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Just Desserts

“Excuse me waiter,” my customer, a middle aged woman asks. “Are the desserts homemade?”

“Some,” I reply. “Not all.”

“Which ones are homemade?” the lady asks. “I like homemade desserts.”

“The apple tort and the tiramisu are homemade.”

“That’s it?”

“Yes madam.”

“What about the crème brulée?” the woman asks, pointing to the sample on the dessert tray.

“It’s made here,” I explain. “But it’s from a mix.”



“So who makes the flourless chocolate torte?”

“It’s made by a company called Bindi.”

“What about the hazelnut mousse?”

“Bindi as well,” I say.

The woman, an obvious dessert aficionado, looks crushed.

“At least you’re honest,” she says.

“If you’re interested in something really good,” I reply, “There’s a great coffee shop down the street with homemade stuff.”

“Thanks waiter,” the woman says. “I think we’ll go there. Sorry you lost the sale.”

“No worries,” I say, taking the dessert tray off the table. “It’s a good rule never to eat dessert and dinner in the same place.”

“That sounds like a good rule,” the woman says.

“I live by it.”

“Let me ask you a question,” the woman asks, her voice dropping to a whisper.

“Yes madam?”

“Do the other waiters tell the customers that all the desserts are made here?”

“They might,” I reply. “But I’m new here so I don’t know.”

“Thank you waiter,” the woman says. “Just the check please.”

I bring the woman her check. She pays and tips me 20%. She and her companion leave to go to the coffee shop down the street. Do I feel bad that I lost the restaurant a sale?

No way.

Most restaurants don’t make their own desserts. They farm that work out to local bakeries or mega-dessert conglomerates like Bindi. I’m not saying these outsourced desserts aren’t good – they’re just not homemade.

Every restaurant I’ve worked at used vendor supplied desserts. Every owner at these restaurants instructed the waiters to tell the customers that the desserts were hand made on the premises. When I was a new waiter I participated in that duplicity, but no more. Customers aren’t stupid. Eventually they’ll realize they’re seeing the same identical discs of “homemade hazelnut mousse” or “flourless chocolate torte” in separate locations. For crying out loud, even the donuts at most Dunkin Donuts are not made on premises! They’re made at a central bakery and trucked to satellite locations everywhere. That’s why I can get a Boston Crème with my medium coffee at the gas station. The same thing happens with restaurants.

Desserts are a high profit margin item. Restaurants are eager to sell them. Yuppies, brainwashed by the Food Network, have come to the conclusion that every dessert they eat has to be homemade. In their rush to make profits restaurateurs often have no compunction deceiving you about the provenance of their confections. I once saw a restaurant owner buy his desserts from Costco and pass them off as homemade for $9 a pop.

When people eat desserts I notice they appear to become more childlike and innocent. For a moment the sweetness softens them and their worries are swept away in a torrent of sugar. I started to feel guilty about deceiving people. I felt like I was stealing children’s milk money. So, when customers asked about the desserts, I started telling the truth.

Some restaurants have full time pasty chefs, manufacture artisan chocolates and churn their own branded ice cream. These places, however, tend to be big expensive operations with equally high menu prices. In today’s cutthroat restaurant economy most establishments can’t afford to pay a pastry chef. Heck, many restaurants don’t even have the oven space to bake a single cake. Many restaurateurs, by necessity, have to outsource their dessert offerings. That doesn’t mean the desserts aren’t good - but I think it’s dishonest to lie to customers about it. Some restaurants openly advertise their desserts as coming from someplace else – using the preprinted laminated menus the dessert companies pass out. In my experience, however, many restaurants outright lie or tell their waiters to say, “I don’t know.”

Recently I ate dinner at a restaurant near my house. After a nice meal my friend ordered the chocolate mousse. I took a pass on the sweets and settled for coffee. When the waiter brought the dessert I noticed it was the exact same chocolate mousse we used to serve at The Bistro.

“Excuse me waiter,” I asked, knowing the answer before I asked the question. “Is that dessert made here?”

“Yes sir,” the waiter intoned like a brainwashed cultist. “All our desserts are made here.”

I just wanted to see what the waiter would say. Don’t worry. I didn’t tell my friend she was eating something made in a factory. She was enjoying it too much. Why wreck her fun?

That’s why I seldom eat desserts in a restaurant. Usually they’re unimaginative and, sometimes, not fresh. At the restaurant I’m working in now all our desserts, even the homemade ones, are frozen solid and left in a freezer for a week, sometimes longer. I’ve fielded a couple of complaints about our chocolate cake being stale. (When I asked the manager to remove the offending cake from the customer’s check she gave me the third degree. “No one’s ever complained about our desserts!” she gasped.)

There are many fine restaurants with excellent homemade desserts. If they’re known for their excellent confections, by all means, order them. If you want my advice, however, go somewhere else for your after dinner sweets. Go to a place that specializes in dessert. Why pay the ridiculous markup restaurants charge? $9.50 for a microwaved chocolate lava cake? Don’t be a sucker.

And don’t worry about us waiters. You might think we get angry when you don’t order dessert but nothing could be further from the truth. Tables of middle aged Lipitor junkies usually end up sharing one dessert and lingering for an extra half hour. That sucks! When you skip dessert that means we can turn the table faster and soak the next round of patrons on overpriced food and marked up booze.

Man, I can just see the hate mail I’m going to get from restaurant owners.

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