I want to talk about selling ala carte desserts and sweet tables

Joined Mar 6, 2001
My new position involves focusing on wholesale vs retail at this moment. With that in mind....
Country clubs in my area all do at least 1 weekly buffet. Usually a week night buffet, then seasonally they'll do something on the weekend too during golf months. Plus they do buffets on holidays.

I know:
cost is their first interest
taste and sales have to be an improvement to move people to change product lines

Same thing with ala carte desserts....cost.... and other hurdles exist, but I believe there still is a dessert need going unforfilled. Profit opportunties never saught when they serve ice cream or sorbet to all their parties as dessert.

In ADDITION to traditional bakery items (mini pastries, breakfast items, etc) I'd like to set up a monthly or bi-weekly changing dessert menu to offer everyone from clubs to hotels and conference centers. I'm mean more then a seasonally changing menu...a menu designed for buffet service (specificly items that can sit out for 4 hours or more) and ala carte desserts that are upscale, contemporary YET easy to plate. Time permiting I'd like my menu to show a photograph (black and white for faxing) of each item plated and easy dessert sauce recipes or some cleaver dessert tips for chefs.

I'm thinking about 4 ala carte desserts (meaning individual portion sized)and 10 tortes per menu...Fax over the menu, make a contact call, hope to pick-up other orders of our reg. product line.

Basicly it's what I've done for the past several years as a club pastry chef....just increasing the volume and offering delivery with min. orders. Typical bakery ordering rules....typical misen place at the shop nothing to outragous or tooooo customized (unless the market shows a willingness to pay for this).

So, why aren't there tons other businesses/bakeries offering this?

Too much work? I've been doing this for years and have menus and books to lean on when time is tight.

Not enough demand?...well I'm looking for a nitche...maybe it won't be for everyone....but the upscale client would be nice.

Just wondering if any of you think this might sell or want to kick around any ideas based on this????? have you ever seen any place doing this?
Joined Mar 4, 2000
Let me make sure I understand you correctly: You want to offer a changing selection of desserts, but will you offer different amount options for different clubs? What happens when club A has a lot of leftovers from last week that they weant to use? Can they scale back their order. Or they have a lot of chocolate cake, so they want to replace it with lemon. It seems that it wouldn't save your customers much time, because their variables will be changing, so they can't always order the same buffet package. It may end up being easier for them to order individual items, with you offering certain bonuses (freebies, incentives), depending how much they order. It's a nice idea for them and you, to regularly change the non-core items. It'll keep things interesting for everyone. You can email them pictures and descriptions of featured items, or even give samples, time and budget permitting.

Good topic!
Joined Oct 9, 2002
Momoreg brings up good points. It seems like a stable of offerings might be the best to create a broader appeal. That way the club or hotel can build some word of mouth on people's favorite desserts. Of course, new offerings are always a plus, but I have to think there's value in keeping at least part of your selection consistent.

If I ever scrape up enough funds for my own shop, wholesale, upscale, single-portion desserts has always seemed the way to go. Seems like the most flexible of plans.

In addition to clubs/hotels, can't you also market to caterers?
Joined Mar 6, 2001
Sorry, I didn't explain my thoughts very clearly.

Trying again:

I'd like to be everyones pastry chef, so I'll offer ala carte desserts and sweet table items that will change on a bi-weekly or monthly basis. I'd send out my menu in advance (about 1 month) to their chefs and banquet cordinators, so they could sell it to up coming parties. This would include items they would not typically find from a bakery. Commerical product lines become boring after awhile because their product line doesn't change much and they don't have alot of individual item selection, no? (that's what I've heard)

I was thinking of a rounded ala carte menu just like I'd provide if I worked on their premise as their pastry chef:

1. Creme brulee's
2. Individual Cheesecakes
3. Individual Pies
4. Individual Tarts
5. Granites
6. Sorbets
7. Puddings (bread, etc...)
8. Individual Cakes, Tortes, Charlottes etc...
9. Shortcakes
10. Molten Cakes...
11. And so on....
Frozen Souffles....cobblers...

Many items I could provide on a frozen basis so they could defrost as needed with-out have too much waste.

I could also like to sell sauces for plating, maybe a cordinating garnish like a tuile or stencils for plating. Or perhaps I should include sauce recipes for chefs to make on their own...as a freebie.

I'd only offer a limited selection (aprox. 4) each time I put out a ala carte menu so I'd be making more volume and less selection back at the shop.

