Mini desserts are influencing the menu in a big way. According to Mintel Menu Insights, mini desserts are not limited to fine dining restaurants anymore, as small servings of crème brulée and mini cakes are popping up at casual and fast-casual restaurants. Restaurants are experimenting with bite-sized treats to draw consumers back to dessert offerings. 

Claim Jumper and Panera Bread Company are just two restaurants that have made room on their dessert menus for the tiny treats. Claim Jumper offers a Small Bites dessert menu that includes Green Tea & Ginger Crème Brulée, English Toffee Pudding, Cinnamon Caramel Flan and a Red Velvet Cupcake. Panera Bread Company created Mini Bundt Cakes in Carrot Walnut, Pineapple Upside-Down and Lemon Poppyseed.

Mini treats are nothing new to coffee-houses, as many of them offer cookies, brownies and muffins. However, many coffeehouses—including Starbucks and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf—are expanding their bakery lines to include specialty treats such as cupcakes. Starbucks offers cupcakes in vanilla and Chocolate Chocolate flavors, and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf has three cupcakes—Chocolate Cream Cheese, Pumpkin Cream Cheese and Banana Cream.

Elbows (Macaroni) Off the Table

Tender pasta surrounded by a velvety cheese sauce—macaroni and cheese may be the ultimate comfort food. Restaurant menus are featuring more and more cheesy goodness. However, contemporary macaroni and cheese is not limited to cheddar cheese sauce and elbow pasta. Mintel reports that macaroni and cheese has gone gourmet by incorporating Romano, bleu, mozzarella, fontina and Gorgonzola cheeses. Many gourmet varieties use cavatappi, rotini, fusilli and bowtie pastas to carry intricate cheese sauces. Wolfgang Puck Gourmet Express offers Four Cheese Macaroni with a creamy blend of mozzarella, fontina, cheddar and Gorgonzola cheeses. Sturkey’s takes macaroni and cheese to the maximum level with its Lobster Macaroni and Cheese—a blend of lobster, diced bread, mascarpone and English cheddar.

While many restaurants are creating seriously gourmet fare out of macaroni and cheese, others are taking the comforting favorite to new forms. CiCi’s pizza took two favorites—pizza and macaroni and cheese—and created the ultimate Macaroni and Cheese Pizza. The Cheesecake Factory and T.G.I. Friday’s offer macaroni and cheese on their appetizer menus in the form of Fried Mac’ & Cheese. These bite-sized bundles of macaroni and cheese are perfect for dipping or great on their own. 

Beet It

Restaurant menus of all dining types are bursting with the deep crimson and golden yellow colors…of beets. According to Mintel, popular beet varieties on the menu include unspecified beets, baby beets, ruby red beets, golden beets and candy cane beets. Plus, the rich flavor of beets is being enhanced through roasted, pickled, braised and candied preparations.

Salads are the most popular vehicle for beets. California Pizza Kitchen offers a salad of romaine, watercress and fresh beets with Gorgonzola cheese and walnuts in basil Gorgonzola vinaigrette. The Rattlesnake Club serves a Roasted Ruby and Golden Beet Pyramid with baby frisee and red oak salad tossed with horseradish, aged sherry vinaigrette and chive oil.

While salads may be the most popular beet application, the versatility of beets is limitless. Border Grill serves a pickled beet salsa with its Quesadilla Abierta, an open-faced quesadilla with goat cheese and watercress. Janos Restaurant created a beet and pistachio flan as part of its Tasting of Fall Vegetables. Le Bec-Fin created a showcase of red beet salmon gravlax, golden beet salad and golden beet tempura. In the drink sector, Juice It Up blends beets into its Rejuvenator, which is a dynamic mix of carrots, cucumbers and beets.

Shake, Shake, Shake…

The milkshake is a blank slate. Its simplicity allows for some restaurants to design milkshakes invoking a sense of nostalgia, while others are borrowing from dessert trends. No matter how it is designed, a milkshake is one menu item that will never go out of style.

Milkshakes are all about flavor. Mintel lists the top 10 milkshake flavors as chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, Oreo, banana, raspberry, pineapple, mint chocolate, mocha and coffee. Emerging flavors include root beer, peanut butter, peach, cinnamon and blackberry. Cheeburger restaurant blends a creamy cinnamon milkshake, and Tower Inn has created a nutty hazelnut shake.

Milkshakes are also being transformed into sippable desserts. Steak n’ Shake created Sippable Sundaes—hand-dipped milkshakes topped with a choice of toppings including hot fudge, whipped cream and a cherry. Other desserts influencing the milkshake include Dreamsicle, banana split, Black Forest cake, cheesecake and chocolate cream pie. Burgerville blends ice cream, espresso, chocolate, cherries and whipped cream to create a Black Forrest Milkshake. Quick-service restaurant chain Sonic looks to cream pies for its inspiration, creating the Strawberry Cream Pie and Chocolate Cream Pie milkshakes.