5 Tips for Outdoor Catering

tips to outdoor catering

Summer is an important season – maybe the most important season – on a caterer’s calendar. You have many diverse types of events to plan for: summer weddings, important corporate events and other big gatherings, starting off with graduation parties and Memorial day events in late spring.

All summer, caterers work hard, as customers take advantage of nice warm weather and summer schedules to plan events. Weddings continue all through the hotter months but also extend into the fall to blunt some of the outdoor heat or benefit from reduced venue rates. Through it all, the catering companies that outshine their competitors know how to work with the realities of the summer season like heat and sun that can impact outdoor kitchen activities.

Here are some of our top five outdoor catering tips for companies looking to cut costs and position themselves as a regional standout, by excelling at outdoor food service.

Plan For The Elements

Realistically, people are going to enjoy your menu a lot less if they are sweating themselves silly under full sun, on a hot, humid day. You can think about this when you’re putting out food — maybe serve a nice cold spring salad or pasta salad instead of a ramekin of steaming soup. Operational logistics might have to change, too — you can’t count on little pads of butter staying solid in the sun. Even a small sprinkle or shower can disrupt your plans if you were hoping to grill, barbecue, or even prep or serve food in an outdoor space without some type of cover.

The easy way to plan for these unexpected emergencies is with high-quality tents and canopies. Even high-end models are a valuable investment for a busy caterer that books outdoor parties and events. It’s so easy to make a space “covered” and make sure that no one has to run for the door if rain happens to come down, as it will, when you least expect it.

Positioning Services

Another big part of planning out catering events involves choosing locations for everything from the hostess table, to the grill, to the serving line and the bar. Strategize how your guests will access each of these spaces and how you will shelter these key spots from rain and heat. Establishing key off-limits areas for your staff to work in is also important.

One of the biggest problems with some outdoor events is the chaos that happens when chefs and helpers try to put together food service in high-traffic areas. Consider legal liability — you have to make sure that children are not able to access your hot equipment. Good planning gives your staff breathing room so they don’t have to mutter “excuse me” continually as they move through a packed crowd. Positioning service stations and your equipment is a key factor in how you put your event together. The arrangement can make things much easier when your staff is on the ground, so don’t leave those details until the last minute.

Keep It Seasonal

Not every planner really considers the summer growing season and the bounty that's available in summer months. Experienced chefs take advantage of in-season buying and know how this works.

Pay attention to local food markets and track dramatic changes that happen during the season. Until a fruit or vegetable naturally harvests in your local area, it's usually going to be difficult to get these items. You'll see shortages on store shelves, or be disappointed by poor-quality products that have been sitting on trucks for days.

As soon as local harvest hits your seasonal local markets, you have an abundance of vibrant, excellent produce that can become the star of your catering show. For example, take the summer tomato. The difference between a local, lush, juicy, just-ripe summer tomato and the kind of tomato that you can buy in plastic year-round is an instructive example of how seasonal buying can make your catering menu outshine competitors.

Think About Local Rules

At your event you might run into zoning issues that prohibit certain types of equipment or trucks. Fire rules might prohibit you from parking in a particular spot. Plan for local rules and regulations before you hit the ground running on that important day. One of the least known but most important persons in the caterer’s business is the person you might call a ‘scout’ – he or she gets acquainted with the site and the customer before the event, and plans accordingly.

Be Prepared with Power

You might have the best catering equipment around, but if you can't get it supplied with power, you're going to be out of luck when your event kicks off. A backup generator is a great investment for an outdoor caterer in any season because they're portable and convenient. It’s important to have all the cables and gear you need to seamlessly keep power running if there's no grid power, or if something happens to your accessibility at the event site. Maybe somebody didn't have the right key, or there were arguments about power draws from a neighboring property. None of this is a problem if you have your proper backups. Without a good backup, you might lose food or capability because of a lapse in power.

Keep all of these things in mind to hit the ball out of the park in outdoor catering this summer. Chefs’ Toys can help! We have the gear to outfit your catering stations, and the experience to help you to make smart choices. We are “for chefs, by chefs,” and we’re here for you! Call now and get advice on what to buy to outfit your kitchen.