If they came across an item they wanted to keep selling past the menu date...they could special order it, making me their comercial supplier. Or maybe offer them a menu for their banquet desserts (volume priced). All the banquets around here only sell ice cream, sorbet or non-baked square of cheesecake at their parties, WHY not sell a more upscale dessert? They wouldn't sell hamburgers as their main entree, why sell ice cream after a nice meal?

A changing menu might kill me....I don't know, that's my question. Is there a need, has everyone tried this already and I just didn't see it fail?

I've heard complaints about there not being much of a dessert selection out there. And it's really true about items they can put on their weekly buffets. They need assortment and change...

I would offer pre-sliced items (one of their biggest complaints about waste with unsliced products) and gear these items to be desserts I know hold up on a table for 4 hours with-out melting out.

Does this make more sense? I'd make items the way they need them to be....the way most bought fresh product doesn't come from other places (pre-sliced, individually portioned, selections you'd never get at a bakery like brulee's, souffles etc...).

My experience is not with bakeries. Given that, I've told you the front end of this bakery isn't gang busters (yet) busy due to location. Do you have any ideas or imput as to what I'm suggesting to do? Is this crazy? Will I kill myself running in circles, should I simpilfy this more? Do you agree with me that there is a need like this? Or has everyone already tried this and it just won't work?

I know some of you are down on wholesale work...limited profit... this has to be sold to upscale clients....I know the average restaurant doesn't fit that....but there are many "upscale" places in Chicagoland who don't have pastry chefs, that print up their specials daily.
I'm not sure about "building a reputation" on a specific dessert....this is geared to build a reputation for the place...that they "always have fabulous desserts".
Joined Oct 9, 2002
Wendy, that does clarify things. And I agree that, if you spend a little time pushing samples to the right people, there is a market for this. At least in such a food town as Chicago.

Again, that sounds a lot like my 'plan' so I could be just as crazy as you! Good luck!
Joined Mar 4, 2000
What happens if the work becomes too much for you to handle? Will your partner be able to help you, or will it be within the budget to hire help? As long as there is physical room for growth, go for it!

The only question that I have is: You seem doubtful about whether your market really needs this. It wouldn't hurt to ask around. Make some phone calls, pay some visits, ask what your prospective market REALLY wants. If you make what they want, and charge realistic prices, your idea has to work.
Joined May 29, 1999
The best way to get club and catering business is thru word of mouth.
People love to discover the new biz in town.
Have an open house, invite club memebers, chefs, managers, serve some samples, have pix out and menus, price lists.
Another good link is wine shop/liquor store owners and wine reps, they sell to everyone.
Don't forget your purveyor reps, they too sell to everyone, a good word and you could have a spring board to a great gig!
It's great to have menus but the individual chefs will ask for spacific items they know sell.
Keep your thoughts open to change and change often.:bounce:
Joined Jul 28, 2001
You know me, Mr. Negetive.
I'm not so sure that getting a reputation for one specialized item is not better then to get a reputation for everything. It's seems to be better to overlap your retail and wholesale. We found the best avenue to go is to is to beef up our best retail movers and take them wholesale. This cuts your labor cost right off the bat.
I will assume that you will build this business with the understanding that you will not be doing the labor forever. Please make sure that you build in labor into all of your items from the start. I have seen to many start, get some business going, and when it comes time to hire help they take the dive.
Your idea is a good one, but I can't stop thinking that it would be a logistical nightmare. Constantly ordering different products, storing them. Different packaging changes. Eliminating getting product volume discounts. Constant changes in cooler/freezer storage. I guess the main thing that comes to mind is that you will need to have all of the items available all the time. You know how sales persons are. If they get compliments on something they will sell it a month later to a trouble group to eliminate complaints. You might be telling the the chefs, no, more then you would like.
Most of all I see you becoming these places personal pastry chef.
Are you absolutely sure this is your goal?
I'm here to support you in any way you go!!!!!
But don't not think about developing some killer products and pedaling those. We offer exclusives to the clubs, this give them something they get known for. Our best wholesale product is my best mistake. I used to do a decadent chocolate chip cookie type torte. Well one day in the weeds,we ground the chocolate with the hobart cheese grater and it yielded a lot of choco dust. Well this actually burnt a little when cooking and gave it a special nutty flavor. Burnt Chocolate Pecan Torte 24.50 wholesale. Have no idea why I added this stupid story.
Take it slooooowwww.
Joined Jan 15, 2001
I understand what you are getting at Wendy---and it is an interesting concept. Complicated, but interesting. Yes, I agree with Momo on finding out what the market wants, if the clubs and caterers really go for the concept.

