While the British summer can be temperamental at best, the summer months provide an opportunity to get out of the meeting room and indulge in some blue-sky thinking, hopefully interspersed with some corporate fun in the sun.
“Many companies seem to be testing their yearly event formats and with a 15 per cent rise in summer party enquiries, we believe summer events are back in fashion,” says Philippa Radford, Event Operations Manager from officesummer.co.uk. “Summer is the time for teambuilding and refreshing your employees for autumn campaigns and companies seem to be more inclined to invest in the well-being of their employees with mid-year events.”
BMA House, based in the heart of Bloomsbury, has two outdoor spaces on offer and has reported a 75 per cent rise in enquiries for al fresco parties and BBQs.
“We have seen a definite spike in interest for summer parties,” says Sales and Marketing Manager at BMA House, Rowan Bennett. “Many bookers look for reassurance that we have equally fantastic indoor rooms which are near to our Courtyard and Gardens which is of course sensible in the UK.”
Bennett adds that summer events seem to fit the trend for more casual, relaxed fun, which is backed up by recent food trends such as street food and pop-up restaurants.
Making sure you get the catering right at a summer event is key, and this comes from really nailing down the event objectives. Alex Beaumont, Sodexo Prestige Head of Events, says: “If it is for a specialty event, where the customer wants a luxurious experience, we can offer fine dining and high quality food and drink. But we also cater to people who are more focused on the event, rather than the dining experience, and just want something quick and easy to grab and go.”
Beaumont says that for these types of events, the demand is often for food which can be eaten socially, so guests can mingle. Options such as a BBQ, seafood, salad and bowl foods are particular summer favourites.
For The Open Championship, to be held in Liverpool this year, Sodexo has devised an ‘open burger’ in co-ordination with its client The R&A. The one-off burger with cheese and tomato relish is held together with a ‘golf tee’ topped with onion rings and a gherkin.
A recent survey from Londonlaunch.com, a resource for event bookers, indicates that Q1 2014 saw London caterers experience a big increase in spend. “Caterers are reporting that 60 per cent of their clients are spending more year-on-year and this trend towards putting food first is reflected in the average spend per head. 45 per cent of clients are spending between £11 and £30 per head, 25 per cent are spending between £31 and £50, and 30 per cent are spending over £50,” says Will Broome, CEO of Londonlaunch.com.
“Guests at an event want to be fed great food and plenty of it – you’d better deliver if you want happy guests and, of course, a memorable event,” he adds.
What is happening in the buzzing foodie world is filtering through into the corporate catering market, according to Broome, with an increase in enquiries from event bookers for street food, pop-ups, smaller exclusive dining experiences and food theatre. “Corporates are prepared to try new catering approaches and to spend more to give their events an exciting, innovative edge,” he says.
In addition to the traditional BBQ that is always a firm favourite at summer events, London rooftop events venue The Deck has introduced a nostalgic picnic menu, which features British classics such as salmon and cucumber sandwiches and Scotch eggs, as well as cakes and pastries. “Taking this concept further, we can also theme the inside of The Deck to appear as an English country garden and make clever use of our lighting, so guests can enjoy their picnic event if the heavens decide to open,” says Charley Taylor-Smith, Head of Hospitality Events and Commercial Business Development.
With the UK’s unpredictable climate meaning it’s common for it to be glorious sunshine one minute and pouring with rain the next, Taylor-Smith advises opting for food which can easily be transferred indoors with the minimal amount of inconvenience.
“If something like an outdoor bar or BBQ has been booked ensure that extra cover is provided, so if it does rain, the caterers stay dry and cooking can continue. Food can then be served inside the venue,” she says.
Outdoor events taking place in a remote location, can throw up some logistical issues particularly if the catering is being handled in a portable kitchen or marquee. “Meticulous planning is essential as you need to have every ingredient with you and you need to have thought about everything, including different dietary requirements. After all, chefs won’t be able to pop back to the kitchen if they have forgotten something,” says Graeme Nesbitt, Executive General manager at Walton Hall and Hotel in Warwickshire.
Nesbitt also warns against serving deep fried foods at summer events. “The days of spring rolls and samosas are gone. Catering at summer events is now all about celebrating local produce, such as British-grown strawberries and asparagus, which the UK has a great supply of during the summer months. Nothing says summer more than an abundant use of herbs and spices to liven things up, sharing platters featuring the best of British dishes and creative, innovative salads oozing with flavours,” he says.
