Time to fire up the barbecue

Outside dining can keep menus fresh and set outlets apart

IT’S no secret that food has become a much more important aspect of the on-trade offer in recent years – and for those operators lucky enough to have an outdoor area, the spring and summer months could present a chance to shake up the menu and set themselves apart from their competitors.

Equipment supply firms say barbecues can help licensees introduce a fresh take on their outlet’s food offer, and even act as a marketing tool.
Eating outside has become increasingly popular across the UK in recent years, according to RH Hall managing director, Ray Hall.

Provided an outdoor area is available, any establishment can set up a barbecue.

“Barbecues may not previously have been seen as an essential item, but outdoor eating is a growing area of the UK market and operators should be taking the opportunities for extra revenue that barbecues can provide seriously,” said Hall.
“Provided some sort of outdoor area is available, any establishment can quickly and easily set up a barbecue for use almost immediately.”
The grill itself is of course the most important piece of kit to consider, and Hall advised licensees to ensure they buy a unit designed for commercial use. “Many domestic barbecues look the part, but will not last or be able to recover quickly during a busy service,” he said.
“Look for a barbecue that uses commercial-grade stainless steel (be wary that many domestic models use stainless steel but are of light duty construction) and also check out the grid racks – stainless steel work much better than coated ones that invariably chip and flake off in time.”
Portability is another important consideration, according to Hall.
He warned licensees that some models of barbecue can have “poorly constructed wheels”, which can be an issue if the unit has to be moved regularly.
While the equipment is obviously important, there is more to a successful barbecue offer than buying (or renting) the right grill.
Karen Swift, director of marketing and business development at Cinders Barbecues, advised operators to try and cut down on the amount of ‘made to order’ cooking to reduce waiting times and increase consistency.
“Come out with covered bowls of salad, humus, rice, and hot trays of baked potatoes to complement skewers of fruit and marinated lean meat on the grill, lightly basted with a mix of red wine and cooking oil,” said Swift.
“A crushed clove of garlic in the baste smells like fried onion when it hits the barbecue and toasting the buns for burgers on the same cooking surface costs no more but adds so much more perceived value and personal service with the time you save.”

Look for products that are easy to clean; removable parts are invaluable.

And there’s no need to over-complicate things in terms of menu, said Hall.
“Traditional barbecue foods such as burgers, sausages and steaks will always be a hit with customers and very few will be able to resist the smell of a barbecue on a summer afternoon,” he said.
Food and cooking equipment aside, there are a few other items licensees should consider acquiring to help things run smoothly.
Swift recommended using “rubbish containers with lids, places for people to put drinks while eating, [and] plenty of weighted down serviettes on show”.
If the weather forecast is looking good, licensees may even want to consider a full event around the barbecue.
Hall stated that summer barbecues can be made more memorable with the addition of live music or family entertainment, and using posters and banners to promote the event ahead of time. “If the weather forecast is looking good and large numbers are expected, operators should ensure staff levels are considered and also ensure the bar is well-stocked – when the sun comes out, record sales can be achieved,” he said.
“It almost goes without saying, but make sure the BBQ has been fired up in advance and, if recently purchased, ensure that the chef has tested his menu prior to the event.”
Finally, regular maintenance and cleaning is essential if a barbecue is going to be able to operate at the highest standard.
Hall said that a regular cleaning routine will “help to prolong the life of your equipment, so it is very important that all staff are aware and capable of performing essential daily tasks”.
“Look for products that are easy to clean and maintain – removable parts such as grease traps, particularly on barbecues, are invaluable,” he said.
“Also consider that extra measures should be taken for equipment that will be stored outside.
“Look for equipment that can be easily manoeuvred for storage and purchase a purpose built cover for extra protection when not in use.”