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BBQ and Al Fresco Dining

As we cross our fingers for one of our somewhat rare long, hot summers, it is time to plan for al fresco dining. Good weather traditionally favours operators with outside dining areas with market research showing that food sales often soar when the sun comes out. Here we look at the host of possibilities thrown up by al fresco dining and barbecues, from specialised menus at London’s Best Alfresco Restaurant, to inside alternatives for operators who do not have an outside area

AHDB Beef & Lamb has produced an informative report - ‘Summer Retail Trends’ - to review the key eating trends anticipated for 2016 and in particular highlighted the influential flavour trends for 2016.

Hugh Judd, AHDB Beef & Lamb Foodservice Project Manager, comments: “Our research highlights that global spice trends are set to make a big impact in 2016. New flavours can be incorporated into barbecue product ranges through the addition of marinades and rubs. In particular, big and bold South American flavours, especially Brazilian influences, are set to make a big impact this summer.”

Low and slow

Hugh adds: “As recognised in one of our other trend reports, Focus on Foodservice, the low and slow trend continues to dominate in the barbecue sector and remains an area of growth and popularity. It’s a trend we have seen come over from other side of the Atlantic, along with the growing desire for smoked flavours and ‘pulled’ meats.

“Offering lamb on the barbecue can provide caterers with that ‘wow factor’ for their customers, however to cost-proof we also need to weather-proof. This is where square cut breast and spatchcock lamb work extremely well. Both cuts can be cooked slowly in the oven and finished on the barbecue.”

Hugh also recommends economical cuts such as shoulder of lamb or breast of lamb: “Both of these cuts can be slowly cooked – wrapped in foil with fresh herbs in a low oven, around 120ºC, for several hours. Then, to order, glaze them with, say, a Smokey Barbeque or Balsamic glaze and finish on the barbeque. They can either be served as individual portions, or why not try as joints for groups to dig in and share – great with a jug of cold beer!”

Flatbread and pulled pork“Pulled pork is a popular choice on menus due to its versatility, lending itself well to a number of different cuisines, from traditional British – e.g. pulled pork, stuffing and apple sauce – to more adventurous flavours, such as Thai, Mexican and American inspired dishes,” says Keith Fisher, AHDB butchery development manager.

“This Middle Eastern Flatbread with Pulled Pork fits with a number of key trends for 2016-2017, one being the evolution of the street food trend, which now focuses on offering customers more sophisticated dishes, presented in laid back ways.” Click here for the recipe.

For more recipe ideas, visit

Chicken choices

Demand for chicken is increasing with over two thirds (69%) of UK diners wanting to see more of it on menus when eating out, according to new research by Moy Park Foodservice.

The findings also highlight how deeply engrained chicken has become in consumers’ mindsets with 77% choosing to eat it at least once a week and a further 58% opting for it twice a week. Meanwhile, almost half (43%) prefer chicken over other types of meat and poultry when eating out-of-home and when asked why, taste topped the poll for 60% of diners. This was followed in second place by the fact that chicken is considered a healthy option (47%), while value for money was cited by 43% of respondents, putting it a close third.

The research, which not only looks at the growing demand for chicken but also aims to provide caterers with inspiration to adapt their menus, reveals that the most popular type of chicken-based dish is still a roast, preferred by 32% of consumers. In contrast, however, the Italian-inspired Hunter’s chicken is the second most popular chicken dish among 14% of diners, while 12% prefer to tuck into a chicken burger.

Spicy chicken stripsWhen asked what consumers’ favourite flavours are, BBQ proved king among 26% of diners, followed by garlic (20%), while 18% like to turn up the heat with spice.

As well as flavour, the research suggests caterers would do well to incorporate chicken into different types of cuisine on the menu with a quarter of diners (24%) saying British-style dishes offer the best variety when it comes to chicken-based meals, followed closely by Chinese (15%) and American (14%).

Choice chips

With consumers more discerning than ever, seeking choice and new flavour adventures, foodservice operators are advised to capitalise and offer flavourful fries with their barbecue menus. Seasoned chips and fries are trending hugely at the moment – top restaurant chains such as Jamie’s Italian, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Five Guys, Nando’s, Coast to Coast and Beefeater Grill all offer seasoned chips.

To join the trend, all you have to do is add a touch of chip seasoning to your chips. Research conducted by Schwartz – whose new Chip Seasoning is an aromatic blend with paprika, smoked paprika, onion, garlic and black pepper with a very mild heat – shows that two thirds of customers would upgrade their chips to include a flavoured seasoning if it was available. And well over half of customers would be more likely to order a side of chips if they were flavoured with a seasoning (60%).

In addition, Horizons Menurama 2014 states that seasoned chips sell for up to 30p extra per portion. Making seasoned chips something of a no brainer for your summer menus.

