With the summer season fast approaching, it’s time for caterers to think ahead and start planning their offering for the months ahead.

“The change of seasons provides the perfect excuse for operators to shake up their menus,” says Darragh Gilhawley, of Big Al’s Foodservice. “It’s out with heavy wintry dishes. Consumers are much less inclined to eat robust, stocky meals and instead want to change their eating habits, opting for lighter choices.”

Offering menus which take inspiration from classic dishes whilst incorporating 2017 foodie trends is a great starting place for chefs. Says Willem Fijten for Mars Global Product Development: “Twists on much-loved favourites alongside new ingredients and globally inspired flavours from different cultures’ cuisines will not only provide a varied menu, but increase interest from new and existing customers alike.”

The great outdoors As consumers seek more outdoor options, operators should evaluate their alfresco dining offering, and combine it with the growing brunch occasion. Aine Melichar, brand manager for Kerrymaid, explains: “Unlimited brunches give operators the opportunity to turn around multiple covers throughout the day, and by limiting the dwell time to a strict time period (the standard around two hours), operators can cater for a larger amount of visitors and be more prepared for specific footfall at specific times.”

Chefs can look at creating a simple eggs benedict or a more premium dish of eggs benedict with smoked salmon and chives. Sizzling barbecue food is an undeniable lure for consumers and a great way to turn traditionally mundane foods into something a little more exciting.

Flavour fusions A vital element to any barbecue is the burger and customers are increasingly seeking exciting flavours, toppings and texture combinations to personalise their experience. Exotic flavour combinations such as Bánh mì (a juicy Vietnamese-inspired bread using ginger, coriander, lime, pepper and umami) and Kimchi (a Korean dish which includes soy sauce, ginger, garlic and sesame) are being used to upgrade chicken burgers and in turn help to increase price points. Add to that a brand-new seasoning trend that will see tea and coffee rubs complement meat flavours, and there will be an explosion of new flavours over the coming months. With this in mind, chefs should consider adding a bulgogi (a Korean dish of thin beef slices marinated and grilled on a barbecue.) burger to their offering too.

Lion’s new Sauceology challenges the way chefs think about ready-made sauces by promoting each product as just one ingredient in a new creation, with endless possibilities for flavour. Rachel Neale, at AAK Foodservice, says: “Chefs have told us they create their own unique sauces by using several different products to achieve the flavour and texture they’re looking for. We’re twisting classics, shaking up tradition and fusing flavours in a quest for culinary brilliance.” www.lionsauces.co.uk/sauceology

Tapas time “Tapas is perfect for summer – think vibrant Mediterranean colours and flavours, with simple combinations that remind diners of alfresco meals by the sea,” says Olivia Shuttleworth, brand manager for Prep Premium speciality oils. “Using flavoured oils is a great way to bring your small plate dishes to life, quickly and with minimum effort. “Whether it’s drizzling some garlic-infused olive oil over bruschetta before serving, or adding the authentic taste of wood smoke to meat, vegetable or fish dishes with an oak smoked rapeseed oil, flavoured oil will bring extra depth to your tapas menu. For fabulous, Spanish-inspired fish kebabs, string juicy scallops and slices of chorizo on a skewer, then brush with chilli and garlic infused rapeseed oil. You can use the same method for cooking king prawn skewers – leave the shells on for an authentic, rustic twist.”

Summer salads Fresh, vibrant and colourful salads are perfect for summer menus. “Quinoa, feta and pomegranate salad ticks all the right boxes – it’s colourful, delicious and packed with popular ‘superfood’ ingredients that lunchtime diners will love,” advises Ben Bartlett, celebrity chef and brand ambassador for Lion sauces. “Combine quinoa with chopped red onion, coriander, parsley, mint and a little rocket. Mix together with some lemon juice and French style house dressing, then top with a handful of pomegranate seeds, some crumbled feta, a few raisins and some toasted pine nuts.”

“A chargrilled or Korean marinated chicken, baked Tandoori marinated salmon, Thai fish and vegetable kebab, a veggie asparagus with honey-glazed goats cheese or Moroccan beef kofta, all scream summer dining and can be customised with ease,” says Willie Pike Major’s consultant development chef for Scotland.

Take the wrap With the boom of Mexican fusion in 2016, wraps are now more popular than ever and have earned their rightful place alongside sandwiches and paninis. With children’s palates increasingly more adventurous, schools can offer more exotic options to match what is out there on the high street. From hot Korean infused short rib tacos to Moroccan chicken burritos and vegetarian options, Mediterranean roasted halloumi wraps and Bombay potato chapatti, caterers can incorporate the latest flavour trends and serve them with confidence alongside staples such as ham and cheese. Wraps can also be a great way to help kids get their vital nutrients and five a day, advises Brian Eastment, executive development chef at Major. “Mexican-inspired tacos and burritos are already familiar food on pupils’ radars and can be a great way to encourage children to try new healthy food. Marinated pulses, rice, vegetables or meat or fish can be offered with a selection of fresh salad ingredients. Why not go one step further and allow students to DIY: wrap their own?”

Summer in the care sector Salads are always good sources of essential vitamins and minerals and a great way to keep care sector guests hydrated in the summer months. With the well-travelled baby boomers reaching the retirement age, caterers can dare to experiment with flavours. “Delicious Pan-Asian infused salads such as Asian beef salad, ginger and soy dressing with roasted rice or a warm noodle salad are sure to go down a treat,” says Bob McDonald, Major’s consultant development chef for Ireland. Another great way to supply a nutritious boost is to produce a range of smoothies and granitas.

Desserts for special diets “It’s very important that summer dessert menus should feature items that cater for customers with specific dietary requirements,” says Gordon Lauder, MD of frozen food distributor Central Foods. There are now more than half a million vegans in the UK and increasing numbers of people who avoid certain ingredients such as dairy products, gluten, nuts or eggs due to allergies or for other health reasons. “Operators might find that something like a non-dairy ice cream-style dessert suits a wide range of customers with differing dietary needs and is the ideal summer menu item,” adds Gordon. “This type of dessert is popular with all ages and can be served up as a stand-alone dish or as an accompaniment.”