Petite dessert trend has consumers buying more

mini treats - Strawberry Dream.
Mini desserts cater to consumers' desire for treats that are easy on the wallet and waistline.

By Alison Kessler

Medill News Service

mini treats - Strawberry Dream.
Mini desserts cater to consumers’ desire for treats that are easy on the wallet and waistline. Photo of strawberry dream mini cupcake courtesy of Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique in Chicago.

— It seems you can have your cake and eat it, too. Desserts, unlike their main dish counterparts, have gained popularity by shrinking.

The National Restaurant Association’s 2011 annual survey ranked bite-sized mini desserts No. 2 in the  dessert trends category, and national chains and independents alike are making room on their menus for petite desserts.

At the Café des Architectes at the Sofitel Chicago Water Tower hotel,  mini desserts are popular because they’re easy on the waistline — and the bottom line, said Meg Galus, executive pastry chef.

“I love them because they work well for our guests,” Galus said. Because the minis can be consumed in  a few bites, she said,  “There’s no need to feel guilty about eating dessert at lunch time.”  They are an easy sell, she said, noting that customers often try more than one.

From a production standpoint, Galus said, mini desserts are an attractive alternative to standard desserts because they require no extra work.

Less leads to more

The trend is timely, given the economy’s impact on restaurant sales, experts said. According to the National Restaurant Industry’s 2011 industry forecast, restaurant sales are expected to grow 1.1 percent this year, following three straight years of sales declines.

Bite-sized desserts are popular at a range of restaurants. Boston-based  Uno Restaurants Holding Corp., which has more than 160 company-owned and franchised Uno Chicago Grill restaurants internationally, has been adding mini sweets to its standard dessert menu since 2009.

Kevin Tesinsky, manager of Uno Chicago Grill in Schaumburg, said the restaurant’s $1.99 minis, including a hot chocolate brownie sundae, granny smith dessert and  bananas foster, are keeping dessert sales strong.

“Smaller portions are a big hit,” Tesinsky said, noting that customers are ordering more desserts now than before the minis were available.

Built-in portion control

The appeal of the smaller sweets is built-in portion control, said Shirley Brown, a clinical psychologist in Philadelphia.   Unlike larger desserts, she said, smaller portions encourage the slow, conscious savoring of food, which is the essence of conscious eating.

“It’s much less will-power challenging to have a so-called mini indulgence at a restaurant when one feels like having something sweet, than it is to order a full-sized dessert and eat only part of it,” Brown said.

Post updated at 5:10 p.m. to add caption information.