Secret Sauce: Dips & Sauces are Trending in Restaurants

Consumers are craving flavor, and restaurants have started to lean into the demand through sauces and dips. According to the “U.S. Trending Flavors and Ingredients in Dips and Sauces Market Report 2022” by market intelligence agency Mintel, nearly all US adults (94%) use dips or sauces.

Sauces and dips can be used to add multiple flavor profiles to a dish and “to tenderize cheaper cuts of meat and add quality flavors and textures to everyday dishes,” according to the Mintel report.

We spoke with a few chain restaurants about how they’re using sauces as well as the flavors that are currently trending with consumers.

Consumers Want Sauces Full of Flavor

Becky Boyd, director of Menu Innovation & Strategy at Bloomin' Brands, which owns Outback Steakhouse, has found an increasing demand for more varieties of sauces. “Guests are always on the hunt for a unique sauce or flavor,” she says. “Our guests love to experiment with a variety of sauces. This speaks to flavor exploration. Guests can safely explore flavors to find which combinations they like most. The curiosity guests have around flavors is more exciting than ever!”

That curiosity and exploration on the side of the customer has led a few flavors to trend above the rest. “There seems to be an increase in ethnic flavors like gochujang [a red chili paste], jalapeño, smoked peppers, and more spicy profiles,” says Bob Johnston, CEO of The Melting Pot.

The Melting Pot always has a variety of spicy options on its menu. Its Fiesta cheese fondue, which includes salsa and jalapeño, is available at nearly all of its locations. It also offers other spicy fondues at select locations, including Hatch Green Chile and Bacon & Jalapeño.

the melting pot dips
(The Melting Pot)

Over at Outback, Boyd has also seen an increased demand for spicy flavors. “Guests are really starting to turn up the heat level on food choices. The Nashville hot craze doesn’t seem to be slowing down,” she says, noting that they are also seeing more Asian-inspired sauces on menus.

Outback also keeps a variety of spicy dipping options on its menu, the most well-known probably being its spicy signature bloom sauce that comes with the Bloomin’ Onion.

Sauces & Dips Are Ideal for Limited Time Offers

Outback hot honey rita
Outback's Hot Honey 'Rita (Bloomin' Brands)

Dips and sauces can also allow for easy LTOs to add to menus. In fact, Outback recently released its limited-time “Sweet Heat Season” menu, which will be available until October 31. The menu combines sweet and heat flavors into a “swicy” combination that has been trending thanks to products like hot honey. “Given Outback’s signature, bold flavors, the ‘swicy’ trend is a natural fit for us and appeals to all our guests because of its balanced flavor profile,” says Boyd.

Speaking of hot honey, it can be found on Outback’s new LTO menu in food and drink offerings. Consumers can choose a Hot Honey ‘Rita with a cinnamon sugar rim and a stirring dipper that allows guests to control how much sweet heat is added to the drink. The Grilled Chicken & Hot Honey Fried Shrimp and the Sirloin & Hot Honey Fried Chicken also allow guests to control how much hot honey is in the dish by including it on the side.

“Sweet and spicy flavors are an easy way for guests to experiment with spice levels in food and beverage without it feeling too risky,” says Boyd. “The sweetness balances the heat, and often guests realize they crave spice when it isn’t overpowering.”

Sauces and dips are also a way to easily transform existing dishes. According to the Mintel report cited above, dips and sauces can offer “opportunities to keep well established menu items fresh and exciting, with minimal added labor and touchpoints.”

Outback’s LTO menu includes an example of how the restaurant spiced up an existing entrée. “Sauce, dip, and topping innovation are a driver in our creation process. Our new Hot Honey Fried Shrimp is a shining example of this,” says Boyd. “We’ve had wild success with our Bloomin’ Fried Shrimp, and we put a new spin on it by adding our house-made hot honey and fresh Fresno chiles. It’s a whole new way to experience an already craveable Aussie-tizer!”

hot honey dipping sauce outback steakhouse
Hot honey features prominently on Outback's new Sweet Heat Season menu. (Bloomin' Brands)

Dipping into the Guest Experience

Dips and sauces also fit well into the renewed focus on the guest experience. “There has been a spike in consumer interest in ‘experiential dining,’ which is what The Melting Pot experience is all about,” says Johnston. “Dipping sauces has always been a hallmark of The Melting Pot experience.”

The Melting Pot makes a business out of the interactive experience of fondue dining, even posting how it can bring groups together over conversation and a meal, rather than their phones.

 

 

Snacks Versus Full Meals

A final catalyst for the popularity of dips and sauces could be the result of Americans opting for snacks over full meals. According to Frito-Lay and Quaker’s U.S. Summer Snack Index, 49% percent of Americans eat three or more snacks per day.

Social media is also reflecting the snacking trend, with posts about “girl dinner”—a random assortment of foods typically including snacks and other small portions—trending on TikTok and other platforms.

 

 

“A preference for snacking over full meals is another example of flavor exploration,” says Boyd. “Guests seek smaller portions so they can maximize the range of flavors experienced in one sitting. Sauces and dips are the natural next step to amp up the symphony of flavors!”

 

Plan to Attend or Participate in the 2024 Vibe Conference, February 26 – February 28, 2024

To learn more about the latest trends, issues and hot topics, and to experience and taste the best products within the on-premise beverage community, plan to attend the Vibe Conference at Town & Country in San Diego, California. Visit VibeConference.com.

Contact us now to secure your program for 2024:

Donna Bruns, Sales & Sponsorships, (for companies A-L), Email: [email protected] Phone: 936-522-6932

Fadi Alsayegh, Sales & Sponsorships, (for companies M-Z), Email: [email protected] Phone: 440-454-0239

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