Sweetness and light: The after-dinner challenge

Julie Sheppard

Julie Sheppard

25 November 2015

The end of a meal is your last opportunity to sell drinks to customers – yet few venues make the most of it. Julie Sheppard watches as five brands and venues take up Imbibe’s challenge of injecting some zing into the after-dinner experience

‘Finally sir, a waffeur theen meent?’ asks John Cleese as the waiter in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. ‘I couldn’t eat another thing,’ says Mr Creosote. ‘Oh sir, it’s only waffeur theen,’ tempts Cleese, before racing to the other side of the restaurant as poor Creosote eats it and dramatically explodes.

Gut-busting aside, this sketch illustrates the challenge facing restaurants when diners reach the end of their meal. How can you tempt them to make just one more purchase? How much or how little should you offer?

Whatever happens, you should at least offer something. ‘After-dinner is a sale opportunity that’s missed by many venues,’ says Imbibe editor Chris Losh. ‘Even one small extra sale per table can make a big difference to your take at the end of the night.’

With this in mind, Imbibe recruited five brands and five different types of establishments – from smart hotel to busy bistro – and challenged them to create something eye-popping as a meal closer.

How it worked
Venues were asked to devise a special serve, integrate it into their existing offer for two weeks and market it to drive sales. The Imbibe team with consultant Christopher Cooper of Drinkonomics visited each venue to judge the results.

We were looking at the strength of the concept, how well it was delivered, how it was marketed and finally the maths. How much did it cost to prepare, what was the GP and how many were actually sold?

Venues rose to the challenge and gave a range of alternatives from whisky with chocolate fondant to a plum-infused Manhattan with cheese. Marketing included social media initiatives, POS flyers, verbal upsells and staff incentives.

The judges picked out several golden rules that could be adopted by any venue. First was visibility. ‘You need something that leaps out of the menu at you,’ noted Losh. ‘There must be a physical presence,’ agreed Cooper. ‘A flyer, a note pinned to the menu or a listing on a specials board.’

Theatre of serve also pays off. ‘A serve that looks great is eye-catching; even better if it can be created at the table,’ said Gaëlle Laforest. ‘Some venues encouraged great engagement,’ added Cooper.

Marketing was also key. Some venues produced a creative strategy on a very limited budget. ‘Social media-driven promotions and competitions really work,’ said Cooper. At the very least you should share photos on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Simple pairings can be the most successful. If you have ports on your drinks list and a cheeseboard on your menu, why not offer a single glass of port with one slice of cheese as a ‘special’? ‘There’s also more potential for venues to actually offer a dessert cocktail instead of dessert,’ pointed out Losh.

Above all, this challenge proved that it is possible to prolong customer spend beyond the main course. ‘This is an area of innovation that anyone can have in their own restaurant or bar,’ concluded Losh.


WHERE: The Shrub & Shutter, 336 Coldharbour Lane, London, SW9 8QH
WHAT: Sticky Fingers cocktail with Stichleton cheese

‘A perfect, plum-infused Diplomatico Exclusiva rum Manhattan served with a mini cheeseboard,’ stated the chalkboard in bijou neighbourhood food and cocktail den The Shrub & Shutter. Although billed as a dessert cocktail on the food menu, this was a dry drink that stood up to the savoury flavour of the cheese.

‘We wondered how to make a normal cheeseboard more exciting,’ explained co-owner Dave Tregenza. ‘We liked the idea of putting our chef’s recipes into cocktails, so we made a rum-infused plum chutney to go with the cheese and used plum-infused rum in the drink.’ The result was a hit. ‘Some real thought had gone into this pairing,’ praised Laforest.

On the menu for £9 and with a GP just under 70%, this serve was prepared in advance with the Manhattans batched for speed, but poured and aromatised at the table for a touch of theatre. As well as the chalkboard, paper menu and verbal recommendations, the serve was marketed on social media, with a Twitter competition: the bar’s followers had to re-tweet a pic of the serve and a winner was chosen at random to come in and sample it with a friend.

The result was 24 sales in just under three weeks; not bad for a 70-seater venue. ‘This has been nicely thought out on a small budget,’ concluded Losh.

GREAT IDEA... The kitchen and front of house staff collaborated in creating this serve, which ensured that the whole team got behind the promotion. Using social media to generate excitement before guests even set foot in the venue was also a neat marketing strategy.

COULD BE BETTER... The judges wondered if guests got value for money with the small portion size of this serve.


WHERE: The Athenaeum, 116 Piccadilly, London, W1J 7BJ
WHAT: Glengoyne 12 Year Old with chocolate fondant

Chef David Marshall worked with F&B manager Michael Ball to create this after-dinner serve, based on one of the hotel’s existing desserts. ‘With this whisky a chocolate fondant was a no-brainer,’ said Ball. ‘The whiskey also has a few tropical notes, so we matched those with some caramelised banana.’

In keeping with the upmarket hotel’s tone, the dessert was presented on a stylish waved plate, while the whisky was served on a wooden platter with a jug of water. It scored highly both in terms of look and taste.

‘The different elements of the dessert bring out different elements of the whisky,’ approved Losh.

This serve was a verbal upsell at the bar, where it was priced at £12, and also part of a special ‘star deal’ menu where it was sold for a £5 supplement to the prix fixe. The whisky cost £1.40 and the pudding cost £1.50. ‘We take a little hit on GP, but it’s good to get the extra sales,’ said Ball. ‘It’s been an easy upsell and has increased the amount of whisky sold at lunchtime.’ An impressive 45 serves were sold in two-and-a-half weeks.

