As a caterer, you’ll know that getting everything right for an outdoor event can be hard. There are so many little details that you need to execute perfectly if you’re going to keep your client happy and put on an event that they’ll remember for all the right reasons.
Once you’ve been booked, carry out your risk assessment, so that you’ve got everything covered for the event. Outside areas are covered by Health & Safety at work legislation, so make sure you give them as much attention as you would your kitchen. Check for things such as possible tripping hazards or uneven surfaces that could cause your staff to fall. Once you’ve got the legalities sorted out, it’s time to move on to the essential planning…
Tips for Outside Catering Events
1. Agree location, budget and resources
Now you have the location organised, spend some time getting to know your client. Find out what they want from the event – simple food or a more exotic menu?
Establish the budget as early as possible and give your client an idea of what they can expect for their money. Is it more important that they impress their guests, or are they looking for food that will fill people up as cheaply as possible?
Explain any limitations of budget, timing and location to the client. Once you’ve come up with a menu, make sure that you’re confident you can provide everything on the menu within the set budget and event deadlines.
2. Decide on sit-down or buffet
This will depend on the client’s ideas and the type of food they want. If it’s a cold buffet, a stand up soiree will be a cheaper and less time-consuming option, but if knives and forks are going to be needed it’s advisable to provide tables and chairs too. Sit down meals can also be a better way of making sure that the food doesn’t run out. Some clients don’t think of the practicalities, so it’s your job to point them out and avoid disaster
3. Find out what catering equipment is available
You can find out what equipment is on-site when you carry out the risk assessment, but bear in mind that you might have to provide your own. Take into account safety regulations; for example, it’s unlikely that many clients will have their own digital thermometer temperature probe! If you need extra equipment, such as catering fridges, gas and electrical equipment, or even a hog roast spit, it can be cheaper to hire it from a specialist supplier for a one-off event.
4. Keep the right temperatures
Keeping food cold – or hot – is probably the most important aspect of any outside catering event, and the climate can almost always be relied on to turn against you at the last minute. Make sure that there’s enough ventilation if you’re cooking outside, and ensure that there are adequate fridges to keep food cool. It’s not just cooked meat that can cause problems; cooked rice or freshly prepared salads also need to be kept at the right temperature to avoid the risk of food poisoning.
5. Make as much as you can in advance
Save time by working out which dishes you can make in advance and which will need to be cooked fresh. There are bound to be several items that you can cook the day before, and this frees your time up at the event to concentrate on cooking the fresh items.
If you prepare food in advance, always carry it to the event in insulated food carriers or, even better, in a refrigerated van.
6. Sort out any power issues
Make sure that you have enough power if you’re going to be using cookers or fridges; if you overload the system you could cause it to blow. If you’re using the client’s generators, either ask them how to operate them or make sure that you learn how to use them yourself well in advance.
If you’re using gas equipment, be aware of the safety regulations involved. For example, if you use more than a single appliance connected to a cylinder via the hose and regulator, in legal terms you’re creating an installation that needs to be checked over by a Gas Safe Engineer.
Consider your cooking times too – if you’re using electricity and not gas you’ll have to adjust your timings to take that into account.
7. Get the right staff
If you don’t have full-time staff, consider hiring extra staff from an agency, rather than getting untrained staff on board to ‘help out’. It might be cheaper to ask friends or relatives but if you want to make a good impression, you need people who know how to serve and clear away efficiently and avoid breakages where possible.
Marquees and outdoor catering are becoming increasingly popular for weddings, parties and events, so if you can build up a reputation for being a pro and catering to all tastes, your business will thank you for it.
Written by Alexandra Johnson from Carlton Services, a provider of commercial catering equipment and refrigeration equipment to restaurants and catering services across the UK.