An Insider’s Update on Outdoor Catering

Discover the latest ideas in outdoor catering strategies to meet demand.

Great news for caterers! With the popularity of cafes, casual restaurants, and outdoor dining on the rise, there could not be a better time to be in the foodservice business. Whether you already work in the industry, are embarking on a new career as a professional caterer, or whether you want to expand your restaurant operation by going mobile, now is the time to be in-the-know and learn how you can capitalize on the opportunities to seize the market.

The Proliferation of Catering Venues

If you are looking for a lucrative opportunity in the competitive food-and-beverage space, this is it! Over the past few years, the range of events being catered has exploded, including adult and children’s birthday parties, sweet 16 celebrations, corporate catering, sporting events, art exhibits, music festivals, street food events, beach parties, and more. Moreover, in addition to craving new culinary experiences, consumers are hungry for unusual locations that stand out from the crowd, leave an indelible memory, and that are Instagrammable to boot. While terraces, patios, gardens, and parks remain popular outdoor catering picks, some of the new kids on the block include the likes of famous art museums, landmark historical buildings, private yachts, and even the zoo!

Catering Headline News

To give you a taste for what’s been cooking on the grand-scale, elite side of catering, check out the following headline news items. Then sink your teeth into some more practical, down-to-earth tools and strategies that you can use to promote your small business or local catering company.

Captivating Catering News:

  • The quintessential New York Public Library is now one of the go-to venues for weddings, social and corporate event catering services. Not only can customers order a 100% customized menu, but they can choose between six spectacular event spaces.
  • Grow your outdoor catering business with the latest strategies and equipment.

  • The James Burden & Otto Kahn Mansions, the grandeur buildings with a stunning view of Central Park, now offer an intimate space for entertaining up to 150 guests for dinner and 300 guests for receptions. The locale, which includes a pleasant central courtyard, impresses guests with its sculpted ceilings, spiral staircases, and marble walls reminiscent of the golden age.
  • Art museums across America now offer full service, in-house, customized catering, partnering with local caterers to host any number of business or social events. For example, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, guests can dance on a grand balcony adorned with Renaissance tapestries, enjoy a cocktail in a French cloister, and demolish a decadent dessert buffet while they mingle in a garden with Rodin’s classic bronzes. Not surprisingly, in 2016, the museum’s South Asian Art galleries were named one of the top 10 tech-forward event venues in Philadelphia.

Recipe for Modern-Day Outdoor Catering Business Success

So, what is the recipe for modern-day outdoor catering business success and what can you do to create unforgettable outdoor events that place your operation at the head of the pack and at the top of your professional game?

As any seasoned caterer will attest to, and as highlighted in the recently held Guangzhou Restaurant Franchise Exhibition, a four-day event for foodservice professionals, there is one golden rule of thumb in the biz, and that is: Know your client and know your catering space. There are countless variables when hosting an event outdoors, which is why outdoor catering is also known in the industry as “in-situ” catering and why creating a checklist of questions is a recommended strategy.

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Is the venue entirely outdoors or is there a covered or enclosed area as well?
  • Are tables and chairs provided or do you have to supply your own?
  • What is the weather forecast and what backup plans do you have in case of inclement weather? This includes extreme cold or hot temperatures that would necessitate going indoors, as well as drizzle, rain, winds, chilly temps, and humidity, where outdoor solutions (i.e. large tents) are still feasible.
  • How will the food be heated or kept cool? Will food be laid out buffet-style over the course of several hours or served tableside at specific times?
  • What types of serving dishes will be required? Keep in mind that with such a large range of catering and cookware supplies on the market, it can be as casual as disposable paper goods and aluminum foil pans to elegant fine china and chafing dishes.
  • What cooking styles or cuisine types are on the menu and what kind of ambiance can you create to match that theme? (i.e. tableware, color schemes, decor)
  • Do you have access to an indoor kitchen or will you need to set up a cooking space outdoors? Is there a scullery/sanitation area provided or do you need to make provisions for trash and dirty dishes during the event?
  • Is an outdoor source of electricity required for kitchen equipment, lighting, DJ/sound? Is a small generator sufficient or will a large-capacity generator need to be brought in? Do you have enough extension cords to fit the bill?
  • The popularity of outdoor catering on the rise with new venues and menus

  • What about lighting? An outdoor event in the evening can be pushed up a few notches with a variety of exciting and innovative lighting ideas
  • Are there bathrooms located nearby, and if not, what solutions can be implemented? And here is a catering insiders’ tip if you are not up-to-speed with the latest: Yesterday’s port-a-potty’s or outhouses are pretty much out the door; instead, trailer-style bathroom suites with working sinks are available for rent, as well as other more sophisticated options
  • Finally, be sure you familiarize yourself with the local zoning and parking requirements for commercial and residential areas and have all the required permits for event spaces such as parking lots and closed streets. Some catered events may require coordination with the fire department or other officials.

Outdoor Catering Equipment

If you are expanding your restaurant biz to include off-site catering or if this type of event planning is already your bread and butter, be sure to check out the latest state-of-the-art commercial catering equipment. This includes mobile gas ranges, portable outdoor grills, easy to move refrigeration units, and more. Many of these appliances are specifically designed for hassle-free setup, allowing you to simply power up and start cooking.

Note that if you are cooking with gas instead of propane, gas safety certification is a must, so be sure to acquire the necessary certifications and avoid fines or the risk that your operation (and your reputation!) will be shut down.

Outdoor Restaurant Furniture

If your eatery offers outdoor seating, you will enjoy the plethora of outdoor restaurant furnishings available in response to market demand.

While the choices are many, keep in mind that the top outdoor furniture materials are:

Aluminum: Easy-to-clean, lightweight, can endure extensive exposure to the weather

Wicker: Made from resin, cane, bamboo or rattan, wicker is environmentally friendly, lightweight, attractive, and super comfortable

Wood: Long-lasting, low- maintenance, with natural oils that protect against rot and deterioration

Wrought Iron: This especially popular material in modern outdoor cafe furniture is slightly heavier than its counterparts, however it looks classy and is sturdy and long-lasting

Fiberglass: One of the newer materials for outdoor furniture, fiberglass is extremely strong, durable, mold resistant, fade resistant, and waterproof

Outdoor restaurant furniture

Outdoor Restaurant Furniture Must-Haves

Here are other furniture ideas that are must-haves when furnishing your restaurant’s al fresco area:

  • Umbrellas, commercial parasols, canopies, and awnings that create shade and protect from rain
  • Patio heaters, electricity or gas-heated, will keep guests comfortable on chilly days and nights. Wall-mounted patio heaters take up less space, however floor units are best if you want to move the heaters around
  • Also giving your al fresco dining space a warm boost are commercial strength outdoor heaters, fire pits, and tabletop patio heaters
  • Folding tables and chairs are easy to transport and can be compactly stored when not in use
  • Choose tables with solid, slatted, or mesh tops, the latter of which enable rain to drain from the top; likewise, choose bar stools or chairs with a mesh design or slats to drain water

Bonus Catering Tips

As a foodservice provider in the age of Internet domination, here are few more important ingredients in the recipe to success. First, be sure to promote your business online by establishing a social media presence and taking advantage of the millions of consumers who regularly visit Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Another great marketing strategy is to begin blogging about event catering, establishing yourself as an expert in the field and getting your name out to the masses. Creating on online catalogue or digital menu of the food your catering service offers is another winning strategy.

Finally, building a robust network with other caterers, event planners, and foodservice professionals is a sure-fire way to stay updated on industry news, to receive referrals, and to let the world know that your indoor and outdoor catering services are not to be missed!

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