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Al Fresco Dining

Due to the unseasonably warm weather we enjoyed briefly in April, consumers’ thoughts have turned to the joys of al fresco dining. As an operator, it pays dividends to acknowledge and act on the British desire to spend time outside – whatever the weather.

“In a recent survey 75.5% of people expressed a desire to have the option to eat outside, and despite the unpredictable British weather, al Fresco and BBQ eating is becoming increasingly popular,” says Tom Styman-Heighton, Development Chef, Funnybones Foodservice.

Seasonal changes

“The change of season provides the perfect excuse to shake up the menu,” advises Jessie McCarthy, Brand Manager, Kepak Frozen Division. “With summer approaching, it is out with heavy wintry dishes, as operators look to offer delicious fresh flavours that are quick and easy to prepare during busy trading periods.

“For the summer months, we recommend including a range of on trend, menu options available across all day parts. Summer menus should include a number of core items, including burgers, hot dogs and wings – all of which are perfect for the BBQ season.”

Chicken fillet burgerChicken fillet burger

Bigging up your BBQ offer

“Al Fresco eating is often about theatre and spectacle,” continues Styman-Heighton. “Seeing the flames of the BBQ, smelling the meat cooking and enjoying the food straight from the grill is all part of the experience.

“Burgers and hot dogs need to be made from great quality meat and served in freshly baked buns, but when it comes to service it is the dressings, relishes, toppings, dips and sides that add the excitement and variety.

“We recommend that operators choose their side dishes, sauces and relishes carefully to represent their offering. Too much choice can be off putting, and an outlet catering for families will need to offer some non-spicy variations. Salsas are a vital part of the offering; alongside the traditional tomato or corn salsa, for a sweet change we recommend our pineapple and peach salsas.”

Looking across the pond

“One of the best places to look for inspiration for BBQ dishes is to the US itself, as the trends that surface there often make their way directly across the pond,” advises Styman-Heighton.

“Currently in the States, burgers made with protein other than beef, such as chicken and fish are broadening the appeal of the dish, as are vegetarian and vegan burgers – unusual and exotic vegetables are being combined to create very tasty, meat-like burgers that pack a flavour punch.”

Spicy Japanese Izakaya Style Grilled WingsSpicy Japanese Izakaya Style Grilled Wings

Global flavours

“Seduce your summer-loving, adventure-seeking customers with an exciting and exotic feel of outdoors with sizzling flavours from far-flung places around the globe,” suggests Kevan Vetter, Executive Chef, McCormick. “Take a look at the McCormick Flavour Forecast 2018* for innovative, on-trend tips that will take barbecue and al fresco dining to new levels.

“This year’s Flavour Forecast highlights the casual, adventurous and interactive nature of how people are eating across the globe today. For 2018, look to new eating experiences that invite sharing, are globally inspired and pack a flavourful punch.”

For more information and recipe ideas, visit

* Created by an international team of McCormick experts – including chefs, culinary professionals, trend trackers and food technologists – the Flavour Forecast inspires culinary exploration and innovation around the world, identifying top trends and ingredients to discover the tastes of tomorrow

Frozen opportunities

Studies show that frozen food is increasing in popularity as it can be fresher than its unfrozen counterparts. Convenient, and cost effective, frozen pre-cooked food provides an easy solution for busy operators who have limited space in the kitchen and may not have adequate numbers of staff to create dishes from scratch.

“For the summer months, we recommend including a range of on trend, menu options available across all day parts,” says Jessie McCarthy, Brand Manager, Kepak Frozen Division, whose brands include Big Al’s. “Summer menus should include a number of core items, including burgers, hot dogs and wings – all of which are perfect for the BBQ season.

“Not all outlets have the capacity or facilities to physically barbecue, but Big Al’s uses techniques such as flame grilling, wood smoking and stone baking to enable operators to provide the taste of summer that customers are seeking.”

For further information on Big Al’s products, visit

Scarlet prawnsScarlet prawns

“Scarlet prawns – also known as carabineros – are ideal for the barbecue with their distinct red colour, exquisite taste and firm meat, similar to lobster,” says David Menendez, Sales Director, Mevalco, importer and distributor of Spanish ingredients.

