’s all yours, and you don’t have to share it—sort of like the ice cream cone,” says culinary consultant Flo Braker, author of Sweet Miniatures: The Art of Making Bite-Size Desserts and a baking columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.

“What I find with my miniatures is that you can have one of everything—different flavors and different tastes,” Braker says. “That shape seems to be attractive to a lot of people. It’s not a slice of cake. It’s just something different. And they just want a taste. And what most people think is that if it’s smaller it’s going to be less money.”

The Reason

The bite-sized dessert trend—which follows on the heels of tapas, cupcakes, small plates, and treats such as snack wraps and mini burgers—has been spawned in part to answer consumer demands for healthier snacks.

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