Matt BarlettBring out the BBQ

“Barbecue flavours and meat dishes cooked over open flame have never been more on trend,” observes Ben Bartlett, celebrity chef and Britain’s Best BBQer, on behalf of AAK Foodservice. “Having a strong al-fresco dining proposition can provide real value and an excellent point of difference for outlets during the summer months.”


“Outdoor space needs to be tempting to customers but also work practically – it is an extension of your dining room,” advises Kevin Charity, Managing Director of The Coaching Inn Group. “It’s also crucial to ensure the alfresco dining space is as appealing and comfortable as possible for guests. As well as being visually attractive, it’s important to look for furniture that’s comfortable and also big enough; so often I see four people trying to eat on an outside bistro table really intended for two.”

Staff training

“On warm sunny days, we can see the number of covers we do more than double,” continues Kevin. “While there is always a degree of unpredictability due to the British weather, by ensuring staff are fully trained and confident in delivering excellent service both inside and out, we ensure our sites become known in the community as a go-to venue for eating and drinking throughout the year, whatever the weather.”


Do not alienate smokers, says Kevin: “A big consideration when offering anoutdoor space is, smokers. We never want to alienate smokers by making the whole area non-smoking, however at the same time we have to be considerate of non-smokers, especially with food sales and family groups being so important to sales. With this in mind, all of our sites have designated smoking areas to minimise the impact on other diners.”

Steve SmithFood safety

Michelin Star Chef Steve Smith, Bohemia Restaurant, The Club Hotel & Spa, Jersey as a couple of safety tips for operators who may be concerned about food safety when operating a BBQ:

  • Generally any type of fish, lamb or beef are the safest items to cook as they are low risk meats. You can cook them rare, medium, well done or as you would normally. Remember: you should always use separate utensils for cooking and serving
  • Any pork and chicken items are the highest risk food generally cooked on the BBQ; you need to check that they are thoroughly cooked. Then make sure they are consumed immediately. Food left outside on a nice day for more than 30 minutes can cause food poisoning when eaten.

Sauces for all

“Having a good selection of barbecue sauces to team with your flame-grilled meat and fish is vital,” advises Ben Bartlett. “Not all barbecue sauces are created equally and if you’re using ready-made sauces, it’s important to remember that some products still contain meat derivatives and common allergens sich as soya and gluten. With food allergies and specialist dietary requirements on the rise, it’s sensible to go for gluten-free and vegetarian-friendly sauces.”

Gluten free BBQ chicken

Risotto saladAs the weather turns warmer and diners choose lighter menu options, Tilda is encouraging caterers to harness the versatility of its Arborio risotto rice and ‘go Italian’.

“With salads shifting from a starter to being the main event on many summer menus, caterers can create a host of risotto salads drawing on fresh, seasonal vegetables such as asparagus, aubergine, courgettes and baby carrots,” suggests Mark Lyddy, Tilda’s Head of Foodservice. “Not only do these vegetables taste their best during the summer months, but with their vibrant colours they look striking when plated up too.

“Sales of seafood tend to peak during the warmer months, so switched on caterers should look at introducing fish-based risottos. As well as popular species such as tuna, salmon and haddock, why not experiment with alternative and more sustainable varieties of fish such as mackerel, which is currently in plentiful supply? Risottos also lend themselves to more exotic ingredients. Think about incorporating lobster, prawns, mussels, scallops or langoustines – and ensure you charge a premium.”

For recipe ideas, visit

BBQ weeks

National BBQ Week

30 May - 6 June

The 20th National BBQ Week is an ideal time for caterers to launch a new barbecue menu. Ron Hickey, Catering and On-Trade Sales Director, Bestway Wholesale says: “We have a quality range of meats and an extensive range of beers, wines and spirits to help caterers make a big success of their barbecue offer this summer.”

There are in-store butchery departments in 31 Bestway and Batley depots, with trained butchers on hand to prepare meat to customers’ specific requirements including creating handmade burgers and sausages. Bestway’s range of barbecue meats is also available for delivery.

Al fresco dining within four walls

In spite of the fact that Matt Sworder – chef restaurateur at The Corner House restaurants in Canterbury and Minster, Kent – does not have space outside to offer al fresco dining, he will nevertheless be offering a BBQ menu during July and August this year.

The ‘BBQ board’ follows the success of a promotion Matt ran at the Minster restaurant last summer when he brought the BBQ indoors by chargrilling meat, fish and vegetables and giving diners the option to create their own BBQ feast.

Options include flat iron steak, chicken and mushroom kebabs, Boston beans, coleslaw, triple-cooked chips, super salad and a choice of homemade BBQ sauce or a salsa verde. A chargrilled dish and two sides costs £17 and diners can also add a suggested glass of wine, beer or soft drink for £19.95.