GREAT IDEA... As Ball noted, this ‘brought the whisky bar to the restaurant’ and had the added bonus of taking whisky out of the hotel’s traditional evening service slot.

COULD BE BETTER... A measure of neat whisky is ideal for whisky lovers, but could be off-putting for others. A different serve, such as a cocktail, might have broader appeal and lure new customers into both the category and the after-dinner drinking occasion.


WHERE: Seven Park Place at St James’s Hotel and Club, 7-8 Park Place, London, SW1A 1LS
WHAT: Don Lavazza 7 dessert cocktail with Montgomery Cheddar and pear slices

‘The perfect finale to a wonderful meal,’ declared laminated flyers in Seven Park Place restaurant advertising the Don Lavazza 7. Why seven? ‘It took seven weeks to come up with the recipe and there are seven ingredients,’ explains Spanish bartender Miguel Sanz. His cocktail used muddled dried figs, shaken with vanilla-infused Stolichnaya, pear juice, Mozart Dark, vanilla syrup and a single Lavazza espresso shot.

Prepared at the bar, as guests moved on from the restaurant, there was good theatre of serve here with a giant ice ball made on the bar top. The final serve on a slate platter encouraged customers to nibble a bite of cheese or a slice of pear, then take a contrasting sip of cool coffee cocktail. ‘This worked on paper, but didn’t quite deliver in the glass. But I do like the fact you can play and interact with it,’ decided Losh.

Costing around £6 to make and selling for £17.50, the team sold around 15 in one week, supported by the flyers, a menu listing and a social media campaign. ‘It really feels like the team has got behind this serve,’ noted Sheppard.

GREAT IDEA... The theatre of serve at this smart hotel, where guests presumably have time to linger, was a good way to showcase the pairing to other customers and extend the after-dinner moment.

COULD BE BETTER... Remember that less can be more; this drink would have stood up on its own as a dessert cocktail for customers who are too full for pudding. And it would have matched chocolate squares better than a tangy cheese.


WHERE: Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings, 42 Northampton Road, London, EC1R 0HU
WHAT: Amadeus cocktail with gluten-free lemon pudding

Bartender Michael Sutherland’s Amadeus cocktail was paired with a lemon pudding that was already on the B&H menu. ‘It took three goes to come up with the idea, as I wanted to make sure it wasn’t too sweet,’ he said. The final recipe was a mix of equal parts Mozart White Chocolate, Rathbone New London Dry Gin and Xanté Pear, shaken with lemon juice and egg white.

Visually the cocktail and dessert made a pretty pairing, with a dash of berry coulis on the drink matching a smear of coulis on the plate. ‘I tried to match the colour palette of the drink to the look of the dessert and the flavour profile wasalso the same,’ explained Sutherland.

In terms of the final taste, it was a hit, too. ‘The cocktail added a chocolate note to the pudding and its dryness balanced the sweetness,’ said Sheppard.

With the pudding and cocktail combo costing customers £10, GP worked out at 62%. However only the dessert was listed on the menu; the drink pairing was entirely a verbal recommendation from staff. This was surprising as the regular cocktail list had space for a seasonal cocktail card, simply paper-clipped to the front. As a result, only 20 were sold across two weeks.

GREAT IDEA... When it came to taste, this pairing was on the money and its good looks would catch the eye of other customers once it was on the table.

COULD BE BETTER... A lack of marketing let down this concept and was a missed opportunity in terms of sales. A dedicated stand-alone listing, or a bit of advertising on social media would have increased sales significantly of what was a well-crafted and conceived drink.


WHERE: Vinoteca King’s Cross, 3 King’s Boulevard, London, N1C 4BU
WHAT: A glass of Cálem’s Colheita Port 2000 with both Cashel Blue cheese and an apricot and almond tart

‘Cake or cheese? What pairs best? You decide!’ This was the task that Gus Gluck set for his customers with the Colheita Port Challenge at Vinoteca King's Cross.

A brilliantly designed flyer (shown right) served as a placemat, voting form and offered some basics about colheita – ‘pronounced kol-yay-ta’ – and Cálem. Customers were also incentivised to cast their vote to win a magnum of Portuguese wine; while the team spread the word on social media.

The pairings themselves were pretty simple, yet effective: a slice of creamy Irish Cashel Blue cheese or a sweet tart. ‘The port worked with both, but in different ways,’ decided Cooper.

The final serve cost £8.95, giving a GP of 71% and the fact that 47 of them were sold during the two weeks of the promotion suggests that this was something that guests were more than happy to engage with.

Staff had been trained about the colheita and whoever sold the most won a bottle of port. ‘This was good for both customers and staff,’ noted Laforest.

‘We incentivised it, as in the end fortifieds aren’t the most glamorous category, plus colheita is niche,’ said Gluck, who was pleased with the results. ‘We would run this promotion again over Christmas,’ he added.

GREAT IDEA... The marketing behind this promotion was creative, while staff incentives paid off with impressive sales. ‘Vinoteca had something traditional, but the way they treated it was innovative and engaging,’ concluded Losh.

COULD BE BETTER... With the highest sales figures and clever marketing, there wasn’t much room for improvement here. Well done Team Vinoteca!

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