warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Mini Desserts: The Restaurant Industry's New Big Trend

Kelli Shiroma |
June 17, 2013 | 9:14 p.m. PDT

Food Editor

The "Dolcini" desserts at Olive Garden are just one example of mini desserts (MissMessie / Creative Commons).
The "Dolcini" desserts at Olive Garden are just one example of mini desserts (MissMessie / Creative Commons).
The current mini desserts trend may be another piece of evidence that “the best things come in small packages." 

At both restaurants and well-known food chains, desserts are shrinking. Not the variety or selection of desserts … the portions and sizes of the desserts themselves. As of the beginning of May, 33 percent more dessert menus feature mini or petite dessert options than compared with the same menus four years ago, according to Nation’s Restaurant News

In the last few years, mini desserts have become more popular on menus at quick-service chains like Dairy Queen—which offers customers “Mini” sizes of its signature Blizzard—and Jack in the Box. However, within the last four years, larger corporate chains Applebee’s, Olive Garden and P.F. Chang’s have gotten up to speed with the trend — 78 percent more fine dining restaurant menus now feature smaller versions of classic desserts, according to Nation’s Restaurant News.

There are various reasons for the popularity and appeal of mini desserts. On the practical side, these smaller desserts—which are often cheaper than regular-sized desserts—promote portion control and prevent overindulgence after a filling meal. These smaller indulgences allow customers to satisfy their cravings for something sweet without breaking their wallets (or belts, for that matter). Diners on a budget will often find mini desserts more affordable because of their smaller sizes. 

These bite-sized desserts are also often unique—like the “Dessert Shooters” at Applebee’s, which are served in delicate shot glasses—making them harder to replicate at home and giving them additional flair. Delicious desserts presented in a sophisticated manner will still appeal to customers, regardless of the desserts’ sizes.

Lastly, mini desserts provide a quick and easy solution at the end of a meal when you are debating between two regular-sized desserts. Can’t decide which one to get? Both you and a friend can opt for several mini desserts and sample the different options. Studies have shown that, when it comes to desserts, customers often opt for “comfort food” and familiar options — creations that remind them of what beloved family members used to bake or create. Mini desserts provide a way for customers to explore the menu and venture out of their comfort zones—like trying a dessert different from what they usually order—without taking too much of a risk (i.e., if they don’t like the mini dessert, it’s only a small size).  

Curious to see what mini dessert options are out there? Check out these restaurants or quick-service joints for your next small snack. 


The “sweet treats” on P.F. Chang’s dessert menu provide the perfect tiny treat to finish off any meal. After all the savory flavors characteristic of the dishes at this restaurant, a bite of something sweet is probably all you’ll need to top off the night. P.F. Chang’s features six of these “mini dessert” options, including the “Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch Sweet Treat”—a chocolate brownie cake topped with a layer of peanut butter crunch, milk chocolate and caramel and adorned with chocolate syrup, caramel sauce and honey-roasted peanuts—and the “Blueberry Cheesecake Sweet Treat,” a white chocolate cheesecake infused with fresh blueberry swirls and served with fresh mint and a delicious vanilla crème sauce.


The signature Dairy QueenBlizzard"—traditional vanilla soft serve mixed with toppings like cookie bits, brownie pieces or candies—is available in mini, small, medium or large sizes. The mini size of this delectable treat debuted in August 2010 and is about half the size of the small-sized “Blizzard.” With more than 20 possible “Blizzard” flavors—ranging from “Oreo CheeseQuake” and “Hawaiian” to “French Silk Pie” and “Double Fudge Cookie Dough”—customers can have a blast with these mini-sized treats without feeling guilty about indulging.  


Yard House is famous for its extensive collection of beers and ales, as well as its menu featuring a wide range of American fusion cuisine, including more than 130 salads, pastas, appetizers, sandwiches, street tacos, individual-size pizzas, seafood, steaks and ribs, and grilled burgers. Among Yard House’s diverse menus is its large dessert menu. While customers will find decadent treats like the “S’mores Brownie”—a chocolate brownie with roasted marshmallows and a graham cracker crust—and the “Kona Coffee Ice Cream Sundae” on the desserts menu, they will also see a variety of “mini” dessert options. These “mini” desserts include: the “Mini Chocolate Souffle,” “Mini Peach Apple Cobbler,” “Mini Lemon Souffle,” “Mini Crème Brulee” and “Mini Trio Sampler.” The last features mini servings of the peach apple cobber, chocolate soufflé and lemon soufflé — three of the eatery’s more popular desserts. Most of these “mini” dessert options are under 600 calories, according to the menu, and provide customers with that perfect touch of sweetness after a heavier meal. 


To commemorate its 40th anniversary, Starbucks launched “Starbucks Petites” in March 2011 — “eight delicious and cravable petite sweet treats perfectly sized for a well-deserved afternoon treat." The “Petites” are less than 200 calories each, designed to create the perfect indulgence for the health conscious searching for that small, sweet snack. The various “Starbucks Petites” include Cake Pops—available in “Birthday,” “Rocky Road” and “Tiramisu” flavors—Whoopie Pies (“Red Velvet” flavor); Mini Cupcakes (“Carrot Cake” and “Peanut Butter” flavors); and Sweet Squares (bar cookies that come in “Lemon” and “Salty Caramel” flavors). 


Del Taco gives cheesecake a modern spin with its miniature “Caramel Cheesecake Bites." For those who don’t want to indulge in an entire cheesecake, these tiny but addictive bites are the perfect solution. This mini dessert option features a decadent mixture of gooey caramel and delicious cheesecake coated surrounded by a light, crispy shell.


