With high temperatures upon us, it’s an excellent time to run through some best practices when it comes to planning menus around hot weather and accommodating outdoor events. You need to be careful in the food you prepare, as you’ll need to satisfy guests’ summer taste palates while also ensuring safety for everybody in attendance.
Here are some essential considerations for planning summer menus, with a special focus on outdoor celebrations in the thick of the heat.
Always be prepared
You never know what kind of weather a summer day will bring, so you should have a whole deck of backup plans. This includes storage for ingredients, as well as the chance that you may need to make things up as you go. Summer storms come and go, but if they knock out the power to the onsite kitchen, you should be ready to pivot.
“Besides a solid plan A and plan B, you also need a plan C—summer weather can be unpredictable and you don’t want to be caught off-guard in a monsoon,” reminds Meryl Snow of SnowStorm Solutions. “Having a strong relationship with your rental and tent companies will be half the battle. Contingency plans must be discussed prior to each event (summer or winter conditions). That is truly the only way to ensure a successful event. It certainly takes a complete team to execute an event.”
Fresh from the grill is great for passed meats in the heat of summer months. Buffet-style? Not so much unless proper temperature is stringently maintained. Photo courtesy Jenny DeMarco Photography
Prioritize food safety
No matter how elaborate the menu or how tasty the food, your service won’t be a success if people succumb to food poisoning. You need to be sure everything is prepared with food safety in mind and, if a client’s request just isn’t going to work (like raw sushi at an outdoor event), you need to either find a way to do it safely or explain why it’s not a smart move.
“Food safety should always be one of the top things when planning an outdoor event,” says Adam Gooch of Common Plea Catering. “Time and temperature will always be working against you. Action stations where you are cooking things fresh are a great way to keep food cold and freshest to service time. Planning and being mindful that cold food items need to be kept cold is very important.”
Use the right ingredients
Sticking with local, seasonal ingredients is a great way to ensure your menus are filled with fresh and enticing dishes that will keep guests satisfied throughout the day. Keep meals light and digestible, with a careful mind to avoid foods that are overly indulgent or spicy.
“We are very conscious of creating menus that are seasonal and try to use ingredients that are fresh and local,” explains Robin Selden of Marcia Selden Catering. “In the summer, we do not serve any proteins with rich sauces. Pasta or grains will be clean with lots of olive oil, garlic, and lemon. More often than not, we are grilling veggies and proteins in the summertime rather than braising or poaching.”
Consider the venue set-up
You should go into each event with a full understanding of the venue’s floorplan and where your stations will be located. If you’re new to a venue, request a walkthrough so you can determine the best places to set up the kitchen, buffets, and bars so your staff and your food can avoid direct heat and sunlight.
“Plan for bars and food to be under a tent or in the shade,” encourages Lon Lane of Lon Lane’s Inspired Occasions. “Food in direct sunlight is not appealing or healthy. Plus, bartenders and staff suffer when they are directly in the sun. Have plenty of water on hand for staff and plan for a hydration station for guests with flavored waters.”
When it comes down to summer menus, you can’t go wrong with fresh dishes like salads, gazpachos, grilled vegetables, and oil-based dressings. Keep your guests cool with refreshing meals and be sure they are temperature-controlled to ensure peak flavor and safety!