Comfort foods like pizza and pasta are familiar favorites on American restaurant menus, and the secret to both dishes’ success relies largely on a good sauce. A high-quality tomato sauce base can also help elevate and inspire other menu items—and increase profits.
Tomato sauce is an important staple in many restaurant kitchens, taking center stage on many of diners’ favorite Italian foods. “Consumers have a familiarity and comfort level with these types of menu offerings,” says Mike Leccese, director of culinary and R&D for Haliburton International Foods. “Whether they were childhood favorites or your great grandmother’s homemade recipe for pasta with marinara, the idea that one can always fall back on a recognizable comfort food, knowing it will deliver on expectations, is a compelling reason to have dishes like these on a menu.”
Offerings like pizza and pasta help raise check averages because of the consumers’ familiarity with and willingness to order them. Cost savings operationally is another huge benefit. Making sauce from scratch, however, can be extremely time-consuming, and with labor shortages on the rise and minimum wage increases looming in many states, it simply isn’t economically feasible for many smaller operators.
Second, while the popularity and marketability of “fresh” is trendy at the moment, it does have drawbacks. Sourcing fresh produce year-round can be a challenge in many parts of the country. “The biggest challenge with making fresh sauces daily is consistency and the impact to operations,” Leccese says. “When you have one unit, it’s easier to control operations and monitor daily preparations—but across a regional or national chain, variations and inconsistency can be expected.”
Viscosity, flavor, color, heat level and particulate size are all attributes that can fluctuate across units when back-of-house teams are asked to produce scratch-made sauces. A well-made manufactured sauce supported by a favorable contract can eliminate inconsistency while minimizing supply risk, as well as unstable markets for out-of-season produce.
In addition to providing a delicious base for pizza and pasta, tomato sauces can be “jazzed up” and multi-purposed for variety and operational efficiency. For example, cooked ground proteins can be added to a base marinara to become a Bolognese sauce; additional extra virgin olive oil and fresh basil to create a pomodoro sauce; or extra garlic and red chili flakes to create a spicy arrabiata sauce. “The possibilities and combinations are endless when you have that universal sauce base to create multi-purposed, operationally- efficient sauce platforms,” Leccese says.
A great sauce can also be transitioned through multiple menu categories with subtle tweaks and use of existing pantry ingredients. Marinara sauce can be used as a dipping element for appetizers, cut with stock and cream and served as a tomato bisque, used as a binding sauce in a pulled chicken cacciatore sandwich, or layered with proteins and ricotta to create a lasagna entree.
Operators who offer menu items with tomato sauce may be pleasantly surprised at the creative ways to expand this beloved kitchen staple beyond pizza and pasta. “Their level of versatility stretches beyond an accompanying ingredient,” Leccese says. “With the right flavor profile, tomato sauce can add umami and savory notes to almost any dish.”