While Applebee’s provides mouth-watering, regular-sized desserts on its menu—such as its signature “Triple Chocolate Meltdown” and “Apple Chimicheesecake”—the restaurant also offers customers a great variety of mini desserts. The “Blue Ribbon Brownie Bite,” for example, is a smaller portion of the eatery’s “Blue Ribbon Brownie” dessert—though smaller in size, it still comprises the same dark chocolate chunks, hot fudge and nuts and is served à la mode. Applebee’s also provides different “Dessert Shooters” served in shot glasses for those looking for small sweets to conclude their meals. The featured “Dessert Shooters” on the Applebee’s menu include “Strawberry Cheesecake,” “Chocolate Mousse” and “Hot Fudge Sundae." 


Tony Roma’s is different from most restaurants, in that its dessert menu only features mini desserts. Customers can choose from classics like “Golden Apple Tart,” “Red Velvet Cake” and “Strawberry Cheesecake” that have been shrunken down into tiny portions. Torn between the “Chocolate Chunk Cookie Sandwich” and the “Key Lime Tart?” Tony Roma’s also offers a “Dessert Trio,” in which the indecisive can sample three different delicious mini desserts. 


While Chick-Fil-A is known for its numerous chicken sandwich options, Waffle Potato fries and sweet milkshakes, other items on its dessert menu—like the “Mini Sundae”and “Cookie Sundae”—are not to be overlooked. The “Mini Sundae” features vanilla soft serve and is topped with whipped cream, Hershey’s chocolate syrup and a cherry, while the “Cookie Sundae” comprises a delicious chocolate chunk cookie covered with whipped cream, vanilla soft serve and a cherry. 


With well-known favorites like the “Tiramisu,” “Zeppoli” (traditional Italian doughnuts sprinkled with powdered sugar) and “Warm Apple Crostata” on Olive Garden’s dessert menu, the Piccoli Dolci—“little dessert treats”—might quickly be overlooked. However, for those who are stuffed after a rich pasta meal, these mousse-like treats provide the perfect dessert option. These “Dolcini” treats are served in mini glass bowls; each creation is layered with cake, mousse, pastry creams and berries. Olive Garden’s “Dolcini” treats come in a variety of flavors, including: “Limoncello Mousse,” “Strawberry & White Chocolate,” “Amaretto Tiramisu,” “Dark Chocolate Caramel Cream” and “Chocolate Mousse.” 


When it comes to desserts, Jack in the Box is well known for its signature ice cream shakes — namely, the "Oreo Cookie Ice Cream Shake," among other flavors like strawberry, chocolate and vanilla. But Jack in the Box also appeals to customers looking for simple snacks with its “Mini Cookies” and “Mini Churros." The former looks like a miniature version of Chips Ahoy cookies, complete with chocolate chips and candy-coated chocolate bits, while the latter features bite-sized pieces of the traditional, cinnamon sugar-filled churro. 


Petite treats are all the rage at Mimi’s Café. All of the desserts on Mimi’s menu (save for the “Molten Chocolate Cake”) are in petite sizes. Customers can select from favorites like the “Petite Bread Pudding”—baked from scratch with a Mimi’s signature spice blend, raisins and vanilla and served with buttery, whiskey sauce—and the “Petite Fresh Apple Cinnamon Crisp.” Similar to the “Dessert Trio” at Tony Roma’s, Mimi’s provides a “Classic Ensemble” option for customers who can’t choose just one mini dessert. The “Mimi’s Classic Ensemble” comes with the “Fresh Apple Cinnamon Crisp,” “Bread Pudding” and “Triple Chocolate Brownie Sundae” served à la mode. 


Though Claim Jumper is known for its comfort food-like entrées and larger-than-life portions, when it comes to desserts, there are a few individual-sized treats on the menu. The “Warm English Toffee Cake”—a petite, rich, brown sugar and date cake smothered with toffee sauce and served with vanilla ice cream—and “Red Velvet Cupcake” definitely do not need to be shared, and the “World’s Smallest Sundae”—classic vanilla ice cream topped with toasted almonds, hot fudge and whipped cream—is enough for one person. The other desserts on the menu, though—favorites like the “Chocolate Motherlode Cake” and “Jumper’s Mud Pie”—are definitely created with parties of two or more in mind. 


The sweet, bite-sized donut holes on Burger King’s menu is often the perfect complement to a piping hot cup of coffee or a delightful finish after a hearty breakfast, burger or combo meal


With a wide-ranging variety of flavors and a large assortment of ice cream specialties, it’s no surprise that Baskin-Robbins has several “mini dessert” options on its extensive menu. The “Mini Soft Serve Parfaits”—which come in Snickers, Reese’s, M&Ms, Oreos or Strawberry ‘n Almonds options—provides customers with bite-sized soft serve dishes mixed with their favorites candies. Baskin-Robbins even provides a new twist on its traditional ice cream cakes with its “Ice Cream Cake Bites,” which come in several different flavors — “Double Chocolate,” “Chocolate Mint,” “Oreo,” “Praline Caramel,” “Vanilla Blondie” and (most recently) “Red Velvet.” The ice cream company announced its new “Ice Cream Cake Bites” line in October 2011 with the four original flavors (“Oreo” was introduced last July, while “Red Velvet” was added last October). In contrast to Baskin-Robbins’ signature ice cream cakes, the cake bites allow customers to enjoy the same ice-cream-and-cake-combo in a decadent, beautifully decorated, individual-sized treat

Reach Kelli Shiroma here



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.