Build on meal kits and delivery options to help consumers fire up outdoor kitchens
In our current circumstances, the relative safety of outdoor activities means an extension of grilling season. Smoke enthusiasts are likely to brave colder temperatures deeper into fall and winter, and with the return of sporting events, holidays, and small outdoor gatherings of family and friends, restaurants have an opportunity to get in on the grilling action.Making inroads in the outdoor cooking game isn’t that difficult — especially if you’re already geared up making kits and takeout family meals for your diners to use at home. The first question is will all the food be prepared or just prepped and readied for grillers to cook themselves?
Fully Cooked KitsSome people want the party without all the work. Just consider that much of this food will be eaten outside so bite-sized or easy-to-wrangle foods will be more desirable. You’ll also want to considered weather, with fewer cold foods as we move into winter. Consider items like hot chili and soups for those wet, drizzly weekends instead of burgers and chips which might get soggy.
With hot foods, keep in mind how they hold and travel. Wings are a great option, but crispy wings might lose their crunch and devolve into a mess by the time the outdoor event is ready. Similarly, items like kabobs might go dry and chewy by the time they’re consumed — consider more wet marinades instead of dry rubs to help retain moisture.
DIY KitsFor many, grilling is a serious business and the number of people out there who have the gear to turn their backyard into a kitchen is significant. Add in months of quarantine and the number of people willing to spring for an extra smoker or similar item to make the most of an outdoor event increases exponentially.
Burgers, marinated steaks, or kebabs are all good choices for basic grill kits but don’t limit the choices to just beef. Chicken, pork, and even seafood can all be utilized to help round out the menu. Marinades and seasoning can be designed to mimic your restaurants signature taste or to appeal to regional and local cuisine or even for the time of day — for example a Bloody Mary steak marinade for a brunch-timed outdoor activity.
Grilling also might not be the only cooking option. Experienced outdoor cooks have also been known to hook propane tanks up to more exotic devices. Deep fryers and boilers have been making appearances for quite a while now. Kits with everything needed for batters and coatings at a full-blown fish fry or pre-portioned chicken parts will be just the ticket. Others might be more interested in a bushel of crawfish, potatoes, and corn for a low country boil.
Cocktails/BeerWe are in a brave new world where to-go alcohol is very much a popular and excellent way to generate additional sales. Craft beer stouts and harvest-themed brews are an outdoor cooking necessity. There’s also an exciting market for craft cocktails, boozy hot beverages, and local wines. Consider partnering with area breweries, distilleries, and wineries to help add that indie touch to an outdoor gathering. The beverage market provides further opportunities for merch add-ons and marketing. Fill those growlers up!
Add-OnsMaybe your kits include sides, maybe they don’t, but it’s important to consider that there will be consumers who want to smoke, grill, or fry their own procured and prepared meats but don’t have the time or inclination to make sides. À la carte items, from potato salad, baked beans, or even a platter of deviled eggs can be what they crave but don’t want to go to the trouble of making.
There might be other items grillers need as well. High-quality frying oil available in bulk to restaurants, might be more difficult for the home cook to acquire easily. Restaurants also have better and more reliable access to cleaning supplies, so a post-chicken wing clean up kit with wipes and towels might be a critical purchase for many.
PartnershipsGrabbing a slice of the grilling market might seem like a challenge but it can be done. Beyond the necessary social media posts, finding a way to get event planners to think of you can be as simple as picking up the phone. Schools and alumni groups are always looking to raise money and a small donation per kit or percentage of all sales can be enough to get a post on their social media page or on a flyer sent home.
This current environment might also give you an opportunity for even more access. A catering or pumped-up delivery service can allow you to provide hot, prepared food or DIY kits to grillers on-site at a designated location instead of consumers having to come to your restaurant. You might even want to bring an extra kit or two in case people need more than they ordered or for last minute arrivals.
Between COVID capacity regulations and people’s desire to spend more social time outdoors, many restaurants are operating more and more like specialty food markets. Building an outdoor cooking business is just one more way to keep generating income in these challenging times. Don’t end up out in the cold without taking advantage.