Key trends in outdoor menus make for memorable, fun and festive events.
HOT OUTDOOR MENU TREND: Pop Culture Cuisine
Event: Video Gamers Event at Seattle Aquarium, Seattle, WA
When: an evening in July (annually for 3 years)
People Fed: about 630
A wild and wacky video gamers convention held at the Seattle Aquarium draws inspiration from the wonderfully silly kids' show SpongeBob SquarePants. The theme led to such cartoonish appetizers as Crabby Patties with Remoulade, Plankton's Tempura Fried Pickles and Kelp Fries (very thin greenish fries, served in a cone).
The event begins on a huge deck that overlooks Elliott Bay, where a crowd of video gamers gather annually to meet and eat (and see the giant octopus, and also play video games on huge screens).
“A four-to-six-bite taster plate is a great way for guests to get a little bit more at various themed stations. They can then drop off their small plate and go on to the next station,” says Rose van Ommen, food and beverage general manager, the Seattle (WA) Aquarium.
HOT OUTDOOR MENU TREND: Highlight Local Ingredients
Event: President's Reception: Welcome Freshmen at University of Rochester, NY by catering department, an Aramark operation
When: 7-8 p.m., August 31, 2009
People Fed: about 1,500
“This event showcased not only the catering that we do here, but the fact that we make use of a lot of great local food,” says Marketing Manager Molly Chamberlain. Students got to meet the local companies that the university has built relationships with and try the great seasonal food — a natural ice breaker. Chamberlain and Campus Executive Chef Tony Pignagrande talked to FM about what made this event, the first of its kind, a success.
“Six tents were set up in the middle of a field near the dorms. Students could go from tent to tent and sample bite-sized, easy-to-walk-with portions of reception-style food from our local vendors. Signage in the tents told the stories of the companies, which the students really responded to.”
“The local companies we get food from make some incredible products. We showcased local cheesemakers, bakeries, artisanal breadmakers, ice cream makers, farmers with beautiful produce, even the Coca Cola bottling plant in Rochester was represented. We didn't bring in anything that we don't normally have on campus.
“Our goal was for students to try as many different things as possible. Our menu included big cheese trays, colorful seasonal produce (which served as decoration, too), and cheese tortes. The end of summer is great tomato season here. A bread dipping station worked really well. Students grabbed a piece of bread and had the choice of four flavored oils, bruschetta, olive tapenade, and more. This was portable and easy to walk around with.”
Get Out! Tips for Outdoor Menu Items
Electric buffet setups are great; canned heat sources can blow out when you're outdoors.
Make sure soup, served in little espresso cups or shot glasses, is about 140° when the servers pick it up, or it won't be warm when brought to guests outdoors. Deliver these in smaller batches.
Food Safety: Take into consideration the temperature outside. It will affect the temperature of your food and you won't have as much room for heated and refrigerated storage units.
Trendy outdoor menu items that are easy to grab, pick up and eat while mingling: cheese platters, bread dipping station, cheese tortes, soup shots, thin-cut fries in a cone and mini crab cakes.