Sweet endings are driving new beginnings in the dining scene as dessert-only restaurants and restaurants with separate dessert rooms are growing in popularity. In fact, indulgence is trending hot. According to the National Restaurant Association, almost one in three fine-dining operators say consumers bought more desserts in the past year than two years ago.
“Guests can savor the meal by relaxing with a dessert and coffee, tea, or brandy,” says Joshua Zinder, principal of New Jersey–based architecture and design firm JZA+D, noting that dessert-only establishments are growing and many upscale restaurants offer drawing rooms with comfortable couches and plush chairs where patrons can relax and relish dessert.
The idea comes from Europe and Asia, where one of the most acclaimed restaurants is Waku Ghin in Singapore’s high-end Marina Bay Sands resort. JZA+D created the design of Waku Ghin to accommodate both the space, which was constricted by other venues and characterized by a narrow hallway, and the service requirements, which called for multi-course, refined meals.
Private chefs, led by Chef Tetsuya Wakuda, serve diners elaborate eight-course meals in one of Waku Ghin’s four dining rooms. After the main courses, guests are taken to the separate dessert room where the experience is culminated with two sweet courses.
The design, influenced by Chef Wakuda’s collection of knives and personal sculptures, resulted in a finely tuned aesthetic, and corridor walls along the narrow hallway were transformed into curving forms that effectively tie the whole restaurant together, providing a smooth and artistic passage from dining rooms to the dessert room.
In the U.S., dessert restaurants and dedicated dessert rooms, such as Chef Mindy Segal’s HotChocolate in Chicago, began in major cities but have become popular in smaller cities as well.
In 2009 when Clint Medlock opened Crave Dessert Bar, he knew dessert-only establishments were not the rage in North Carolina, but his business smarts told him downtown Charlotte would work.
Location and synergy worked in his favor. “Business was slow at first, but a large sports bar and restaurant next door drew customers in,” he says.
When the sports bar closed, Medlock knew it would be difficult to stay in business selling $5 slices of cake. He revamped the concept into a dessert bar that also serves savory appetizers, wine, beer, and craft cocktails.
Today there are more than 40 desserts on Crave’s menu, but instead of the proverbial $5 slice of cake, there are gourmet cupcakes at $9 a pair and Bailey’s Bread Pudding or Smokey Mountain Moonshine Apple Pie, each priced at $8. The biggest splurge: Frangelico Chocolate Fondue, $24, served with seasonal fruit and marshmallows.