Maintaining your outside room

“An eye-catching, outdoor seating area is the perfect way for operators to encourage passers-by to choose their venue over their competitors during the summer months, and it is therefore vital that any outdoor furniture is in line with current trends along with being both well maintained and clean,” advises Richard Ebbs, Head of Brands, Nisbets plc.

The Bolero range from NisbetsThe Bolero range from NisbetsThe Bolero range from Nisbets offers versatility and style, combining on-trend looks with an outstanding weather-resistant finish that can be used both indoors and outdoors, depending on a venue’s changing needs over the course of the year.

“If you want to make your summer menu something to remember, don’t underestimate the importance of chips. They cover a third of the plate and our research shows that if the quality doesn’t meet consumer expectation there is no hiding place,” says Jo Holborn, Marketing and Category Controller, McCain Foods.

“For something on-trend that will also help your menu stand out, indulgent American BBQ style topped chips were identified in our ‘What’s Hot’ 2018 report as a growing opportunity for operators. With many customers potentially standing outside during the summer, the other advantage that topped chips offer is that they work well as a handheld, plated, or even sharing-style option. This allows operators to maximise spend per head by offering less formal options, without being restricted by the amount of customers they can seat.”

For more menu inspiration, the ‘What’s Hot’ report can be downloaded here.

Chorizo – simple yet tasty

“Speciality meats were a real growth area during the 2017 summer season. This is a sign that consumers are becoming more confident when it comes to eating less familiar barbecued produce,” observes James Robinson, Product Trainer at Londonbased Brindisa that operates both as a Spanish deli at Borough Market and tapas bar at London Bridge.

Robinson continues: “Chefs are looking for tasty products that are quick and easy to prepare, which is where Spanish cooking chorizos deserve the spotlight. These flavourful sausages from Spain are continuing to grow in popularity and are perfect for barbecues. There is now a wide variety of cooking chorizos available, with additive-free options as well as spice to suit every palate, from dulce (mild) to picante (hot).”

Brindisa has been serving chorizo rolls straight from the grill in Borough Market for over 10 years. “The moist and succulent Spanish cooking chorizo, enriched with smoked paprika, naturally lends itself to the flavours of a summer barbecue,” says Robinson whose recipe for success comprises five simple elements:

Chorizo(1) Cooking chorizo served simply in (2) toasted ciabatta with (3) juicy roasted piquillo peppers, (4) rocket and (5) a drizzle of olive oil.

Ice cream for afters

Ice cream“Keeping freezers stocked full of refreshing desserts is key,” says Christina Veal, Director, New Forest Ice Cream. “There really is no better fuss-free treat suitable than ice cream to complete the alfresco dining experience.

“When it comes to ice cream, caterers must keep up with the expectations of their customer demographic; having just the core flavours is simply unheard of now and this is particularly relevant during the summer. Customers are always looking for the next big thing and are often attracted to flavours with a slight point of difference. The positive performance of premium ice cream can be directly linked to the many occasions customers enjoy it throughout the year. We recommend having a well-balanced selection including traditional favourites and more unusual flavours to appeal to everyone. Introducing new flavours regularly helps to maintain interest.”

Natasha Dowse, Co Founder, Minioti (made with no added sugar) agrees that ice cream is the ideal dessert for a barbecue, but urges operators to consider the sugar element: “With health rising further up consumers’ eating agendas, it’s important to cater for sweet options during the summer months that meet today’s varied dietary requirements,” says Dowse.

“1 in 100 people in the UK are diagnosed coeliac and 1 in 16 people have diabetes. Couple these facts with the backlash against refined sugar and the free from market is enjoying exceptional growth.”

Carpigiani 161Carpigiani 161

“Quick and simple to produce, available in a choice of flavours and freshly produced, soft serve ice cream commands excellent profit margins and can really help to grow a business’s revenue,” says Scott Duncan, Sales Director, Carpigiani UK.

Soft serve ice cream machines come in a range of sizes and styles. Carpigiani, for example, offers a wide-ranging number of both floor standing and countertop appliances with a choice of one or two flavours.

For more information on soft ice cream, frozen yogurt, cream whipping and thick shake machines; as well as the Carpigiani Gelato University training courses, visit

Ice cream

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