The great outdoors

Related tags Global warming Al fresco Meat

We need to be clear about this - no one is happy about global warming. But however much we cut back on our carbon footprint, either individually or...

We need to be clear about this - no one is happy about global warming. But however much we cut back on our carbon footprint, either individually or collectively, the chances are that summers are going to be warmer and milder for at least the next couple of decades.

So, "why not make the most of it?" It's a reasonable question, posed by licensee Richard Macey to licensees from Marston's Pub Company (MPC) at a series of al fresco roadshows. Hosted by Ben Bartlett, MPC's catering development manager and the current Pub Food Awards HQ Food Champion, the events were timed for the start of what is going to be a very significant summer for the pub trade.

Among the pubs already reaping the benefits of increased investment in outdoor areas is the Fountain In at Clent, Worcestershire, operated by BII Licensees of the Year 2006 Richard and Jacqui Macey. The award winning pub, which already has a successful food trade, has added a decked outdoor area for the start of the 2007 summer trading period..

The spell of warm weather in April quickly demonstrated the benefits of the project. "We're in a big walking area, and we're offering table service outside," says Richard. "Some of customers we're a but confused when we said 'sit down, we'll be with you in a minute', but they soon got the hang of it."

Which is where the slightly thorny issue of climate change comes into it. "I'm as worried about global warming as the next man, but we can't ignore the fact that people are going to want to use outdoor areas. We only have 60 seats and the outdoor area really expands our trading space.

"There are four pubs in the village. If we come to the table and ask 'can we get you another?' they're going to stay with us for the afternoon." The extended trading area meant a four figure year-on-year sales increase for the Fountain across the busy Easter weekend.

Ben Bartlett - as one might expect from a champion barbecuer - believes outdoor eating is a "great up-sell opportunity" for pubs. Given that most people can turn out a burger in their own garden, Ben showed publicans attending the roadshows way to add value.

Marinades, sauces, kebabs and even desserts can all be produced on the barbecue, giving customers an experience much bigger than the back yard barbie.

"Different flavours are important," says Ben. "You need light dishes but strong flavours." Dishes such as bacon and tarragon chicken or pork, sage and apple kebabs bring a premium feel to the pub's offer.

Given that meat is fairly central to the al fresco occasion, advice for pubs on how pick the best cuts is essential. Viv Harvey, master butcher and Meat & Livestock Commission ambassador, gave a demonstration on how to get the most form various joints including a beef sirloin and a pork belly.

One of the key lessons was the way to trim a sirloin in order to ensure that steaks are even in size and thickness - not necessarily something a catering butcher will be aware of. "Your butcher wont necessarily understand that for a pub menu, event appearance is very important."

For pubs with the kitchen skills, buying a while joint and preparing it in house will ensure that steaks are consistent, and also creates off-cuts which can generate useful extra profits in dishes such as burgers and lasagna.

And to accompany the steak, assuming the customer won't be enjoying a foaming pint of Marston's ale, a good wine list is important. On hand at the roadshows was Helen Tinman, national account manager with Constellation Europe, owner of brands including Hardys.

Helen's advice was that pubs should have a range of reds and whites at entry-level price points, rather that simply a 'house' red and white. "And if there's one piece of advice pubs take away, it's make sure you have some rose wines in stock this summer." With rose sales growing dramatically in the UK, it's set to be a major feature of many pub barbecues this summer.

The event also included a 'celebrity' guest - Dawn, a Charlie Dimmock lookalike gardener, demonstrated hanging basket techniques aimed at adding the finishing touch to the al fresco pub experience.

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