Outdoor Restaurant Equipment Buyers' Guide
An outdoor bar or kitchen can draw customers in for the pleasure of dining al fresco and drive a demand for your most popular food and drinks, but you'll need the right restaurant equipment if you want your outdoor service to be a success. This guide will help you buy pieces that can hold up to the elements and enable employees to offer world-class service al fresco.
Commercial Outdoor Grills
The outdoor grill is the most popular of all outdoor cooking equipment. The theater of cooking over an open flame and the aroma of grilled proteins are irresistible attractions for plenty of diners. Commercial outdoor grills are built to withstand hours of use each day and to hold up to the elements, and they come in many sizes, formats, and with several options. Below are some of the essential points to consider as you choose a grill. For an in-depth discussion of outdoor grills, see our commercial outdoor grill buyers' guide.
Every commercial outdoor grill is powered by one of three types of fuel:
- Charcoal - A charcoal grill is the simplest type you can purchase. One will equip you to grill a handful of burgers and steaks, but shouldn't be relied on to fulfill dozens of orders an hour. Charcoal grills are labor intensive to prepare for cooking and to clean after each service, but their low initial cost and simplicity may be just what you need to get your concept off the ground.
- Natural Gas - The most popular fuel for powering indoor cooking equipment, natural gas can power outdoor cooking equipment, too. Natural gas is a good choice when your outdoor grill will be part of a permanent installation, as portability can be an issue since not every location can provide a connection to a natural gas line. These grills are easy to set up, use, and maintain, and, in the hands of a skilled grillmaster, can fulfill a high volume of orders.
- Propane - The same gas that's used to power residential gas grills can heat commercial outdoor grills as well. LP gas is the obvious choice for mobile grills, which are typically equipped with mounts to hold and transport LP gas canisters. This is the type of grill to choose if you'll cook offsite or at different locations around your own premises.
Commercial outdoor grills come in three main formats:
- Mobile Gas Grills - A mobile gas grill may be the right solution when you don't want to install a permanent suite or when you want to wheel the equipment from place to place onsite or from venue to venue. The grills are mounted on at least one pair of casters that allow them to be wheeled around. The fact that these pieces can be wheeled into dry storage areas when they're not being used means they can last a long time if they're properly cared for. Mobile gas grills are equipped to burn LP gas from portable cylinders.
- Towable Gas Grills - Perfect for caterers and cooks who want to take their businesses on the road, towable gas grills include built-in tow hitches, road-ready wheels, and DOT-approved lights. Deluxe models are equipped with insulated containers that can hold and serve drinks and side dishes. Some models even include handwashing sinks.
- Built-in Grills - Choose a built-in grill if you want to build a permanent cooking suite into your patio. Installation involves building a provided equipment sleeve into the brick or tile masonry when the patio is first built. Then, the grill is inserted into the sleeve and connected to a gas supply. If your outdoor dining area is a major source of business, and especially if you're in a climate in which your patio is open for several months out of the year, then a built-in grill is the way to go.
Grill Features and Accessories
A number of other factors will go into your choice of outdoor grills. Familiarize yourself with these features and accessories to be sure you get the ones you need:
- Grate Materials - Outdoor grill grates are available in a number of materials, including rugged, even-heating cast iron, nonstick chrome-plated steel, and long-lasting stainless steel.
- Cooking Surface - Classic grill grates are the format of choice for grilling proteins, but you'll also find flat, smooth griddles on which to grill your standard proteins in addition to more delicate fare including fish, vegetables, and even eggs and pancakes. Some grills also feature open burners that enable you to heat stock pots and sauce pans.
- Steam Pan Adapters - These are typically sold separately and can hold standard steam table pans filled with hot side dishes or accompaniments like hamburger buns.
- Rotisserie Adapters - These include a collection of spits that allow you to roast whole chickens on your outdoor grill.
Sizing a Gas Grill
The size of your grill will be just as important as any of the above factors, since it will determine how much food you can cook per batch. The width of a grill will give you a good idea of its capacity. In general, each 12 inches of width will give you the space to grill about three pounds of meat. If you specialize in serving third-pound burgers, a 36-inch grill will give you space to cook 27 burgers simultaneously. Common grill sizes include 30-, 36-, 48-, 60-, and 72-inch widths.