“The BBQ board is a great way to attract passing trade in the summer months,” says Matt. “By packaging the dishes up to a total price, diners can easily recognise the value and sometimes it helps to know how much you’ll be paying in advance. There’s also the option of sharing, which makes it even more accessible – particularly for families.”

Babylon Restaurant the Roof Gardens

With spectacular views across London, Babylon Restaurant at The Roof Gardens, Kensington was recently voted ‘Best Alfresco Restaurant in London’ in the Bookatable Awards 2016. Ian Howard, Head Chef at Babylon believes it is important to differentiate between dining inside and outside: “Throughout the summer months we offer an exclusive Seafood Menu for our al fresco diners. This is the only dinner menu offered outside on the terrace for those heady summer evenings. Having a menu exclusively for The Terrace allows us to offer something slightly different to our regular guests, and has proved extremely popular.”

Bestway scores with Euro 2016 food and drink o…fers

With the Euro 2016 finals in France running from Friday 10 June to Sunday 10 July, Bestway is encouraging pubs to plan a flexible approach to menus during the tournament. Ron Hickey, Catering and On-Trade Sales Director, says: “With England, Wales and Northern Ireland all in action, and a range of afternoon and evening kick-offs, there will be plenty of opportunities for pubs.

“As ever, the weather is likely to be as variable as our team’s performances, so the key will be to keep the menu flexible. Hand-held food such as burgers and hot dogs will work just as well served from the barbecue on a sunny evening between matches as they will served at the table with ice buckets of bottled beer when the focus is on the match.”

Hickey adds: “Our regular Price Hold Guarantee will include football-friendly food and drink at low prices right through the tournament, enabling pubs to plan with confidence. As well as food and snacks, operators will find an extensive range of beers, wines and spirits on offer to help customers toast their team’s success – or to drown their sorrows if necessary.”

Ron Hickey’s Top Tips for a successful Euro 2016

  • Promote your match-day offer well in advance with postersand flyers
  • Football is often wet-led, so encourage customers to eat by offering linked deals such as a burger with a pint for a fixed price
  • Offer table service to keep groups settled – and spending – for the duration
  • Mixed groups stay longer and spend more than just men – encourage a mix of customers with offers on cocktails, wine and soft drinks as well as beer and cider
  • Don’t rely on the home nations – plan to make the semi-finals and final a big occasion whichever teams are playing, by promoting barbecues and meal deals.
Vegetarian treats

These two recipes from award-winning Colston Bassett Stilton provide tasty non-meat options for your customers.

Stilton and pear tartStilton and Pear Tart

Recipe courtesy of Lisa Osman - All Hallows School for Cooks & Makers


  • 200g rich shortcrust pastry
  • 3 large egg yolks (freeze the whites for making meringues another time)
  • 300ml crème fraiche
  • 2 ripe pears - peeled, finely sliced and brushed with lemon juice
  • 1 bunch spring onions or chives, washed and finely chopped
  • 15g butter
  • 110g grated Stilton


  1. Roll out the pastry and use to line a 24cm round or rectangular greased flan/tart tin. Allow to rest in the fridge.
  2. Pre heat the oven to 200ºC. Bake pastry case blind for 15-20 minutes. Brush the base of the pastry case with a little beaten egg and continue cooking for another five minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden. Reduce the oven temperature to 180ºC.
  3. Beat the egg yolks and crème fraiche together with the cheese and season with black pepper.
  4. Allow the pastry case to cool then fill with the finely sliced spring onions, pear and egg mixture. Cook for another 25-30 minutes until golden brown and set

Serve warm or at room temperature with a summer salad dressed with walnut oil.

Stilton Stuffed Mushrooms

Recipe courtesy of Sophie Conran

Serves 4


  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 50g butter
  • 4 Portobello mushrooms
  • 35g of walnuts, cut into quarters
  • 75g crumbled Colston Bassett Stilton
  • A handful of flat-leaved
  • parsley, chopped


  1. Pre heat the oven to 180ºC. In a large frying pan over a medium heat melt the butter and gently fry the garlic for 3 to 4 minutes without browning.
  2. Lift the garlic out of the pan with a slotted spoon and reserve in a bowl. Add a dash of water and the mushrooms to the garlic butter and cover with a lid. Gently cook for 5 minutes on both sides.
  3. Place the mushrooms in an ovenproof dish. Reduce the mushroom liquid in the pan to a thick buttery sauce and add to the garlic, stir through the walnuts, parsley and Stilton, then pack the mixture into the mushroom cups and place in the oven for 10 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling.
  4. Serve with a fresh salad of herbs with green leaves and a lemon vinaigrette.
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