Seemingly as humble as an understudy, sauces can actually play a starring role on any menu. For many restaurants, sauces are already a staple addition to entrees, but giving them more prominence can have a positive effect on incremental sales, customer tastes and menu development.
"Absolutely, sauces are very big right now," says Mary Chapman, senior director of product innovation at Chicago-based research firm Technomic. "People want more flavor in their dishes, and unique flavors, and that's where sauces can come in."
Here are a few best practices for operators who want to put sauces in the limelight:
Shrink the menu, expand the sauces
Keeping a menu fresh can be challenging, especially for an operation’s revenue, since any new dish presents a risk of diner indifference. But the versatility that sauces lend to menus allow restaurants to go in the other direction, Chapman says. Rather than expanding a menu, an eatery can simplify operations with fewer menu items but additional sauce options.
For example, the same basic sandwich can take on different flavor profiles with the addition of sauces that play up Asian ingredients or contain unique spice blends. Experimenting with sauces can also give operators a glimpse into what types of items their customers prefer. "Sauces are a good way to increase efficiency and eliminate the slow movers on a menu," says Chapman.
Spice it up
Thanks to social media, international travel and the continuing dominance of the Food Network, consumers are now more interested than ever in unique spices and flavors. In fact, for the first time, a majority of consumers now say that they prefer spicy food, according to Technomic.
"Younger people in particular are more excited about hot and spicy flavors,” says Chapman. “But in general, everyone is interested in smoky, tangy, different flavors that aren't just about heat. They're more about complexity."
By focusing on innovative sauces with new flavors and distinctive spice variations, a restaurant can garner more attention. For example, Subway created buzz by including Sriracha in its sauce lineup, and many YouTube users waxed poetic about Wendy's new ghost-pepper sauce. Likewise, in the full-service segment, Mama Dip's Kitchen in Chapel Hill, N.C., offers barbecue sauces and salad dressings that are so popular that diners buy bottles of them to take home.
Deliver multiple options
Offering numerous sauce choices, especially on one plate, can make a dish stand out, and it allows customers to feel like they're customizing their meals—a trend that’s not going away.
"Customization is huge," says Chapman. "People enjoy trying new flavors, but they also like the old favorites, so putting a couple dipping sauces on a plate can appeal to both tastes." For example, she says, a plate of chicken fingers could have traditional ranch-style sauce in one small dish, but it could also feature a few other options such as a lemongrass Asian sauce or a scratch-made, sweet-and-spicy barbecue sauce.
Likewise, Dead Rabbit, a gastropub concept in New York City, offers a popular appetizer of thick-cut fries served with a trio of dipping sauces: tangy Old Bay mayo, Irish curry and spicy homemade ketchup.
Chapman adds that this technique also helps introduce more innovative flavors to a menu, without creating entree items centered on one particular sauce. "You can jump on trends quickly by using sauces this way," she says. "And then just as easily move on to other flavors without revamping your menu."
For easier, delicious sauces that can suit any restaurant, check out Golden Ladle’s line of culinary sauces that can be customized according to your specific needs.
This post is sponsored by Kerry Foodservice