Texas Pete

Sriracha aioli with bacon-wrapped scallops

How to Upscale Your Menu with Signature Sauces

Tips for incorporating the right ingredients.

While ketchup remains a tried-and-true favorite among full-service dining customers, there’s an increasing affinity for specialty condiments cooked up by restaurant chefs and featured on menus. In fact, 45 percent of consumers say they look forward to a signature sauce at restaurants, according to Datassential, and 91 percent say they would buy that sauce at a supermarket.

To capitalize on this new trend, many chefs are successfully implementing signature sauces that provide unique flavor combinations and upselling opportunities for their menu. Sriracha aioli, for example, is one of the fastest growing condiments industry-wide, with a current market penetration of 2.3 percent and nearly 25 percent growth in the past year.

“There are nearly a million dining options for a consumer when they choose to eat away from home or order delivery,” says Dan Plunkett, vice president of sales for foodservice at Garner Foods, the makers of Texas Pete hot sauce products. “Having a few signature sauces on the menu can differentiate a restaurant like nothing else.”

Specialty condiments can also be a high-margin item. If chefs take the time to create an innovative new product—one that is unique to their restaurant and can only be enjoyed by customers there—there’s an opportunity to increase the pricing for any dish that incorporates that item.

“Signature sauces offer the chance to upcharge for something operators would otherwise give away for free,” Plunkett says. “For example, if you sell 100 servings of your sauce each day in every one of your 10 restaurants at a markup of 50 cents each, that can generate more than $180,000 per year in revenue (not counting the cost of ingredients and labor). If you offer as many as three signature sauces, that figure goes up to more than $500,000 per year in added income from condiments alone. It’s a compelling opportunity.”

When developing signature sauces, it’s important that chefs look to the current trends. According to a recent report from Datassential, 71 percent of restaurants offer at least one “spicy” menu item, and 82 percent of all consumers enjoy some level of spiciness in their food. This love for hotter flavors is likely driven by the increased incorporation of international cuisines—such as Asian, Mexican, and North African—on restaurant menus.

“Some operators worry that spicy flavor can be polarizing for customers,” Plunkett says, “but you can simply include menu call-outs to provide descriptions of the sauces, which may be ‘mildly’ or ‘very’ spicy.”

Sriracha is one way that many chefs are spicing things up, adding it to ranch dips, barbecue sauces, and condiments like ketchup or mayo. Plunket says that emerging flavors such as harissa and gochujang are also helpful for operators who may want to add a healthy halo to their menu, and can be incorporated with a fruit like blueberries to create a spicy and sweet flavor profile.

“There are very few barriers to creating signature sauces and dips,” Plunkett says. “And hot sauce is one of the most versatile ingredients in an operator’s kitchen.”