Dining Al Fresco

May 30, 2005
Written by Michelle Brisebois
There’s something positively exotic about sharing a fine meal outside. Maybe it’s because we’re cooped up so much during our harsh winters? Maybe it’s a desire to commune with nature? All indicators are pointing towards outdoor kitchens as a serious trend to watch. A trend that garden centres could tap into quite nicely.
20There’s something positively exotic about sharing a fine meal outside. Maybe it’s because we’re cooped up so much during our harsh winters? Maybe it’s a desire to commune with nature? All indicators are pointing towards outdoor kitchens as a serious trend to watch. A trend that garden centres could tap into quite nicely.

Outdoor eateries have come a long way since dad spent hours trying to light up the old tripod barbecue with the charcoal briquettes. As barbecues have become more sophisticated, consumers have come to use them more often and all year round. Some psychologists theorize that as men have taken on more responsibility for meal preparation, barbecuing has become more prevalent because men have a higher propensity to use a barbecue. A study in the U.K. commissioned by Calor confirms that 85 per cent of men say they do most of the barbecuing. This same study reports that 56 per cent of men claim that using the barbecue is their idea. Sociologists theorize that the male fascination with the barbecue is because they can satisfy their love of gadgets and recreate the cave-side ritual. The statistics show 85 per cent of North American families own a barbecue with 69 per cent of us firing up the grill all year round. This trend towards ‘all weather outdoor cooking’ has increased steadily year after year. As we’ve become more accustomed to cooking outdoors, we’ve also started to think of our backyards as another kitchen.

The last few years have seen an increase in home entertaining. Cottages are becoming financially out of reach for many Canadians and they’ve turned to their own backyards as a convenient alternative. Statistics Canada reports that sales of in ground swimming pools have increased by more than 50 per cent since 1995. Consumers have found that when they entertain in their yards, having all of the kitchen amenities right there ensures that they can stay and socialize with their guests instead of having to work inside and then carry everything through the house out to the yard. Some homeowners are spending upwards of $20,000 to outfit their yards with everything from outdoor fireplaces to wood-burning pizza ovens.

20b Cabinets and countertops that can withstand all kinds of weather conditions are often housed under an awning. Kitchen Aid has developed a 24" tall outdoor refrigerator. It’s a permanent fixture that can stand-alone or easily be built into an outdoor kitchen island. Many consumers are using semi-custom prefabricated grilling islands. A variety of configurations and exterior finishes is available. The dimensions for the grill as well as for other built-in appliances are cut to specification and then the island is manufactured off-site, delivered in two to three weeks, ready for grill installation. Prefab islands are becoming more popular because they don’t require building permits and are fairly cost effective.

As consumers start to view their yards as outdoor rooms – it opens up many opportunities for garden centres to profit from this direction. Garden centres can support this trend by helping their customers design yards that have four season interest. Since many people will use their outdoor kitchen all year round, the landscaping will need to be designed so that there is something interesting for each season. Consider offering a seminar to help customers design gardens that evolve with all seasons. Shrubs such as Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick with their twirling branches will offer architectural beauty against a snowy yard. Garden centres may also want to revisit their offering of fresh herbs. A hanging basket of herbs will provide both beauty and function for the ‘outdoor gourmet’. Strawberry and tomato plants also lend themselves to container gardening and will allow consumers to serve fruits and vegetables straight off of the vine. It could also be very beneficial to partner with a well-known local chef to offer seminars on outdoor grilling. Why not make it a ‘Lone Ranger’ guys-only night, featuring tips on how to time all of those different steaks and burgers of different thickness so none of them are overdone or underdone? Consider having a contest where customers could submit their favourite barbecue recipe. Draw one at random for a gift certificate at your centre and then publish a small book of all the recipes and give the proceeds to charity. This could be a true win-win for everyone.

As urban planners start to look at brown fields for growth opportunities, so are consumers starting to get creative about utilizing their home space more effectively. Keep in mind that you’re marketing to men as well as women and look for ways to ensure your products and services are on their menus!

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