In association with Unilever

Our guide to getting saucy

By Emma Eversham

- Last updated on GMT

The sauce: what's your flavour?
The sauce: what's your flavour?

Related tags Hellmann Unilever food solutions

Condiments may be regarded by many as a side note or afterthought, but operators across the country are finding that they can in fact be key to repeat business.

They may not be a central ingredient in a dish, but their inclusion, or exclusion can certainly make or break one.

Many would say that without American-style mustard and ketchup zigzagged along a hotdog or a spoonful of mayonnaise spread over the underside of a toasted bun surrounding a beef burger, the dish is simply incomplete.

And no matter which kind of pub you run, whether it’s part of a branded chain or a Michelin-starred gastropub, condiments perform a vital part of the dining experience.

Bacon burger

“Everyone loves a condiment and they are essential in any pub,” says Josh Eggleton, chef-patron of the Michelin-starred Pony & Trap in Chew Magna, near Bristol, where innovative home-made options like sardine ketchup and oyster mayonnaise are offered alongside what he refers to as ‘old school’ bottles of branded ketchup and mustard.

Tom Blake, executive chef of the Stay Original Company, agrees with Eggleton on the necessity of condiments to accompany pub food, whatever dish is leaving the pass.

The need for variety

The chef, who oversees the menus at the group’s four pub-hotels in the West Country – Timbrell’s Yard in Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire; the Swan, in Wedmore, Somerset; the White Hart in Somerton and the Grosvenor Arms, in Shaftesbury, both in Dorset – offers customers ‘all the staples, like ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard’ as well as more unusual sauces to accompany specific dishes.

“We put ketchup and mayonnaise on the table for customers to put on their chips, but we also have a lot of home-made condiments on the menu as well – harissa, romesco, salsa verde and tartare sauce, for example,” he says.

jackfruit burger

Blake and Eggleton, with their wide assortment of condiments comprising a mixture of popular classics and more unusual and innovative options, certainly know their onions on the sauce front.

With our tastes becoming ever more adventurous, it’s perhaps unsurprising that a variety of condiments is the key to pleasing customers.

No to ramekins

According to the results of a 2018 UFS Consumer and Operator Brand Research survey of 800 consumers and 270 operators by Cambridge Direction, 79% of customers want a wide range of condiments available on the table.

Blake recognises the importance of offering variety. The pubs’ waiting staff deliver a wire basket containing small, plain (unbranded) bottles of ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard to the table when food is served while bespoke sauces made in the kitchen, like the aforementioned tartare sauce or salsa verde, are served with the dishes they are designed to accompany.

When it comes to presentation of condiments on the table, Stay Original Company’s pub-hotels have “tried various things” says Blake, but currently small glass bottles and jars for the ready-made, bought-in sauces are proving popular with diners.

“We’re steering away from serving sauce in a ramekin,” he says. “Sauces look good in a bottle or jar and the customers are in control with how much they put on their plates.”

Serving condiments in bottles at the table, depending on how heavy-handed customers are of course, can also help cut food waste, a factor many UK kitchens are being forced to face as the hospitality industry mounts up food waste costs of around £682m a year.

Avoid wastage

“Serving some condiments in ramekins can lead to wastage,” says Blake. “Particularly with English mustard. Nobody wants more than half a teaspoon, but that amount would look lost in a ramekin, so you put in more,” although, he points out that by serving condiments in a ramekin instead of a bottle the kitchen is ‘in control’ of a portion size, rather than the customer, so can better regulate potential wastage.

Glazed rib

Waste and serving issues aside, by putting sauces on the table and allowing diners to dish it out themselves the Stay Original Company sites are certainly doing the right thing in customers’ eyes: according to a UFS Consumer Online Survey of 800 people, carried out by Cambridge Direction last year, 70% of diners want to see mayonnaise on the table.

“It’s definitely expected,” agrees Blake. “There would probably be a riot if you didn’t have mayonnaise on the table.”

Always made available

At the Pony & Trap condiments are served in bespoke dishes, hand-crafted by Village Pottery, a local company based in nearby Clifton Village.

Sauces are both available on request and on the plate itself if a dish has been created to include it, such as the pub’s innovative cheese course – a cheese toastie, served with a perfect sphere of pickled walnut and black garlic ketchup.

Fried chicken burger

“We offer condiments and we also serve them with particular dishes,” adds Eggleton. “For instance our Scotch egg comes with home-made brown sauce, our Ploughman’s comes with our own piccalilli, and we serve our oysters with home-produced oyster mayonnaise.”

But, however they are presented, or whichever way customers choose to add them to a dish, the most important thing is that condiments are offered says Eggleton, who, despite making his own sauces, confesses that the most popular condiment at the Pony & Trap is mustard. “Customers love it with a bit of roast beef,” he adds.

“I think condiments are subjective but, if they’re paired well, they can definitely complement and enhance the flavours of a dish.”

Mayo for a burger

One pub classic that many will agree is enhanced by the addition of condiments is the burger, and because it regularly appears in the top five most popular pub dishes, it’s one that chefs arguably need to get right if they want to see diners return again and again.

According to research commissioned by Hellmann’s, 67% of the UK’s premium burger chains serve their burgers with mayonnaise and in the same survey of 245 pubs and restaurants serving burgers, all of them offer mayonnaise with their burger sides. It appears, therefore, that mayonnaise is a vital ingredient for a winning burger.

The Stay Original Company’s Blake understands only too well how the right condiments are needed to pull off a dish, having spent time experimenting with them for his char-grilled beef burger, which comes with smoked streaky bacon, gherkin, Barber’s cheddar, lettuce and hand-cut chips. It is currently on the menu at all four of the group’s pub-hotels.

Cheesy chips

“We make a home-made burger sauce to add to our burger,” he explains. “It’s mayonnaise blitzed with gherkins, capers and mustard. After some experimentation, we’ve now started putting a little bit of ketchup in it too.

“We’ve messed around with the recipe so much that we’ve now come to realise how important the condiments are in making the whole thing come together.”

If, like Blake, you’re spending time and energy perfecting a dish, it’s important to use quality products within it. This ethos should extend to the condiments.

Great ingredients used

Today, consumers have never been more conscious of what they’re eating and interested in what goes into every part of what’s on their plate when they dine out. This means they will easily be able to tell if an outlet has scrimped on the sauces.

Opting for a condiments brand that cares about the contents in the bottle is a sure-fire way to stay on track.

Hellmann’s uses sustainably sourced tomatoes in its ketchup, which is also gluten-free and suitable for vegans, meaning it can appeal to a wide number of diners.

Beef burger

Likewise, Hellmann’s American Style Mustard is also suitable for vegans and is made without any artificial colours of flavours, giving operators confidence that they are choosing quality products that will be popular with their customers.

Hellmann’s Mayonnaise is made with free-range eggs and is committed to using sustainably sourced oils, ticking the right sourcing boxes.

Hellmann’s Mayonnaise is also the nation’s favourite according to Nielsen Retail UK Grocery Value Sales, so it will inevitably be a winner with brand-savvy consumers.

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