Outdoor Ice Machines
Another common element among outdoor dining venues is the need for a ready supply of fresh ice with which to make drinks. One solution to this need is to stock a satellite bin with a supply of ice from your primary ice machine. A labor-saving approach is to install a dedicated outdoor ice machine to supply your outdoor bar.
The majority of outdoor-approved ice machines are designed to be installed underneath countertops and are safe to be installed flush or nearly flush with adjacent equipment and cabinetry. Most operate on a 120-volt connection and are designed to empty melted ice and purged water into a floor drain. Verify that you can provide for these installation requirements before you place an order for your equipment.
Ice Type and Production Capacity
Whether you need classic cube or half-cube ice, chewable nugget ice, or slow-melting gourmet ice, you will find an outdoor ice machine that makes it. The production rates of outdoor ice machines range from 50 to 100 pounds of ice per day. That number will be affected by outdoor temperatures, with higher ambient temperatures decreasing actual production capacity, so take that into account as you determine which ice machine will meet your needs.
In addition to ice, your bartenders will likely need a way to keep essential mixers and garnishes chilled and within reach - that's where outdoor refrigeration comes into play. Like the ice machines we discussed in the previous section, the majority of these units are made for undercounter installation and should be used to supplement full-size equipment located elsewhere.
- Size - Most commercial outdoor refrigerators conform to roughly the same footprint. They're the standard 34-inch undercounter height and measure just under 24 inches wide and deep.
- Format - The biggest difference between outdoor refrigerators is how they're formatted. Reach-in models are accessed just like their larger kin: through a door. Behind that door are wire shelves that can store products held in containers. Another popular format of outdoor refrigerators has drawers. These drawers give bartenders and other members of staff quick and convenient access to bottled and canned drinks.
- Installation - Like outdoor ice makers, the majority of outdoor refrigerators are designed to be installed underneath countertops and between other pieces of equipment or cabinets. Freestanding outdoor refrigerators, on the other hand, are built with fully finished cabinets that allow the equipment to be installed on its own.
The sights and scents of flame-grilled burgers and steaks may certainly be enough to lure customers onto your patio, but the profits can really start pouring in when you open an outdoor bar. As we discuss in greater detail in our outdoor bar startup guide, there are two ways to add a bar to your outdoor dining area.
Portable Outdoor Bars
The quickest, simplest way to start serving drinks al fresco is to set up a portable bar. A few thousand dollars can get you started. The majority of portable bars include essential bartending amenities like drink rails, ice bins, and places to accessories including syrup boxes and CO2 canisters. The main advantage to this solution is that portable bars are relatively inexpensive and quick to set up. The drawback is that they're only suitable for serving a handful of guests per hour.
Permanent Outdoor Bars
If you want to bring some serious traffic to your outdoor bar, you'll want to look into installing a permanent outdoor bar area, complete with the refrigeration equipment, sinks, and drink dispensers that bartenders need to take care of a steady stream of guests. Unless your space is already set up to accommodate bar equipment, you'll need to hire a building contractor to make the proper modifications for your bar. Once that plan's in place, you can contact KaTom's Contract and Design Department to get the ball rolling on your back bar fabrication and equipment.
You'll need a number of smaller equipment pieces and supplies to complete your patio setup. For more information on how to deck out your outdoor dining venue, see our Learning Center article on how to add an outdoor patio to your restaurant.
Protecting your Equipment from the Elements
Virtually every piece of outdoor kitchen equipment is made of stainless steel, a rugged metal that's highly resistant to the damage weather can inflict. Still, it's almost always a good idea to protect each piece of your equipment with a cover that will provide an additional shield against the elements. Most manufacturers of cooking equipment provide the option to purchase a cover that's designed to fit each piece. If your equipment is part of a permanent installation, ensure it is under an awning or similar shelter that will provide protection from rain. If your equipment is mobile, be sure to roll it into a dry storage space when you're not using it. Keeping your equipment clean will also help extend its life.