An idea would be to develop your menu into dessert components----the sauces, the garnishes(tuile, curls, candies, etc.), accompaniments(ice-creams, sorbets, etc.) and the actual dessert item. Then maybe you can present to them a plated dessert or they can mix and match components from your menu(pairing suggestions). Jeff does have a point about labor and product ordering.
Joined Mar 6, 2001
Well, this is why I'm asking. It's better to think ahead and work out bugs before I find them the hard way. The only part I visualized as complicated was actually taking the time to fax out menus and make follow up calls. But you have to do that anyway to keep the sales moving.

I was looking at this as components. Just how I handle my misen place as a pastry chef. Have my mousses, ganches, curds, frostings, cakes, etc... and assemble large and small. Some for the front end some for out the door. I'd rather carry out 100 shortcakes then 100 decorated sugar cookies.....no? To me the labor is in the detailed work that non-skilled employees can't really do. Where as, I thought they could help me assemble tortes etc... vs. handing someone a recipe and letting them go to town on their own.

Help me, I don't see how this is harder? It's like the difference between assembling mini pastries vs. individual portions, no? I was thinking of doing most items in full sheet pan components and cutting to shape then assembling. Also thought I'd package in full sheet boxes for most things.

Product ordering.......well yes, this is new ground for me. Please spell out how this is too complicated? I've never had very complicated ingredients at clubs... sb and rasp. purees, frozen fruit, can fruit, chocolates, shells and base ingredients like flour, butter, etc...

Help? Please explain what I'm missing?

You have to remember that theres' really nothing happening up front and their may never be, in this location. But I thought if we got wholesale accounts flowing we might then open another higher profile location (and keep the first to bake from).

I'm looking at making things in volume rather then a birthday cake here and there. So Cindy and I wouldn't need skilled help for a while. Where as if you have a ton of mini orders, like cakes and decorated personalized items...you need help right off the bat. Less custom work, more volume work.

Yes, I was visualizing becoming everyones personal pastry chef, with-in limits. I can't do customized items per order. More like here's our specials this week (using up what's on hand) order it with x amount of notice, this size min. order, we deliver on this day only....just like every other vendor.

I was hoping that this way I wouldn't have items stuck sitting in the freezer for long (that's what I saw at regular bakeries). Just like I work at clubs...I would figure out how to use up this component I have extra of, into my next dessert.....so nothing sits too long.

What happens if I run into saying "no" when a chef sells something that's not on this weeks menu? I thought somewhere down the line a few desserts would be come to light as winners and be a main core of product both in front of the house and back.

I'm not doubtful my market really needs this, I'm more worried that I can get enough volume to keep my costs down (because until they know my product and love it, they might be scared of change and just might stay with vanilla ice cream out of fear).

Jeff, I see you as Mr. Positive....I'm Mrs. Negative! I'm just trying to figure out what to do out the back door that's profitable and interesting that people will want. I know from talking to people that they'd buy my sweet tables for holidays and special events. But that's too much work on just a couple days a year. I also have put out feelers on centerpiece desserts, before. There's a market for those too. But they require skilled labor to help me....so I've place that farther back on the burner, for now. Everytime I see a new bridal magazine I dream about doing exclusive wedding cakes too.

Help, I need to look at the bottom line. What's needed (to some extent only time will tell), what's most profitable and achievable?

How would you work smart out the back door?

P.S. Partner Cindy is a skilled pastry chef and cake decorator! Totally quality and profit driven...like myself... and she's a much better speller (thank-goodness)!
Joined May 29, 1999
Paper goods, cake boards,boxes, aluminium pans, packaging, gum paste, fondant, cinnamon oil, heavy cream when the delivery doesn't come, who to call to fix the compressor, a reliable plumber, a good contractor, plastic cello bags size cb4, ribbons, a quiality print shop, you will need professional accounting software, set up a web site or email, a good accountant, INSURANCE, workers comp. find out, do you deal with the health department or dept. agriculture or both. Small business loans, you will need money!!!! small wares, equipment repair, where do you find good deals on sheet pans? Phone company, seperate fax line and cable internet access...........
what are you doing in a year from now? projections, even if you just jot them down on a note pad.

Delivery truck, van, driver?? What weight paper stock to use on your mailings, color ink? Black and white, pink???

think of the little non baking items now.

Ask the chefs at the clubs, ask other shop owners, ask, ask, ask!

