No smoke without fire in weeks ahead

The right kit is essential if operators are to bag barbecue benefits

As bars, restaurants and hotels begin to reopen after the latest lockdown and restrictions continue to be eased over the coming weeks, outdoor areas will remain in the spotlight.

Not only can venues lucky enough to have outside space offer al fresco eating and drinking to customers over what will hopefully be some sunny summer months, they can offset some of the covers ‘lost’ inside premises while social distancing measures remain in place.

And introducing a barbecue offer can really add to an outdoor area – helping to attract customers and boost profits. It’s relatively simple to implement too, according to catering equipment firms.

Justin Cadbury, chairman and chief executive of Synergy Grill Technology, said outdoor space can be a “significant profit generator” for venues, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Offering outdoor seating is one thing, but offering a proper outdoor dining experience complete with outdoor kitchen equipment is another,” he said.

“With lockdown restrictions beginning to ease once again, now is the perfect time for outlets to plan ahead to ensure that their outdoor dining offering is up to scratch.

“By investing in top quality equipment with rapid payback that is able to meet the demands of a commercial environment, rather than opting for a cheaper domestic alternative that customers may have in their own homes, venues can remain competitive and differentiate themselves from competing outlets by providing a superior al fresco experience that simply cannot be replicated at home.”

The importance of choosing the right equipment was echoed by Duncan Vipas, head of sales at RH Hall, who said operators should ensure they are buying “truly commercial equipment”.

“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 works much better than coated ones that invariably chip and flake off in time.”

Heat-up times are another important consideration, according to Vipas, as are separate cooking ‘zones’ on a barbecue for vegetarian/vegan products.

And, of course, operators should consider the size and capacity of their venue when choosing equipment.

“We see a wide range of operators looking to add outdoor cooking into their everyday offering – from small pubs, to multi-site chain operations,” said Vipas.

“Some simply require a stand alone barbecue, that can easily be moved for service in different areas and is built to last, whilst others are working with our Food Solutions team to create a complete outdoor kitchen set up, including refrigeration, prep and handwash facilities, with some even incorporating bespoke graphics to promote their outdoor menu options.

“Barbecues may not previously have been seen as an essential item, but outdoor eating is a growing area of the market and operators should be taking the opportunities for extra revenue that barbecues can provide seriously.”

Caroline Morris, head of sales at Bar-Be-Quick, said with outdoor dining becoming more important for bars and restaurants in Scotland this year, operators should “embrace it head-on”.

“Barbecue classics, such as burgers and hot dogs, are also simple to prepare and can be cooked to order so there is little waste too,” she said.

“Plus, the turnaround time on orders is generally very quick, so it is a great way to cater for larger numbers in a short space of time.

“In terms of your offering, it will all be down to what will work best for your customers, so make sure your menu/offering reflects this.

“It’s also important to consider the equipment you have – if you have any – and how this can best be used based on the space you have and the skills of the team you’re working with.

“Ultimately, though, it’s all about offering your customers a great barbecue experience and delicious food and drink that’s a step above what they can achieve at home.”

Steve Morris, sales director at Jestic Foodservice Solutions, underlined the importance of choosing the right kit in order to reap the full benefits of a barbecue offer.

“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 for barbecues should be well thought out, and be capable of delivering a high standard of food,” he said.

“The flow and interaction between staff and customers will need particularly careful consideration so that social distancing can be maintained. With the warmer summer months around the corner and lockdown restrictions easing, operators should ensure they have the very best equipment to offer a stand-out barbecue menu.”