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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Are you Going Beyond Tabasco?

I2m_tabascosaucebottle_1 I like my food spicy.  The problem is, for most restaurants - it just doesn't pay to make food really spicy.  If it is, a large number of customers will send it back, and once you've added the spices, you can't remove them.  So the safe solution for most restaurants is to offer a way for customers to add spice to their liking and giving the control back to them.  That way, you don't have returned food and unhappy diners.  But in many restaurants, the only option for spicing something up is Tabasco.  Tabasco has lots of supporters and brand loyalists, but I'm not one of them.  It's too much vinegar and too little chili for me.  A few weeks back, I went to Lauriol Plaza (marketed as the "Best Mexican Restaurant in DC") and asked multiple times for some spicy salsa.  Tabasco was all I got.  Then this week I headed into Chipotle in downtown DC for lunch, and on the table beside the soda fountains - there are nearly 20 bottles of Tabasco ... and nothing else.

I2m_californiatortilla_wallofflame_1 Somehow, Tabasco seems to have become the "third spice," right beside salt and pepper - a stand-in for restaurants wanting to offer a way to add spice without thinking more creatively about it.  Yet there are restaurants that are breaking the rules and going beyond Tabasco.  For example, California Tortilla offers a wall of choices from all over the world - and gives you the feeling you are really customizing your burrito.  The wall of flame is their signature.  Quiznos has a secret spicy sauce right beside a bucket of jalapeno peppers - and it's one way they stand out from Subway.  This is the power of personality. These are what make those restaurants remarkable.  Settling for Tabasco is the easy thing to do.  It's mediocre, as Seth Godin would say.  Now let's get rid of all that Tabasco and get more creative.


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Cholula is a much more flavorful condiment than Tabasco. iHop restaurants carry it throughout California.For a truly spicy condiment, I recommend the habanero sauce from D.L. Jardine's, though much harder to find.

The Smoked Chipotle Pepper Sauce you find at Chipotle is the best around, and served as the catalyst to my conversion to hot sauce.

It's a Tabasco product, and it has the benefit of being easy to order. The problem with restaurants adding lots of sauces is they are crazy expensive. Cholula is $3.79 retail, and smaller labels all have the same problem. Cholula is also good (found at Qdoba along with the Green (Mild) Tabasco Sauce).

The question is often a matter of taste. Do you prefer Cayenne, Habanero, Red Pepper, Chipotle Pepper, or just vinegar?

And if a restaurant does get the expensive sauce, how do you stop that sauce from walking out the door?

For a different taste - try the golden habanero sauces. That, and mixing different kinds. (Cholula and Smoked Chipotle are excellent together).

I order my hot sauces by the bulk - and most of it comes from Tabasco - so I'm not prepared to slam it - but I would like to see a wall of spice. Just thinking about it makes my head sweat.

Decision makers and managers get afraid of offering something different so they stick to what is mediocre. Like Guy says, "don't be afraid to polarize people." If you try to satisfy that middle of the bell curve, the average Joe,(with Tabasco sauce-which I personally don't prefer either) you will have an average product.

The California Tortillas of the business world aren't afraid to offer something that does not appeal to the masses. For this reason, the product incites more passion in the people it does appeal to. At least enough passion for a blog post.

In his Art of the Start video Guy uses the Toyota Scion as an example of a product that only appeals to a small percentage of people. I did some research and these types cars(Scion, Mini Cooper, PT Cruisers,etc) fly off the lot 4 times faster than the average car. They also have higher profit margins.

Marketing is more than advertising and creativity. Its starts at product development and it drives strategy. Marketing to the average part of the population = average product = no sales.

I would have to disagree with Tabasco being the only spice available. For a long time, this was true; but a lot has changed in the last few years.
The "satisfy the average consumer" marketing strategy is a tactic of traditional marketing and advertising, and it just isn't effective anymore. Growing saturation of markets brings "stiffer" competition. Because companies are facing growing competition, they are all trying to "stand out of the crowd" in some sort or another.
This being said, many restaurants offer variations on your traditional spices. Especially in the hot & spicy sauce arena.
Spicy sauces are at a level of popularity they never enjoyed before. Because of this, they are also at a new level of availability. The Buffalo Sauce is a great example. Nowadays, I challenge anyone to find a restaurant at which you can't enjoy a side of Buffalo Sauce.
Furthermore, there are stores dedicated just to selling various hot & spicy sauces. I can't imagine it being difficult to find any particular hot sauce; especially considering the array of online shops available. So if you really like a particular sauce, buy a bottle and bring it with you!

I am not alone!

Tabasco bias is one of the great plagues of the American culinary scene. It is a very distinctive sauce that is not right on most foods. If you're going to offer just one hot sauce, Tabasco is the wrong one.

Restaurants need to offer the hot sauce essentials:
- cayenne-based (Louisiana-style, like Crystal)
- jalapeno-based (green stuff)
- chipotle-based (for a smokey taste)
- horseradishy (american-style or wasabi)
- Sriracha (the new trenty Thai stuff)
- dried pepper flakes (Italian restaurant style)
and, if you're in Chicago, Giardiniera (

(Thank you for allowing me this excellent procrastination.)

I don't totally agree with you on this one.

Saying restaurants should do without Tabasco is like saying they should do without Heinz ketchup.

Yes, it's the lowest common denominator for hot sauce, and yes, I agree, it adds more vinegar than spice or any real hot sauce flavor, but it's also a start - a familiar entry point for many consumers who want to be a little more daring than ketchup or mustard, but who wouldn't try something unfamiliar.

What any restaurant serving Tabasco could do is offer Tabasco along with a special sauce - something more flavorful or spicier. It could also offer Tabasco on the table and, via its waiters or cashiers or other word of mouth, let patrons know there's a sauce with extra kick behind the counter, giving them 'insider info' and still making the place stand out.

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