Condiments can leave more of an impression on customers than you might think. Claire Elliott explores different ways to make the right impact.
In these challenging trading times it is tempting for pub caterers to trade down on complementary parts of a meal to cut costs. But scrimping on the extras can leave your customers with the wrong impression.
Samantha D'Silva, brand manager for Heinz Foodservice, says: "While budget brands have benefited from the downturn, Mintel predicts that this year, consumers will be willing to purchase if they are convinced of the 'value' a brand offers. They will scrutinise products more and, therefore, brands engaging consumers effectively stand to be successful despite current barriers, such as price.
"If we take pub food customers as an example, research shows that the food offering is more crucial than the fact they might have to pay a few extra pennies, with 70% highlighting 'choice of food' as the most important factor when eating out and just 12% deeming 'acceptable price' as their primary motivation."
Condiments play an important part in a pub's offer, and getting it right could mean the difference between whether a customer returns or not.
As Nigel Parkes, group marketing director at Atlantic Foods Group, says: "Some dishes just aren't complete without the right condiment. Chips without ketchup, a chicken salad without mayonnaise, or fish and chips without tartare sauce - they just aren't the same. That's why condiments should never be overlooked. It's those small additions that can make a good meal great, so choosing the best sauce is crucial. Just like any other ingredient, products of the highest quality are essential."
Rachel Neale, AAK Foodservice marketing manager, adds: "Offering a diverse range of condiments and sauces full of quality is as vital as the main staple itself. After all, no chef wants their carefully-created menu and beautifully cooked and presented dishes let down by inferior, poorly-flavoured sauces."
Ben Bartlett, food development manager at Scottish & Newcastle Pub Company (S&NPC), says the company likes to use condiments to distinguish the restaurant/eating area of its pubs. S&NPC pubs strive to use condiments to advertise and, therefore, sell food. "When a customer walks into a pub they need to find an area that's clearly defined as the dining area. I am not saying 'go to town with linen tablecloths', but put out some condiments and some folded napkins and it clearly says 'please eat food here' and 'this is our dining area'."
With 2,100 pubs in its portfolio, Bartlett says the condiments being served differ from pub to pub and anything from cheap to luxury ranges are used, although he says they do tend to stick with traditional accompaniments. "Cost is obviously an important factor, and many pubs with a good chef can make his or her own. If you are buying a really cheap and cheerful product then you have got to bear in mind that customers won't be too enamoured really. It's worth spending a little extra."
Tara Buffini, director of food development at Young's brewery, says the company also tends to stick with more traditional accompaniments to complement its predominantly British menus. HP and Heinz sauces are offered, but also slightly hotter flavours for customers who like a bit more spice, such as chilli jam, which Buffini says is popular with squid dishes. "People's palates are more attuned to spice, so people do ask for chilli jam," says Buffini, who stresses the importance of offering salt, pepper and sauces on the side.
"It's about giving a choice," she says. "Health-conscious people can choose how much of whatever accompaniment they want to add."
Young's serves condiments in both bottles and ramekins. "We are quite relaxed if people prefer the bottle. For the more discerning customer we serve it in ramekins," explains Buffini. "It depends on the occasion too. At breakfast you want the bottle.
"Salt and pepper are on the table and we have real pepper grinders in most places. Or it's all brought to you in a one-stop container box with everything in it."
Get the serve right
Pub Chef of the Year 2010 Simon Goodman, of the Duke of Cumberland, Henley, near Fernhurst, West Sussex, also understands the importance of presenting condiments. He uses ramekins to deliver his range of sauces, including horseradish, English mustard, mint sauce, tomato ketchup, brown sauce and redcurrant jelly. And these, as well as a pepper grinder, are brought to the table for customers once the main dish has been served. In addition, Maldon sea salt is served in bowls to stay in line with the top-end food offer.
Goodman uses Colman's condiments but he also makes some himself. His own tartare sauce is always served in a quenelle with a plate of fish and chips. And while traditional condiments are what Goodman generally sticks with, sometimes he will make his own chilli sauce and soya dips when he creates canapés.
"It depends on what I have got on the menu, but it's usually a more traditional style," he adds.
Don't cut corners
Chef James Rogers, who owns the Dog Inn in Grundisburgh, Suffolk, with his brother and bar manager Charles, claims you can't cut corners when it comes to condiments. He prefers to save money elsewhere — but without compromising quality.
Rogers chooses Heinz sauces - serving up tomato ketchup in ramekins and HP Sauce in the glass bottles.
The pub specialises in bespoke breakfasts on demand, a lucrative way of drumming up extra trade and providing value-added customer service, which are particularly important concepts in a downturn.
"My butcher is a friendly old boy who sums up why brands such as Heinz are so important; people remember quality a long time after they remember price," says Rogers. "It sticks in the back of your mind. You can't afford to cut corners. My personal view is, while Heinz does cost a little more, it's absolutely worth it. If we're saving money by using our own venison sausage made 'in-house' as part of our breakfasts, we can afford to ensure we have the right accompaniments.
"Our venison sausages, for example, cost less than going to Tesco for a packet of own-brand pork sausages, allowing us to open up the margins and pay that bit more for extras."
As well as offering customers a great choice of sauces to serve themselves, pub caterers can reap the benefits of adding lively flavours back of house.
AAK Foodservice offers the Lion range of sauces, which are ideal for creating dips, marinades or dressings. The range includes yoghurt & mint, garlic mayo and blue cheese. The products are available in 2.27-litre easy-grip packs.
Atlantic Foods' Nigel Parkes recommends licensees keep a good mix of traditional and contemporary flavours such as Asian, Mexican and Mediterranean flavours.
He says: "Ethnic flavours are growing in popularity, but British comfort food remains in vogue, which is why a balance is needed. Health is also a key driver and offering healthy alternatives will prove popular with health conscious customers."
AAK's Lion International Kitchen range is great for operators who want to add an international flavour to their menu. The range includes American smokey BBQ, sticky BBQ, hickory BBQ and zesty hot sauce.
Discovery Foods has launched extra-fine Santa Maria spices and grinders, offering a simple way for chefs to add flavours to dishes.
The Santa Maria Extra Fine Selection grinders come in seven flavours. The range comprises chilli explosion, lime pepper, roasted garlic & pepper, bbq & grill mesquite, Tellicherry black pepper, white pepper, and rock salt.
Seven more daring flavours to suit a variety of cuisines are offered in Santa Maria's More range. These include cacao & chilli, orange pepper, chilli & lime, pasta basilico, wasabi & sesame, triple pepper, and smoked paprika.
Ashley Pinder, head of food service at Discovery, says: "The new Extra Fine Selection and More range have been designed with chefs in mind to enha