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Navigating High Outdoor Temperatures as a Caterer

Summer is here! With it, outdoor events are on the rise—and so is the temperature. Nothing is more enjoyable than partying outside on a warm evening as the sun slowly disappears. However, outdoor celebrations present several risks that event pros must mitigate to ensure the health and safety of team members and guests.

In particular, caterers are tasked with keeping everyone well-fed and hydrated, including their chefs, servers, and other staff. At temperatures above 77°F (25°C), the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declares a high risk of heat-related illness, potentially making it unsafe for strenuous work. 

The high 70s and low 80s may seem like lovely weather for relaxing, but when hustling around an outdoor kitchen, you must take precautionary measures to prevent heat-related illness.

Sarah Chianese of Mangia and Enjoy! notes that the three primary concerns are “the health of the chef/staff, food safety, and comfort.”

As temperatures soar in the coming months, employ the following policies to ensure everyone is safe and comfortable throughout the summer.

Ensure proper hydration

The human body runs on water! Dehydration is a silent threat, as it can go undetected until it’s too late. Without regular fluid intake, people can faint or get physically ill—and when our bodies sweat to cool down, we must replenish our internal water supply.

“If one chef is down from dehydration or heat stroke, the whole production can collapse,” Chianese explains. “Make sure there is plenty of hydrating fluids present and someone is there to enforce proper hydration.”

“Plan for a quart per hour of working,” encourages Roy Porter of Engage Works. “Add flavored electrolyte powder to drinking water. Avoid sugar-loaded electrolyte mixes or soda products. Otherwise, a small pinch of authentic Celtic Sea salt is best for hydration.”

Other electrolyte-rich fluids include coconut water, maple water, fruit juice, and some store-bought beverages. Fresh watermelon and bananas can also work in a pinch!

Prioritize food safety

High temperatures put food quality at risk, but they can also render some dishes dangerous if left to spoil. Proper refrigeration is necessary for avoiding food-borne illnesses, along with onsite coolers as a backup. Staff should always remain aware of the outdoor temperature, keeping external and food thermometers on hand.

Of course, onsite equipment and layout vary by venue, making setup an exercise in creativity. Chianese shares a tip for keeping cold appetizers safe, even if space is limited.

“Use soapstone serving platters,” she recommends. “Soapstone is not only an immensely sustainable resource, but it also naturally absorbs and maintains heat or cold. Your goal is to keep things cold as long as possible while the platters are getting passed or on display, so simply load all of the soapstone platters into a chest freezer or cooler for a couple of hours before service, and voila!”

If you’re looking for soapstone platters, Chianese suggests going the wholesale route. “Speak to a soapstone kitchen counter manufacturer about picking up scraps and having the edges buffed down to make beautiful displays and passing platters,” she says.

Following food safety guidelines keeps guests satisfied while preventing legal fallout from food-borne illness. Ensure you have the proper equipment to maintain food temperatures and confirm employees are up-to-date on their ServSafe certifications.

Keep your team cool

Employee comfort is a close second to safety, so it’s best to implement policies that help them stay cool throughout the hot months (check back on July 18th for Melissa Tibben’s tips for creating a “cool down zone” for staff). Summer days are long, and it’s vital to keep team morale high as the weeks go on.

For example, Porter urges staff to wear “hats, sunglasses, and lighter-colored clothing that helps to regulate temperature and wick perspiration.” On top of that, be sure to “provide shade to work under and at least rest in,” he says.

“There are also plenty of cooling neck wraps on the market to explore that velcro, snap, or button to ensure they stay out while actively cooking,” Chianese adds.

For especially demanding events, you may consider adding a few extra staff members for the day. While overstaffing can eat into your profits, it’s a thoughtful way to ease the burden and allow more frequent breaks on the hottest days.

While you shouldn’t fear the heat, you must accept the risks presented by outdoor events in the summer. Take the proper precautions and, when in doubt, consult with your team to request input for better ways to keep them hydrated and comfortable. 


Clint Elkins

Clint Elkins is the VP Sales for SB Value located in Charlotte, NC. Clint, a former professional race car driver, was one of the top motorsports promoters in the country by the age of 35. Clint used that experience and passion for business to launch his second career in a sales and marketing. Outside of work Clint enjoys spending time on his family farm and coaching his two daughters softball teams. Clint is also an avid cook and self proclaimed badminton superstar.