Some guests never say no to dessert. They’ll order the classic fudge sundae, matcha tiramisu, or even a scoop of vanilla bean gelato if it will keep their sweet tooth happy. Then, there are the more savory-minded guests who’d rather pass on a sweet treat. 

More restaurants are trying to convert these dessert deniers into sugar aficionados. According to the National Restaurant Association's 2023 Trends Report, there’s a growing trend of restaurant owners using strategic marketing campaigns to revamp classic dessert dishes and encourage a little indulgence.

As a restaurant owner, even if your restaurant doesn’t have a pastry chef, you and your staff can still get creative with your dessert menu. With the upcoming Willy Wonka 2023 movie, there’s no better way to celebrate sweetness than turning your restaurant’s desserts into a display of pure imagination. Bigger brands like IHOP are even building their own Wonka-themed menus with items like a “Scrumdiddlyumptious Strawberry Hot Chocolate” or “Fantastical Wonka Burger.”

Here are some simple restaurant marketing tips to promote your dessert menu. You just need some creativity, a dash of patience, and the right tech in your restaurant. Sorry in advance to dentists.

Restaurant dessert with Willy Wonka flavor ice cream styles and caramel.
All desserts may be sweet, but that doesn't mean you can't put your own spin on the classics. Photo by Kobby Mendez / Unsplash

From exploring review sites like Yelp to watching food reels on Instagram, guests step into a restaurant expecting a certain dining experience. Before you’ve even seated them at a table, they’ve already seen your menu and explored different drink options, assessing if you’ll meet their standards. Capitalize on all that excitement by riffing on different popular food trends alongside the usual classic dessert dishes.

Try crafting a colorful Willy Wonka margarita with a golden ticket instead of a traditional cocktail umbrella or orange and green Oompa-Loompa-inspired cupcakes. Check out how other restaurants approached pop culture events, like the Barbie movie. Some restaurants even created a special table reserved by Barbie herself. These small creative gestures in your restaurant marketing efforts are meant to enhance the overall dining experience by appealing to a guest’s sense of humor.

Of course, updating your menu to every new restaurant marketing trend can be both tiring and expensive. You’re already busy creating great dishes and a memorable dining experience. To help give yourself some flexibility, engineer a menu that will highlight your best-selling entrées, desserts, and drinks. With these core menu items always raking in profit, you’ll have room to experiment with more eccentric drink and dessert options.

And with SpotOn's point-of-sale toolbox, you can even automate your marketing channels so you can reduce the time spent drafting emails by hand. Thanks to marketing automation tools, you can easily plan a new restaurant marketing campaign that utilizes your restaurant sales and customer data, all while staying true to your restaurant's brand identity and voice.

2. Let your desserts shine on Instagram

Restaurant dessert chef holding a Willy Wonka cake and taking a photo for Instagram.
It's never been easier to share some delicious desserts on Instagram and other social media sites. Photo by Hans Vivek / Unsplash

We’ve all felt our tummies grumble after seeing a dessert on Instagram or TikTok. The perfect little pastries drenched in velvety dark chocolate. A gourmet pumpkin spice cheesecake sprinkled with marshmallows and caramel sauce over the crust. A local restaurant uses this type of social media marketing to get every smartphone scroller to stop and get excited for a sweet bite. Your restaurant can join the hype by creating your own dessert-focused social media posts.

When you craft a Willy Wonka dessert menu (or any exciting dessert menu), encourage guests to take photos of their desserts and tag your restaurant on their social media. Some restaurants even use specific hashtags related to upcoming holidays and other pop culture events as a way to increase their online presence and refine their restaurant marketing strategies.

Ask guests to use hashtags like #WillyWonka or #WonkaDessert to connect your business with the movie itself. When you have guests posing with your dessert, hold a contest for the best Instagram selfie, where you can reward the winner with a gift card, restaurant merch, or other prizes that would usually be included in a loyalty program. As an added bonus, you'll also be showing off the future rewards for guests eager to become loyal customers.

Don't forget to track which desserts seem to garner the most excitement so you can implement them as part of your restaurant marketing strategy for the next major pop culture event. These valuable restaurant marketing ideas don't need to be thrown away when the Wonka hype calms down.

With every guest celebrating your dessert on social media, be prepared for an increase in online traffic to your restaurant’s various online profiles. Guests love seeing a restaurant interact with them by liking a post or commenting back in a friendly way. Beyond that guest engagement on Instagram and Facebook, remember to claim your business page on review sites like Yelp and Google Business Profile. From responding to different reviews to “unfiltering” hidden positive reviews on Yelp, you’ll gain more control over the information guests see when searching for your restaurant.

3. Use restaurant tech to your advantage

Point of sale system kitchen displays in a restaurant kitchen as chefs prepare food and desserts.
SpotOn tech helps a restaurant kitchen and front-of-house run smoothly.

Most managers in the restaurant industry assume their tech is there to track orders and manage tables. However, your point-of-sale system can do so much more for your food and profits.

One SpotOn client, the Joe Muer restaurant group, used their point-of-sale system to go a step further with how they offered desserts to guests. After analyzing the point-of-sale system reports, Joe Muer noticed that a dessert cart, instead of a typical dessert menu, led to a huge increase in dessert sales. Joe Muer increased dessert order volume by 10%, which led to a $25,000 increase in monthly revenue.

While dessert carts won’t be the solution for every type of restaurant, you can still use those same creative muscles to yield a profit. Try creating an online ordering menu that features simplified versions of your desserts. It'll let local customers find your restaurant online and indulge on the go. If you have the resources, try setting up a booth at some local events to help sell your simple desserts and get your restaurant's name out there to new customers.

Restaurant chef dusting sugar on pastries in the style of Willy Wonka.
Streamlining your desserts can change the way you serve customers. Photo by Elevate / Unsplash

Chefs can even prepare simple desserts before the restaurant opens to save precious time during service while still incentivizing sales. Consider collaborating with a local bakery to save on labor while still providing the high-quality dessert offerings your guests crave.

Don’t be afraid to let your restaurant staff provide their own feedback about desserts. Since restaurant servers and staff have their own unique experience with guest feedback, they’ll have a good perspective on whether it’ll be best to recommend the chocolate mousse alongside the espresso martini, and so on.

At the end of the day, your restaurant's menu isn't just a list of food and drink orders. It's a valuable asset to your overall brand image and identity as a restaurant, and something to leverage as part of your restaurant marketing plan. Even if Wonka didn't use his marketing budget on Google ads, you can still treat your menu as a golden ticket inviting the next batch of guests over for a delicious dessert adventure.

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