Pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes can serve customers outdoors from 12 April, providing the first real opportunity for many hospitality operators to open their businesses since the end of last year. While many onlookers expect the Great British weather to be the deciding factor in how quickly the tills start ringing, much will also come down to how well-prepared they are operationally. With that in mind, FEJ canvassed suppliers for the answers to three killer questions around outdoor cooking.
1. Outdoor catering provides the earliest opportunity for pubs and restaurants to begin serving people on their premises again. Are you seeing a marked change in the number of enquiries around suitable equipment to support outdoor catering, and which trends strike you the most?
It’s already evident that there will be a greater emphasis on outdoor dining this year, with some studies showing that up to 80% of UK diners would increase their dwell time in a restaurant if they could dine outdoors.
This is driving a shift in kitchen equipment purchasing, according to Gary Nunn, managing director of Unox. “One of the biggest trends we’re seeing is a spike in holding equipment, which satisfies demand for outdoor dining just as much as it does for increasing numbers of takeaway or click-and-collect services,” he says.
Nunn believes that with the unpredictable British weather making it difficult for some operators to justify installing a fully al fresco set-up, the answer for many will lie in using indoor kitchen space to cook food, combined with innovative holding equipment to enable safe, efficient and effective outdoor service.
Unox provides the Evereo, which uses patented technology to maintain food safely at the temperature at which it is served and eaten, and above the danger zone for bacterial growth, for days or weeks.
He expects the technology to make a real difference to foodservice businesses in the coming months: “It means caterers can prepare an outdoor dining menu using the main kitchen (from grilled meats and sausages to fish and rice dishes), before transferring outdoors to serve from the Evereo, which comes in five sizes, can be mounted on wheels and only needs a conventional three-pin plug. The quality of slow food, with the speed of fast service, enables a margin-boosting outdoor dining menu without the full investment of outdoor cooking equipment,” adds Nunn.
Helen Applewhite, group marketing manager at Lincat, IMC, FriFri and Britannia, says it has been inundated with calls from pubs and restaurants that are not only keen to open but which also want to set up an outdoor catering operation to generate much-needed additional profit.
“We are seeing an uptake on sales of our portable, plug-and-play equipment which doesn’t require any installation,” she reveals. “With minimal investment, the versatile CiBO fast oven is enabling pubs and restaurants to expand their menus and serve consistent, high quality food from breakfast to closing. CiBO can produce a wide range of perfectly cooked food including breakfast baps, pizzas and nachos in less than three minutes.”
Pizza ovens, griddles and gas appliances are also proving popular, adds Applewhite. “Cash burn rates have been incredible and the summer and dining al fresco is a short window of opportunity so we would encourage operators to consider what equipment they already have in their main kitchen. This can then be supplemented with some low-cost finishing equipment in a temporary satellite kitchen close to where the food is to be served outside. With food production split between two kitchens you can increase capacity while maintaining social distancing of staff.”
2. How can operators maximise food sales for outside catering? Should they look to do everything al fresco or is it about utilising inside kitchen infrastructure too?
The right barbecue range should give operators the versatility to link their outdoor and indoor menus, or have a completely separate outdoor operation.
Duncan Vipas, head of sales at RH Hall, comments: “Proximity to refrigeration, prep areas and handwash facilities is paramount if using a barbecue only and many operators will choose to enhance the traditional barbecue items with salads and side dishes, which will be prepared using the indoor kitchen.
“However, should space and budget be available, a more permanent outdoor kitchen can be created, allowing operators to provide a full menu that is isolated from their standard offering. By having a full outdoor menu, operators can quickly start to recover much needed revenue as soon as restrictions start to lift and also maximise opportunities throughout the summer season and beyond,” he adds.
After so many months at home, customers will be relishing the opportunity to once again enjoy a meal outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine at a terrace or beer garden. To ensure speed of service, operators will need to think carefully about the equipment they have in place.
Michael Eyre, culinary director at Jestic Foodservice Solutions, says operators should make use of indoor kitchen equipment in order to improve the efficiency of their outdoor cooking set-ups and maximise sales.
“Foods can be pre-cooked in advance before holding them in the perfect conditions ready to finish outside on a Mibrasa grill to add a delicious charcoal flavour and attractive colouration,” he suggests. “Pre-cooking and holding foods helps operators ensure that they have enough of the most popular menu items ready for peak trading periods.”
Karen Swift, marketing director at Cinders Barbecues, which provides a range of outdoor commercial equipment, says there are several ingredients to achieving a winning outdoor formula.
“Active cooking, music and good signage are the essentials to attract customers. Operators must also be wary of extending the food hygiene ‘bubble’ past the kitchen walls and equipment should be designed to hold and finish food, which is why we offer bain marie accessories and flat griddles to fit our barbecues,” she says.
Smoking meat, fish and vegetables is popular and has become a feature of many venues’ menus in recent years. It’s also ideal for BBQs. Combi oven manufacturer Rational certainly expects it to feature heavily once venues reopen and managing director, Simon Lohse, insists the latest cooking technology can support this approach.
“Food safety is the priority, and one way to make outdoor catering safer, and ensure quality, is to cook the food indoors, under controlled conditions. The latest version of Rational’s VarioSmoker, for its new iCombi Pro combi steamer, allows chefs to precisely control the ‘smokiness’ of the food — so chefs can be sure the dish is just how they want it. Fish, meat and vegetables can all be smoked using the VarioSmoker to deliver mouth-watering intensity, aroma and flavour.”
3. When buying or specifying outdoor cooking equipment, should operators approach it in the same way as indoor kitchen equipment? Or are there specific things to bear in mind to ensure the kit is right for their business?
In the same way that specifying equipment for use in an indoor kitchen is crucial in order to achieve a good flow, outdoor cooking operations should be well-thought-out and, most importantly, be capable of delivering the standard of food that customers expect from a visit to a restaurant.
“The flow and interaction between staff and customers will need particularly careful consideration so that social distancing can be maintained,” advises Michael Eyre at Jestic Foodservice Solutions.
“Ensuring that kitchen staff can work at a safe distance from each other is important and this is where solutions like the PrepMate workstation from Metro can make a real difference. PrepMate is a portable, multifunctional workstation which enables chefs to perform a wide variety of tasks efficiently, in multiple locations and all in a space-saving footprint.”
While operators will understandably be in a rush to get their businesses back open, Karen Swift at Cinders Barbecues urges them to try and take a longer term approach when it comes to equipment decisions.
“It’s obvious that operators should specify commercial equipment, if only for public liability insurance purposes, but they should also decide if the outdoor operation is to be a permanent feature and budget accordingly. Choosing equipment which can be stored easily, moved to another site or even hired out to provide continuing income is a sensible option.”
Duncan Vipas at RH Hall insists that for any outdoor cooking set-up, the most important piece of equipment to get right is the barbecue itself. He advises: “Consider heat-up times — this can be as little as six minutes. Look for good portability as many barbecues have poorly constructed wheels. Importantly, ensure the product comes with a full commercial warranty.
“Remember that you would not buy a domestic cooker for your commercial kitchen so apply the same thought process for your outdoor barbecue. The Crown Verity range of professional barbecue systems utilises a wide range of accessories to allow operators to create their perfect solution. It is easy to retro-fit and change, allowing operators to re-invent and expand their menus.”