Sweet Idea: Dessert-Only Restaurants
Chocolate cafes made our list last year, and while they still offer a tasty opportunity, they've spurred an equally tantalizing concept: dessert-only restaurants. A clear indication of America's growing sweet tooth is in consumers' dining habits. According to Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research at the National Restaurant Association in Washington, DC, nearly one in three fine-dining operators reported that consumers bought more desserts this year than two years ago. Fine-dining operators also indicated the strongest growth in desserts.
In January, Stephane Lemagnen and Laurent Lanneau, 31 and 34, respectively, catered to the craving by opening Room 4 Dessert, one of New York City's first dessert-only establishments. The restaurant offers a variety of dessert-tasting menus to be paired with wines and teas, and culinary masterpieces are created before customers' very eyes. No wonder curious pastry chefs visit from the West Coast, visitors consider the dessert bar a must-hit spot in New York, and the media--even in Japan--just can't seem to get enough.
The high-end, dessert-only concept is so tempting that competitors have already put their hands in the cookie jar and opened their own. But Lemagnen, who projects 2006 sales of about $500,000, feels secure with his piece of the pie. "Each pastry chef is so unique and creative that each dessert bar is going to have its own character," he says. And with the restaurant industry set to reach a record high of $511 billion in annual sales this year, according to Riehle, there's nothing bitter about this sweet trend.
If you dream of opening your own dessert-only restaurant, try these tips for sweet success:
* Create an unforgettable experience. At Room 4 Dessert in New York City, desserts are assembled in front of the customer, high attention is paid to presentation and menus are seasonal, changing every three months. According to Stephane Lemagnen, 31-year-old co-founder, "Make it exciting and fun because when people go out, they want to have fun; they want to relax."
* Keep customers in the loop. Lemagnen and co-founder Laurent Lanneau, 34, make it a point to collect the e-mail addresses of their customers. Customers stay updated on the newest menus and information, which encourages them to keep coming back for more.
* Don't skimp on the pastry chef. A talented pastry chef is the key ingredient to the success of a dessert-only restaurant. When searching for their number-one player, Lemagnen and Lanneau looked for excellent credentials and experience, advanced techniques and someone who would attract a lot of media attention. When they found the right person, they increased their budget and even made him a partner in the business. Lemagnen says, "For someone to produce their best work, they have to feel like they're part of the company."
* Emphasize quality, freshness and uniqueness. According to Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research at the National Restaurant Association in Washington, DC, desserts don't need to be sophisticated, but they do need to be made with the freshest and highest quality ingredients. So seek out the best-even if it means using several different suppliers.
* Spread the word. With such a novel and appetizing concept, attracting media attention won't be difficult. But it's up to you to generate interest by sending out press releases and announcing the opening. Lemagnen and Lanneau hosted a tasting event prior to the official opening. It gave invited guests a taste of what was to come and got the business off on the right foot.