Condiments: Flavor on the Shelf

Mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup—these are staples that many operators take for granted but they can have a significant impact on the success of your menu. And what about hot sauce, chutney and salsa? These flavorful “extras” can go a long way to differentiate your concept.

All these pantry regulars are filed under the category of condiments.
It’s a broad but important category that’s seeing lots of action in
line extensions, flavor variations and global trends. Smart purchasers
aren’t taking condiments for granted these days; the right mix can
boost your menu items and your profits.

Burger toppers

Datassential’s MenuTrends Direct tracked the use of condiments
across 4500 menu items in chain and independent restaurants. The most
popular burger toppers (excluding standard mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup
and relish) are listed below; the figures represent the percent of
restaurants that have each condiment or sauce mentioned on the menu.

BBQ,19.7%; Guacamole, 5.4%; Ranch, 4.3%; Salsa, 3.1%; Teriyaki,
2.9%; Buffalo, 2.9%; Gravy, 2.1%; Aioli, 1.9%; Dijon mustard, 1.8%;
Hickory, 1.4%; Chipotle mayo, 1.4%; Horseradish, 1.1%; Honey

The condiment challenge

We asked operators and chefs in different segments to tell us what
one condiment they can’t live without. They also revealed how a
house-made or specialty condiment can really signaturize and upsell a
menu item.

Wesley True, True Restaurant, Mobile, Ala.

Japanese mayonnaise. The wasabi-flavored mayo adds zip to
sandwiches, sauces and more. “We make all our own steak sauces, mustard
and mayonnaise daily.” On the lunch menu: Spicy Shrimp with spicy chili
sauce, crème fraiche, toast and greens; $7

Michael Ferraro, Delicatessan, New York City

Ketchup. Heinz is his brand of choice and it forms the
base of several sauces on this stylish comfort-food menu. The sliders
($9) get slathered with a blend of homemade mayonnaise, ketchup, Dijon
mustard, spicy brown mustard and lemon juice; the same sauce serves as
a dip for spring rolls. “I also like a sweet-sour relish on my burgers
and it complements the slider sauce perfectly.” Ferraro minces
half-sour pickles, cornichons, white onions and scallions and cookes
them down with rice wine and white vinegar, sugar, peppercorns, thyme
and bay leaves for Delicatessan’s relish.

Dan Barash, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Atlanta-based

Sour cream and fresh guacamole. These are the “ketchup
and mustard” of Moe’s—they go inside our signature burritos, including
the Homewrecker ($8.39). “Our pico de gallo (fresh tomatoes, cilantro,
jalapenos, white onions and lime juice) is our most widely ordered
‘add-on’ condiment.” But customers also get to personalize their menu
choices from Moe’s salsa bar, which boasts three freshly made salsas
(tomatillo, fire-roasted tomato and traditional) and two sauces—Rock ’n
Roll (medium) and Hard Rock (hot).

Steve McHugh, Luke, New Orleans

Mustard. Several different types of mustard are always on
hand to use as both condiments and ingredients. “We make our own cherry
mustard too, as well as different types of pickles and marmalade.
Kumquat marmalade and spicy pepper marmalade are two favorites.” On the
lunch and dinner menu is Pâté de Campagne with watermelon pickles,
Creole mustard and country bread croutons; $8

John Sundstrom, Lark and Licorous, Seattle

Sriracha. This spicy Asian sauce is made from sun-ripened
chilies and garlic, ground into a smooth, red paste. It comes in a
squeeze bottle, making it easy to use as a condiment or squirt into a
recipe. Salumi and cheese plates are often accompanied with house-made
marmalade or mostarda—fruits cooked down with spices. “I use dried figs
and prunes in the winter and fresh fruits like peaches, cherries and
grapes when they’re in season.” A menu signature is Foie Gras Terrine
with kumquat vanilla bean marmalade and kumquat/baby mache salad; $18.

Justin Ward, Art Institute of Atlanta and Leapfrog Restaurant Solutions, Atlanta

Soy sauce. “It can take the place of salt and is
extremely versatile in many cuisines—Indian, Japanese, Latin American,
and more. Plus, I use it as an ingredient to prepare my own condiments
and marinades.” Made-from-scratch salsas are another versatile
favorite; they can be made with any vegetable or fruit combo to
signaturize simple grilled fish or meat. Ward’s Pork Tenderloin with
Cranberry Mole and Cranberry Salsa won the grand prize in Ocean Spray’s
2008 Ultimate Cranberry Recipe Contest; it uses “craisins” to add a
sweet note to the tangy Southwestern-style salsa.

Building it better

The folks at Firehouse Subs, a sandwich chain founded by firemen and
based in Jacksonville, Florida, are fussy about their condiments. “Our
mayonnaise and deli mustard are the ‘glue’ that holds our sandwiches
together,” claims COO Don Fox. “We worked with our suppliers to modify
the specs of standard products and create premium formulations and
flavor profiles.”

These ingredients are key to the “fully involved” build of
Firehouse’s hot specialty subs, which feature a unique steaming process
to heat the filling and the addition of mayo, lettuce, tomato, onion
and deli mustard to top everything off. An example is the Hook &
Ladder—a “fully involved” sandwich of toasted bread, smoked turkey
breast and Virginia honey ham, smothered with Monterey jack cheese.

“We branded our sandwiches with this taste profile and build when we
started in the Southeast, and now it’s consistent and accepted across
all 360 locations,” says Fox. Aside from the “fully involved”
nomenclature, the availability of 50 or so hot sauces—all free for
customers to shake on their sandwiches—sets Firehouse Subs apart and
keeps the customers coming. The proprietary Captain Sorensen’s may be
the most distinctive. It comes in a bottle shaped like a fire hydrant
and boasts “a little kick with sweet undertones.” Datil peppers are the
secret. “We worked with crop experts at the University of Florida to
develop and optimize the seeds,” Fox reports.

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