Hit Me With Your Best Shot

Applebee’s dessert shooters
Applebee’s dessert shooters applebee’s

Creative chefs menu savory and sweet dishes in shot glasses, or shooters, much to the delight of consumers, who encourage blurring the lines between food and beverage.

Shooters. Frequently, they are drinkable and proffered as a beverage, but just as often they are food items served with a spoon. The trend is gaining momentum on bar and beverage menus, as appetizers or desserts, and across most dayparts.

From 2013 to 2014, shooters grew 18.2 percent on menus, according to Datassential. The market research firm notes the bulk of the increase comes from fine-dining establishments serving everything from oyster shooters to shots comprised of prosciutto and provolone.

Noted chef David Burke, who owns several restaurants across the country, says shooters are ideal for guests who gravitate to small bites. “Shot glasses are the perfect vehicle for a good snack or amuse-bouche,” he says. “They are also great for bar snacks and allow the price point to be under $5.”

Even in quick service, shooters can work, but price point is key and dictates whether customers will purchase them in a fast-food environment, according to Bob Karisny, vice president for menu strategy and innovation at quick-service chain Taco John’s. “Little shots bode well if restaurants can do it for a decent price, like $1 or possibly $2,” he says.

At casual-dining juggernaut Applebee’s, dessert shooters have been a menu staple for more than five years. Three varieties, including the Chocolate Mousse Shooter, Strawberry Cheesecake Shooter, and Hot Fudge Sundae Shooter, sell for $2.19 apiece at company-owned units in Kansas City, Missouri.

“They allow guests to indulge on a smaller scale,” says Jessica James, Applebee’s executive chef. “If you are at a big table and no one wants dessert, you don’t have to feel guilty about getting a shooter.”

James says Applebee’s discovered more than six years ago there was a gap in its menu of smaller, individual desserts. Its shooters have become popular particularly during late-night hours. “A lot of our franchisees are staying open after midnight, and these desserts offer a great opportunity and have become part of our overall strategy,” James says.

Alain V. De Coster, the lead chef instructor at the International Culinary Center in New York City, says shooters are ideal for a large quantity of guests and, though small, make a big statement.

“Three inches is probably as high as you can go, but they can easily be stored in a refrigerator. That’s the beauty of them,” he says. “Their visual appeal is priceless.”

One of the challenges of menuing food shots is how to best make the item shootable without losing the essence of the original dish. Clearly, that’s where culinary creativity comes into play.

Dominique Ansel, who invented the widely popular cronut, is a case in point. At his namesake Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York City, Ansel menus a Chocolate Chip Cookie Shot, which is a chocolate chip cookie in the shape of a cup that is filled with milk.

Menu trends analyst Nancy Kruse says the intersection of food and beverage is stronger than ever and is spurring real innovation. “Some of the most creative R&D work in the restaurant industry at the moment is occurring in the beverage category,” she says.

And that creativity extends to hybrid menu items where food and beverage collide.

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