How 2 restaurants cross-utilize condiments

Culinary Trends
Phptograph: Shutterstock

Fresh, made-from-scratch menu items are table stakes for restaurants these days—they’re what customers expect from fast casuals on up. So how can operators meet that expectation when labor costs keep rising and the labor pool keeps getting smaller? The unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in 30 years, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, and industry competition for skilled cooks is at an all-time high.

Simplifying the menu is one solution, finds Donna Lee, founder of Brown Bag Seafood Co., a fast casual with four units in Chicago. But simplifying doesn’t necessarily mean reducing the number of available menu items. The concept’s menu lists eight proteins to mix and match with six formats, including a salad, power box, taco, sandwich or entree plate. “We’re not training staff to do 60 different dishes, but with a limited number of SKUs and minimal mise en place, we offer 60 items,” she says. The proteins are seasoned and marinated in advance, and during the lunch rush, one employee tends the grill and constantly turns out cooked seafood. When orders come in, the job is mostly one of assembly, says Lee.

Signature sauces made simpler

Brown Bag’s condiments, available at a separate sauce bar for guests to customize their order, are made in-house at each location, and every BOH and FOH employee is trained to prep them. “They’re mostly made ahead during our downtime between 2 and 5 p.m., so it doesn’t interfere with service,” says Lee.

To further ease things, Lee created a signature sauce by combining customers’ three favorites—a yogurt-buttermilk ranch dressing, rickshaw sauce (tomato-based chutney) and curry ketchup. The resulting Boss Sauce is the customer favorite, she says, and doesn’t require separate from-scratch prep.

The industry has long been predicting that Indian would be the next fast-casual trend, but the cuisine’s complex spicing and complicated sauces have been a stumbling block. Akash Kapoor, CEO of six-unit Curry Up Now, feels he is surmounting that stumbling block, and the restaurant company has recently begun to franchise. The secret lies in his family’s signature sauces.

“The menu lists 50 items but we make them all with just six sauces. The typical Indian restaurant has 20 or more,” says Kapoor. Curry Up Now started as a food truck, with Kapoor cooking up the sauces in a 10-gallon kettle. As the Indian street food concept caught on, he expanded to a commercial kitchen. But with a plan to grow his brick-and-mortar locations, Kapoor soon had to think bigger. “I partnered with a soup supplier who scaled up the sauce recipes. But it took two years for me to sign off on the project … to get the sauces right, with the same authentic, small-batch taste,” he says.

The tikka sauce is the most widely used across the menu, appearing in mashups such as tikka masala burritos and Indian poutine and flatbreads, as well as a more traditional chicken tikka masala bowl. The vegetables and proteins, including chicken, chickpeas, lentils and a vegan meat substitute, are all prepped by the lunch shift before each restaurant opens to maximize labor efficiencies so once the rush begins, the finishing can be done per order, says Kapoor. This strategy also avoids cross-contamination on the line, promoting food safety.

Multiple concepts, one condiment

New York City-based Mercer Street Hospitality runs several independent restaurants, including Lure Fishbar and Burger & Barrel. Executive Chef-partner Josh Capon not only cross-utilizes ingredients within each menu, but he might also spec a housemade sauce or condiment between concepts. The bacon jam he created for his entry in the South Beach Wine & Food Festival’s annual Burger Bash is a case in point.

The recipe is a simple combination of bacon, Spanish onions caramelized in the bacon drippings, vinegar and thyme, that when spread on a cooked beef patty “gives a bacon cheeseburger the perfect bite every time,” Capon says. The Bash Burger was such a hit that it’s now a permanent item on Burger & Barrel’s menu. And the bacon jam often accompanies a plate of seared scallops or grilled fish at Lure. Training staff on one signature sauce allows cooks to shuttle between two concepts without losing a beat.

More From FoodService Director

Sponsored Content
college students clean label

From Furmano’s.

As consumer preferences and definitions of what healthy eating means change, so do foodservice menus—and colleges are no exception. According to Technomic’s 2018 Healthy Eating report, 40% of consumers say their definitions of health have changed over the past two years, with some citing a shifting focus to eating a balanced diet rather than trying to eat sugar- or fat-free options. Some diners also say they are trying to be more aware of nutrients and vitamins, while others are looking for whole-grain and enriched options.

One of the biggest trends in...

Menu Development
Meal ingredients

Consumers are pretty well-educated about clean labels, gluten-free options and the value of vegetables in a healthy diet. That’s the baseline for operators in colleges and universities, as well as business and industry, healthcare and even senior living. But diners are continuing to evolve in their never-ending quests to eat healthier, with functional or “healing” foods gaining ground.

So finds Technomic’s recent Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report , which reveals that eaters are seeking foods that boost the immune system, increase energy, improve digestion and relieve stress. In...

Industry News & Opinion

Howard County Public School System in Ellicott City, Md., will be offering free lunch to students for two days during winter break, The Baltimore Sun reports.

This is the first time the district will be providing meals over winter break. The lunch will be served on Dec. 27 and 28 at two sites in the community.

About 22.2% of the district’s students are enrolled for free or reduced-price meals. The district served 66,276 meals last summer during its summer meal program .

Read the full story via .

Industry News & Opinion

Cranston School District in Cranston, R.I., has hired a collection agency to help reduce its lunch debt , NBC 10 reports.

The district’s chief operating officer sent a letter to parents saying that the district would be using a collection agency next year to collect outstanding lunch balances after other collection methods have failed. Parents who owe $20 or more and haven’t paid in the last 60 days will receive a letter from the agency starting Jan. 2, 2019.

Cranston accumulated $95,508 in unpaid lunch balances between Sept. 1, 2016 and June 30, 2018. The district’s meal...

FSD Resources