Jesse Burkhart -- Casual Living, 5/1/2012 2:00:00 AM
Over the last decade, The barbecue industry has witnessed dramatic technological innovation, the advent of the outdoor kitchen and increased attention from celebrity grillmasters - phenomena that have inspired today's outdoor chefs to prepare finer meals and entertain at home more frequently. But the enthusiasm that surrounds outdoor cooking today extends beyond the residential backyard, as commercial properties are bringing the outdoor cooking experience to guests in bigger and better ways than before.
Evo, a supplier of live-action display cooking equipment, is one of the biggest players in the commercial marketplace for outdoor cooking. The Beaverton, Ore.-based manufacturer does about half of its total business in the commercial sector and focuses on creating social cooking experiences, according to President Bob Shingler.
"One of the hallmarks of what we're all about is creating a social space where people can cook and participate in the meal together," Shingler said. "That is a very fundamental component of our social fabric and what happens in everyday ordinary kitchens. Certainly in my household and for most people I know, the social center of the home is in the kitchen. It is a very natural thing to do to share food, and if you can also prepare that food with people sitting around casually, that's the thing we're creating in our outdoor built-in product."
Shingler also said that part of the social experience his company is trying to create in the food service industry revolves around a recent trend. He noted that, starting about 10 years ago, people began to pay more attention to what they're eating and where their food comes from. As part of that increased public health consciousness, commercial properties began to develop dining areas with open kitchens that give dining parties a line of sight directly into the cooking space. Shingler said the development of that design principle has a subliminal effect on people which ensures them that a safe and healthy cooking method is being practiced, and Evo has enhanced that effect with the development of its flat plate cooking device.
"Food service has been trying to find ways to connect with the dining audience," he said. "Because the dining audience now wants to know where their food comes from - they want organic and sustainable and they want it fresh - that is important to us as consumers when we go into a high-value establishment like a resort property.
"The connection is you have to prepare some of that food in front of people because that provides continuity with the message," he said. "You can't serve from behind closed doors because the plate just drops in front of you and you can't see it prepared fresh, so there's no continuity. Food service has caught on to that, and that's why now you're seeing more open kitchens where you have a visual into the kitchen from the dining room. We take that one step further and we've created a device where people can walk through a buff et line in a dining room or outdoors and they are intimately connected to that experience."
With just a handful of grill manufacturers that focus on commercial business as squarely as Evo does, there isn't a tremendous amount of competition in the hospitality channel as it relates to barbecue product, although others sense opportunity.
Bull Outdoor Products, a supplier of outdoor barbecue islands, doesn't sell directly to anyone in the hospitality business currently, but is considering developing a griddle for professional use.
"The guys who target [the hospitality business] the soonest and stay on it are going to build themselves another annuity," said Frank Mello, VP of sales and marketing. "I think it might be the next trendy thing. It's something unique and something different. Aside from that, it does a good job of going after professional restaurants. It can be your angle going into that business if you do it right."
CUTTING THROUGH THE RED TAPE
When a commercial property endeavors to create an outdoor cooking area for its guests, there are certain design principles that vary from those practiced in the creation of outdoor cooking areas for residential use, according to food service consultants and outdoor kitchen designers.
Jeff Brown, VP of hospitality design for Miami-based Inman Food Service Group, designs food service facilities and specifies equipment for commercial properties. He said the design and implementation of an outdoor cooking area is dependent on whether the facility is permanent or temporary.
|A duo of chefs double-team eggs on a pair of Evo grills at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront.
|An illustration of Evo’s mission to connect dining audiences to fresh, prepared
food. Attendees at a corporate event hosted at The Phoenician in Scottsdale,
Ariz. make their way through a fajita assembly line.
|Penguin Commercial Refrigerated Bases,
an extension of Alfresco Grills that serves
the hospitality market, manufactures
components that make
cooking spaces more fully
|Bull Outdoor’s Brahma Grill installation
serves as an outdoor kitchen within a commercial setting.
"If it's a permanent setup, it needs to be professionally designed with easy-to-clean surfaces," he said. "You don't want to build something outside that's going to have cracks and crevasses for grease because you're going to have to deal with much more critters and rodents and things."
Consultants and designers must also execute their projects around state health regulations. "The [Florida] health department is pretty tough down here with outdoor cooking," Brown said. "In order for a resort or country club to do a permanent facility for outdoor cooking, it has to be fully screened - it has to be insect protected. If it's temporary, the one thing the health department really wants to see is the ability for guests to wash their hands."
Portability is also a key ingredient that designers are mixing into commercial outdoor cooking spaces. If, for example, outdoor kitchen components can be rolled onto the pool deck of a resort property, it is easier for the staff to host temporary events.
"With portable equipment, you can just set up shop anywhere, and that's where a lot of the manufacturers have jumped on board with portable grills, portable open burners, portable refrigerators, and even portable hand sinks with self contained water and drains," Brown said.
Dale Seiden, outdoor kitchen designer and co-founder of Alfresco Grills, created a fully functional "mobile kitchen" for the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa that incorporated the gamut of outdoor kitchen components.
"It was a complete island that was 10 feet long and could be covered up," Seiden said. "It had a grill in it, it had a refrigerator in it, drawers, a sink, and it had everything connected to a space outside where they had water, electrical and gas lines coming up with a quick disconnect. They could roll this thing out, hook it up and use it for luaus and grilling during the day around the pool where they're selling burgers and hot dogs and things like that."
Looking for a summer hot spot? From live-action display cooktops to fully functional outdoor kitchens on wheels, commercial outdoor kitchens are becoming vacation destinations unto themselves.