Restaurants are under constant pressure to offer innovative flavors to differentiate their menus and increase customer foot traffic. One menu idea restaurants are developing is the increased use of dips and sauces, which allow customers to personalize flavor profiles to their orders.
With consumers today focused on flavor and craveability, operators can differentiate by experimenting with globally inspired sauces across the menu. But combining recognizable condiments with exotic flavor profiles can be a way to offer guests an approachable way to try something new.
In fact, while Sriracha might seem to be the current condiment king, classic flavors actually reign supreme in the minds of consumers. According to Technomic, the top 10 condiment/sauce flavors on menus include:
- Garlic sauce
- Sweet and sour
- Tomato sauce
- Soy sauce
For operators, this means that there’s payoff in offering these familiar flavors on menu items—and bonus points if you let customers add them themselves. Each table at The Crack Shack, a fast-casual concept in San Diego, has a sauce caddy for customers to dress up their orders sauces such as ranch, chimichurri, Baja hot sauce, curry mustard, kimchi bbq and “cracksup.”
Similarly, polished-casual concept Vesta Dipping Grill in Denver focuses on grilled meats and dipping sauces inspired by preparations from around the world. Customers are allowed to pair their dish with a variety of sauces, served on the side, that range from a list of more than 30, such as chutneys, salsas, marmalades and aiolis.
For the love of ranch
The proliferation of appetizers with dips and sauces speaks to consumers’ desire for more interactivity, both with their food and with the members of their dining party. Additionally, data from the NPD Group reveals the classic ranch flavor will continue to take the lead among food favorites. Consumers love the combination of mayonnaise and buttermilk along with three strong flavors—sweet, salty and umami.
Research also shows ranch holds double the share of the second most-popular dressing flavor, blue cheese, and its formats continue to expand. As Americans try to eat more healthfully, operators are spotlighting produce, which is playing an increasingly prominent role as an entree. However, ranch dressing serves as more than just a salad-topper, and ranch flavors are sure to come up more within the dips, dry mixes and snacks sectors.
“Salad dressing is a good example of how a staple item can extend beyond its traditional use,” said Annie Roberts, vice president, NPD SupplyTrack. “Ranch dressing has become a mainstay not just for salads, but also for wings and other dishes. Understanding the salad dressing flavors that are growing or declining will provide distributors, manufacturers and operators with the detail and insights needed to build a more profitable category.”
The proof is in the dressing: At Twisted RAnCh in St. Louis, every item on the menu includes a ranch dressing—11 appetizers, 13 sandwiches, five entrees and seven side dishes are tossed in ranch, spread with ranch or served with a side of ranch. The restaurant also offers 18 ranch-style dressing variations, including buttermilk basil, durkee, Creole, Thai and guacamole, proving that the combination of bold and classic flavors is a winning one.
This post is sponsored by Ventura Foods