How restaurants can use simple add-ons to drive traffic and sales.

As the season changes, consumers are looking forward to their favorite warm-weather treats. Ice cream, which always ranks among the most popular spring and summer treats, continues to hold appeal for diners, particularly when these offerings are elevated with a strong selection of customization options.

“The popularity of ice cream treats has been steadily increasing—and the competition is fierce,” says Victor Dell’Aquila, chef and quality assurance manager at Ferrero USA. “The type and quality of toppings you offer your customers is vital if you want to keep your customers happy and grow your business.”

In fact, ice cream toppings can be a deciding factor in where diners go for their treats. Not only do customers enjoy being able to create an ice cream and topping mix of their choice, but the added variety can help brands appeal to a wider base of diners. Additionally, these add-ons can elevate a simple dessert into a craveable dish, as well as stand out visually, which lends appeal to social media users. However, not all toppings generate equal appeal. Those that align with food trends or that offer a unique diner experience can help brands stand out in a crowded market.

“Customers today are very knowledgeable about what’s new and trending due to social media—they’re always looking for the next big thing,” Dell’Aquila says. “As an operator, you need to be aware of these trends and be able to deliver a number of exciting options that are unique and Instagram-able.”

This attention on social media can also be good for brands, as influencers may draw traffic into a restaurant. Additionally, when restaurants market their own ice cream—and topping—programs, they may see additional foot traffic. Meanwhile, quality toppings from name brands consumers already know and love, such as Butterfinger®, Baby Ruth®, and CRUNCH®, can further bolster traffic for a restaurant’s ice cream program.

“Not only do branded toppings offer high quality, but they  offer brand awareness and advertising power as well,” Dell’Aquila says. “Additionally, ice cream treats have a nostalgic component that resonates with customers, and that works better with recognizable toppings than with generic toppings. Branded toppings also allow you to ask for a premium price, boosting your bottom line.”

Yet giving consumers the power to customize doesn’t mean letting culinary innovation take a backseat, Dell’Aquila says. Restaurants already have skilled culinary leaders on staff who can come up with new ice cream and topping combinations, preparation techniques, and more to create innovative menu items that balance taste, texture, and visual appeal. Additionally, partners, such as Ferrero, can help restaurants with operational challenges or menu inspiration.

For example, Dell’Aquila notes that when operators have mentioned that toppings are hard to work with because the sizes of the toppings vary throughout a case or bag, he recommends shaking the container before opening it to blend the sizes together for a more uniform mix. At other times, he’s helped restaurants fine-tune their topping storage temperatures and solutions to ensure guests are served the best possible product. He also reminds operators that any ice cream program, no matter its goals, can only be successful when restaurants focus on the guest experience and challenge themselves to add unique combinations to their menus.

“Today’s customers are far more educated about desserts—they know value and are willing to pay more for a high quality, well-made treat,” Dell’Aquila says. “Operators need to stay out in front of the curve and be creative with their offerings in order to attract more customers.”

To learn more about boosting your ice cream experience, visit the Ferrero website.

By Peggy Carouthers

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