RBA has web site and mentoring programme. Find a retired baker and see if they can help. Find a new business and learn from thier mistakes, find a womans business group for support.

Okay, I'm tapped out, you get the picture.
Joined Mar 6, 2001
Those are just standard business items. Cindy is already set up. She's a great purchaser....really good at finding deals. Dad's an accountant, hubby in refridgerator business, I'm graphic artist. Most bases are covered....

I've got our first CLUB customer yesterday (Cindy has other wholesale accounts). My last club wants me to continue working for them. She wants me to do all their important members parties. We will hook up to do their wedding cakes too. If she comes thru...... it will be great.......also happy to be a reference/referral for other clubs for me.

It's looking like a "go".
Joined Nov 27, 2001
Wow Wendy- I have been gone for a few weeks because my computer crashed and look at where you are!!!!

I talked to my husband about this- he knows a little about food but knows a lot about selling it. He is consistently one of the top ten salesman at his Sysco house. His thoughts on this are:

Most customers like something consistent so that their customers can know what to expect. However, many like offering 'specials' or trying new things to keep their menu exciting and desserts is a good place to do this. He thinks a combination of this- a consistently good line with additional exciting changing options is the most sensible thing to do. He also thinks that the components might have a good market also because a lot of sous chefs without much pastry knowledge could put out an exciting product this way.

He also feels that if you wanted to try a "test" of the 'specials' idea that Valentines would be a good time to intoduce it. Restaurants may be a little more inclined to find something special or out of the ordinary for that occasion.

I hope that helps. Good luck on this business deal. I hope it is everything you've been searching for. I also find nothing wrong with finding agreement within a marriage!!!
Joined Mar 6, 2001
Great, then he basicly agrees too and I'm learning a consistant product line is a must.

A couple more items to ponder....

We're getting together a wedding cake brocure for a mailing to country clubs. As we enter data for a mailing list of WHO we want to contact....the question becomes how far of a range (in a BIG city) do we want to drive to with deliveries.

It seems to me that you mail to all the wealthy areas plus all the local ones. I know that it will be a huge drag delivering a cakes across town regularly, but it seems to me if there's money to be made you go there. YES we have Min. order amounts! I think we make the sacrafice of taking the time to deliver, until we build enough business to hire a driver. What if our best customers turn out to be on the other side of town?

Or is that spreading ourselves too thin driving an hour each way for a delivery? Should we focus close to home and not venture further until all sources are explored and exhausted?

Anyone have any opinions on this? Anyone familar with hiring delivery persons?

Product line is another big question. I tend to not want to make the same things everyone makes. I'd rather do a twist on them and stand out from the crowd. I'd still keep familar products like lemon bars or brownies, cheesecakes. But I think something like a thin layer of raspberry preserves under my lemon filling is cool or do brownies topped with items like caramel, ganche, toffee bits, mint, or a two layered brownies like cinnamon chocolate, mint and chocolate etc... Make things higher end, higher design.

Or do you think you have to stay with traditional items the made the way people are familar with them as you CORE products and do your "twists" as an addition?
Joined Nov 27, 2001

I think I have discussed the above subject with my husband for hours in regards to my business, which, as you know is small and specialized, but we've come to a conclusion that we find true almost all the way across the board when it comes to food......

That it is best to decide what type of establishment you want to portray to your customers and go on from there. Do you want them to think you are "upscale", "a bargain", "run of the mill", "quality", "interesting". What is it that you and your partner want to portray. Even if you are thinking of your core line products- what do they say about you? I think in this instance if you are looking to set yourself apart from the-corner-bakery-we-sell-donuts establishments then you must do so. If your brownies are the same as everyone else's why should they buy from you? I believe in representing the business you want to be even if you are not there yet. You will attract the clientelle you are looking for. Another thing to think about- restaurants can get the usual stuff from people like my husband who sell it cheaply by the case- you need to offer them a reason to come to you. After a while you may find an unexpected niche or product and then may have to refine the plan but that can be a good thing.

Delivery area- I think this depends on what you want to deliver, what area you are in,etc. And are you talking about the delivery guy delivering pies and tortes and cookies or wedding cakes. It would be extremely hard to hire someone for the wedding cake thing. My area of free delivery is based on mileage (25 miles) because I also live in a metropolitan area. Because delivery times are based on traffic (does destination have quick access to freeway or are you spending a lot of time driving through town) and not area alot of times.

