If the coronavirus situation hadn’t rocked the foundations of the foodservice industry, this would normally be the time of year when operators are busy preparing for the increasingly lucrative outdoor cooking season.
With lockdown measures gradually easing and pubs and restaurants reopening again there is hope that they will get to do this after all, especially as Brits are renowned for flocking to eating establishments at the first hint of sunshine and blue skies.
In many respects, an outdoor cooking operation could actually turn out to be a useful asset for many businesses in the current climate, suggests Michael Eyre, culinary director at equipment supplier Jestic Foodservice Solutions.
“With social distancing measures likely to impact how many people can be in a kitchen at one time, the opportunity to move the kit to outside could provide operators with an easy solution,” he remarks.
“If an operator chooses to run an outdoor cooking operation, this does not necessarily have to be closely linked to their indoor cooking setup. Yes, the main indoor kitchen will be the location for much of the prep, but if an operation has enough suitably skilled and experienced staff, with the right equipment, they could, for example, run an outdoor pizza oven and bar on a terrace separately from their main indoor restaurant offering.”
Outdoor cooking operations benefit from a theme. The advice from Karen Swift, marketing director at specialist outdoor cooking equipment supplier Cinders Barbecues, is to not stray too far from the indoor menu.
“The inefficiencies of storing, prepping and even writing a menu which may be alien to the kitchen are obvious,” she explains. “If your place is Italian, make it an ‘Al Fresco Rustica’ experience. Asian restaurants can go for street food and ‘Near East’ for the souk market effect, with cushions, a flask of wine, a loaf of bread and all the trimmings. Pubs can always fall back on the Western Barbecue theme with burgers and bangers.”
The real financial gains tend to be made when foodservice operators can make their indoor kitchens and outdoor kitchens work in harmony.
One area where an indoor kitchen operation can improve the efficiency of an outdoor cooking setup is the pre-cooking of food items.
The key is to only cook as much in the kitchen as you can reasonably handle on the outdoor cooking appliance or barbeque”
They can be safely held at optimal condition ready to be finished on an outdoor grill to add charcoal flavour and attractive colouration.
“Pre-cooking and holding foods helps operators ensure that they have enough of the most popular menu items ready for peak trading periods,” says Jestic’s Michael Eyre. “Ensuring food safety standards and getting quality results from pre-cooking and holding foods require equipment which offers precise control of temperature and humidity.
One of the newest brands in the Jestic portfolio is the easy-to-use range of Moduline cook and hold ovens, which keep chefs in total control, perfectly preserving the moisture and nutrients in a wide variety of foods.”
RH Hall distributes the Crown Verity range of BBQ systems in the UK. Managing director, Ray Hall, suggests the right barbecue equipment should give operators the versatility to link their outdoor and indoor menus, or establish a completely separate outdoor operation.
“Proximity to refrigeration, prep areas and hand wash 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,” he adds.
It is important to ensure that an outdoor kitchen is fully supported throughout service and that the kind of regimes kitchen staff are accustomed to on a daily basis are replicated outside.
“The kitchen must take on responsibility for hygiene control, which inevitably means minimising the amount of prime cooking outdoors,” says Karen Swift at Cinders Barbecues. “This is supported by an efficient flow of salads, side dishes and desserts from the kitchen door and dedicating staff to clearing, disinfectant wiping and litter duties.”
By cooking food indoors and then finishing it off outside, operators can control hygiene and food safety much better, according to John Whitehouse, chairman of the Foodservice Equipment Association. But he warns that foodservice operators need to plan their capacity carefully.
“The key here is to only cook as much in the kitchen as you can reasonably handle on the outdoor cooking appliance or barbeque. Overstretching it by cooking too much in advance will lead to food quality problems and may compromise food safety, too.
“You don’t have to cook the whole menu on the barbeque. Limit what you cook outdoors, and make sure that what you do cook there, you do really well. This will add value to the customer experience, which is what they want.”
Rational believes its combi ovens are ideal for supporting outdoor cooking operations.
National corporate chef, Huw Davies, says that as with all commercial catering enterprises, the more preparation you can do before starting service, the better.
Keeping the food in peak condition and freshness until it is served is just as important as ensuring it is cooked to the highest standards”
“Multifunctional combi ovens allow for large quantities of product to be pre-cooked at once, which can then be held until required before being finished on the barbecue. This ensures all food is thoroughly and safely cooked while retaining the theatre of grilling meat, and giving barbecue taste.
“Once food has been prepared for outdoor cooking it’s vital to store it at the right temperature, whether that’s refrigerated or with hot holding equipment. Keeping the food in peak condition and freshness until it is served is just as important as ensuring it is cooked to the highest standards.”
Ultimately, an operator’s menu will dictate the type of outdoor cooking equipment they will need.
“To produce a menu which stands out from the competition, operators will need the finest, local seasonal ingredients but also the specialist equipment which enables chefs to deliver delicious food to a consistently high standard, time after time,” says Michael Eyre at Jestic, which offers a number of appliances that are ideal for outdoor cooking operations, including Josper charcoal ovens and Alfa Pro wood-fired pizza ovens.
Traditional barbecue foods such as burgers, sausages and steaks will always be a hit with customers, of course. But there are also plenty of events and venues across the country that have ably demonstrated that barbecue cooking does not need to be restricted to food served in a bun.
“Chefs from across the industry have been turning out very impressive three-course menus year after year and with a little bit of creative thinking venues anyone can offer exciting menu options to appeal to a wide range of customers,” says RH Hall’s Ray Hall.
“The Crown Verity range of professional barbecue systems utilises a wide range of accessories to allow operators to create their perfect solution. This versatility allows operators to re-invent and expand their menus and the options include griddles, rotisseries and steam pans.”
The industry might be facing an unprecedented time, but outdoor cooking is one area of the market that will most definitely bounce back if the weather holds.