For summer 2014, London-based event caterer Moving Venue has created a series of seasonal menus that draw on South American flavours. It’s Latino Flavours menus include churrasco and caipirinhas [Brazil’s national cocktail], and can be tailored for drinks receptions and seated dinners, as well as more low-key events. “We are excited about summer 2014 as there is great confidence in the market,” says Gail Heron, Sales and Marketing Manager. “There is a real appetite for South American food in general, not just because of the World Cup, a trend reflected by the long queues at the churrasco stalls in the London street food markets.”
For an innovative take on the BBQ, Philip Mahoney, VP of Food and Drink at Rezidor, says the summer is “the time for ‘rough kitchen’, when we get down and dirty and come up with new ways to grill food, never forgetting the urban vegetarian with Portobello and peach burgers”.
New outdoor spaces for summer 2014
London event venue Tanner & Co has launched its newly refurbished courtyard just in time for the summer months. The courtyard was introduced to offer organisers an additional space to host alfresco events. “We are delighted to be able to offer organisers a venue that incorporates an outdoor element, providing guests with a taste of summer in the heart of London,” says Rob Millar, Business Development Manager at parent company, Camm and Hooper. “Given the typical British summer, an alfresco party is usually touch and go throughout the day of the event, so our packages include the use of both the courtyard and warehouse.”
Tobacco Dock, in partnership with Best Parties Ever and Tapenade catering, has launched two themed roof terraces for July. The Level 16 Sunset Terrace is inspired by Ibiza bars such as Café Del Mar and the Blue Marlin, while the second terrace is themed as an English Secret Garden Party and will be a quintessential country garden recreated in the city. Each terrace has capacity for 450 guests.
Fun in the sun corporate-style
Swindon-based Corporate Events was tasked by BP to create a unique summer event for 860 employees, contractors and VIPs involved in the PSVM oil extraction project. The family-focused celebration was held at London’s Syon Park and explored the theme ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’. Corporate Events’ in-house design team created a bespoke marquee complete with a series of areas each with a nautical flavour. The company constructed a coral reef LED floor and plasma wall, while an interactive technology zone used a video wall to showcase the project as well as BP’s wider work in Angola.
In the grounds of Syon Park, Corporate Events staged child and adult friendly activities for guests and their families, including giant water zorbs, laser clay pigeon shooting, face paining, bouncy castle, strolling jazz band and open air cinema. Caterers, Dish, provided a lunchtime BBQ and an evening of canapés and bowl food.
“We had some brilliant feedback on our BP Family Fun Day from the clients and guests,” says Corporate Events MD Andy Ashley. “Typical of our British weather, it rained pretty much all afternoon, but spirits were not dampened because we planned a mix of indoor, covered and open-air activities.”
In addition to providing branded umbrellas to ensure everyone stayed dry, the activities, children’s entertainment and catering facilities were under cover in marquees.
As well as the warmer climate and sunshine, the summer months bring with them a bout of festival-fever, which Gemma Ryan, Senior Event Manager at CWT Meetings & Events, says has influenced the event industry. “The festival format is a popular theme for summer events, with live music, stalls serving drinks and food, and fairground-style entertainment. This can be as pared back as you like – a teepee band, some bales of hay and a cider van will create the right vibe,” she says.
Ashfield Meetings & Events delivered an immersive festival environment for a company conference for 150 delegates at Escrick Park in York. An event moved to the summer months to make it more environmentally responsible. From a CSR perspective, hosting the event outdoors allowed the agency to make full use of the natural daylight, use locally sourced seasonal produce and develop outdoor interactive teambuilding activities and an outdoor exhibition area.
“The staff had never experienced a business event like this previously – an immersive festival environment,” says Head of Sales and Marketing, Luke Flett. “It took staff out of their comfort zone, challenged pre-conceptions and allowed people to think in a more creative manner. The unique atmosphere helped ensure staff were fully engaged throughout the conference.”
Organising a summer event may throw up some additional logistical headaches, most notably in terms of the unpredictable weather, however the possibilities to spread some summer lovin’ to delegates with the catering, theming and venue is vast, even if the weather doesn’t play ball.
The key, according to Corporate Events’ Ashley is taking nothing for granted and catering for all contingencies – be that rain, mud, wind or sunshine. “Everyone accepts we can’t control the weather, but no one should accept an event organiser that hasn’t got the right mix of umbrellas or sun cream, hot drinks or soup or cold water and ice to keep guests comfortable, whatever the weather,” he concludes.
This was first published in the July/August issue of CN. Any comments? Email Zoe Vernor