Re my experience with your wedding cake dilemma: The people in my geographical area are not willing to pay my prices- they prefer a lesser product for a lesser price. My customers mainly come from the opposite end of the county- but they are willing to pay for the quality.

***DISCLAIMER- these are only my opinions and meant to provoke thought. Your business would be much bigger than mine, thus rendering these opinions as theoretical.
Joined Mar 4, 2000
Anna makes a lot of good points.

Just to add to that, your business name will also say a lot about the style of product. So, if your name is "The Chocolate Chip", for instance, you kind of limit yourself to selling homey (less expensive) items. Since your product does have an unusual twist, make it known in your name or logo.

In terms of delivery policy, why does it have to be set in stone? You should certainly research options for wedding cake delivery people, but if time allows it, then make wedding cake deliveries yourself. For all your other wholesale orders, you will (hopefully) find that you can't possibly do all your production, costing, marketing, etc., PLUS deliveries.
Joined Jul 28, 2001
I agree woth all of the above. I also agree with Momo on the delivery. You can't really set everything in stone. Just doesn't work that way. When we first opened many years ago we made a descission that we would service all of our customers. Small weddings, large, near, far. Well we just can't be profitable doing that. We have become very selective due to the economy. Calls come in for cakes, the first ? is how many guests expected and where is the reception? If it's a small (100p) we reffer them out. If it's outside our delivery area we also reffer.We just can't be profitable doing 7- 400. cakes vs 1 -2500. cake. This was our first year of this and our wedding cake count dropped by 80 cakes. We did approx 180 cakes but added many dollars to the bottom line. Our yield for these cakes was approx. 31% over last year. With cogs,labor,supplies,misc. reduced, it's our only way to go.
Just a thought.
Joined Mar 6, 2001
Jeff, I didn't understand some of what you wrote.....?

Min. $$ amount for delivery is 200., anything less isn't worth the drive.... .
Joined Jul 28, 2001
For wedding cakes we just looked at the local map, plotted in sites we would like to be associated with. Outside this area we refer to other bakeries. We've been blessed to have narrowed the area to 12 sq mi. Our delivery charges are minimal 50-75. I prefer that we all take a break on Sundays so our delivery on Sun. is 150++.
We do have minimums for wholesale. We like to have at least 200. in the van for it to be profitable to leave with a driver.
It's good to think ahead on all this stuff, but your customers needs will dictate really how you perform. Everything you try will not be sucessful. You will have to take the good with the bad. Try not to put all of your eggs in one basket(getting one huge account vs a couple of small ones). I gotta tell ya, I really feel a few consistant products is what pays the bills. JMO!!!! Then I think your idea would follow as a natural.
Be really, really careful how you conduct yourself with this economy. I have not experienced anything like this in the 10-13 yrs. I been doing this. Money is driving most of the decisions of my customers. The old days of passing the cost on to the customer are gone. Everyone waits to the last minute for everything. People refuse to order in advance(killer for perishable products). These past holidays, business waited to the very last minute to place orders to make sure they had the funds.
This was the first year I had to chase monies(which happens to be the only thing that makes me hate what I do) from customers I've had for years. DO NOT extend yourself!!!!!! Put as much thought and effort into the agreements with your accounts as your product. Use credit applications(call their refferences). COD to start. I would do 7 days net for everyone after that. Any orders over 1000. get a PO. Most of all, make sure your liability ins. is enough to cover anything that might happen. Its the crappy part of the business to talk about all that stuff(email me if you want) Protection of your family should be the first thing you do.
This is a hard road, remember you work to live. not live to work. I find it best to split up my day. I set aside a few hours in the afternoon to think about the things your thinking. When I'm in the kitchen I focus only on what is at hand. When I'm doing paperwork, selling,P/R, that is all I do at that time.I found that if I did not segment my day I got clutered thinking about everything, all the time, which made me less productive. I try not to leave any task undone. The worst thing is coming home after a grueling day and can't find any one thing that you had accomplished. This is all mumbo jumbo crap, I guess I just want to tell you all the mistakes I made so you don't have to. You'll be very sucessful. Just take it one step at a time.
Like Momo said, nothing is in stone. That's what's great about working for yourself! If you want to charge 50 for del. then do it. If someone calls for a hot shot and it's really going to throw off your day, make it rewarding.CASH!!BABY!!!!
Hey!! how's that for an answer to a very short question.
GTG chef out at a new hotel invited my family to his Sunday brunch. He's young, just has the smooze thing backwards.
Wake Up now!!!
:D ;) :smokin
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