With summer just around the corner, outdoor parties are promising to be in full swing - and you don’t need to be an events organiser to cash in.

Commercial kitchens are in high demand and, if you’ve got one, you can maximise your profits and even raise your profile at the same time. Catering to outdoor events and the corporate market has proved a lucrative option for many bakeries and cafés. So if your kitchen stands unused for half the day, then read on.

"Local bakeries are often well-placed to take advantage of other catering opportunities in the area," says a spokesperson for London-based Orchard Green Group Catering. "They have all the existing facilities, and have already paid out to get everything above-board in terms of health and safety, so they have quite a lucrative resource in their catering kitchens. If they’re looking to supply outdoor events, there are a number of options they might consider. Contract caterers who already supply events, for example, are always looking for suppliers. However, the larger organisations have very tight margins and mark-ups will be low and based on high volumes, so smaller bakeries will be better off aiming for local contractors."

Corporate business

Another area which Orchard Green suggests bakeries can consider is supplying sandwiches for offices, who are often in ready need of a good supplier. "There are some huge companies who do this in London," explains its spokesperson. "But equally, smaller companies are also looking for people to supply them with bread. In this area you’ve got to be able to consistently supply bread at three or four in the morning, because they start making the sandwiches really early, so this may or may not fit in with your usual operations."

Local events, such as weddings, funerals and other celebrations, are also potential outlets for bakeries to supply direct, provided they market themselves effectively and are aware of their limitations. Get it right, however, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t successfully expand your output into one or all of these fields.

One company that has done just that is Parkinson’s Bakery in Leyland. The family bakery has made both corporate lunches and events a significant part of its daily operations. "We came into events catering gradually," says Sally Wright, herself a fourth generation of the Parkinson’s family, who branched out into a marketing career before returning to the baking business.

Capitalising on its reputation as a well-loved local bakery, Parkinson’s began offering funeral teas, providing their popular cakes, pies and quiches. "Then we expanded into corporate lunches, and now we’re even doing outdoor events and weddings," says Wright.

"The expansion has mostly been by word-of-mouth, and it helps that we’re well-known in the area," she says. "In the beginning, I would arrange to take secretaries out for a free lunch and tell them a little bit about what we could do. We supply local events, but we have four outlets, which makes it easier for us to get the food out to different places. We also have a local venue right next to one of our bakeries who know us and recommend us to anyone holding an event with them, which is really helpful."

Like many bakeries, Parkinson’s can capitalise on its ready oven and kitchen facilities to offer competitive services that other caterers cannot match. "One of our big selling points was we could do lunches that much faster than a lot of other companies, because we’re all set up and we have four bakery outlets in the area," says Wright. "So if a secretary phones with an order, we can have it in a few hours."

The fast turnaround and canny marketing has made the corporate lunches very successful, and Wright believes that an awareness of modern-day office politics has also played a part in their popularity. "One of our very popular sellers is a basic corporate lunch, which is a round of sandwiches per delegate along with some fresh pies or a quiche, some crisps, some fruit, or a homemade cake," she says. "It’s important to get the price right with corporates, because it’s not about the big power lunches of the 1980s any more, and people are operating to a budget. Also, there are a number of outlets trading from their own kitchens with lower overheads who can undercut you so you have to be price-conscious. The other big difference is that we take credit cards now. A lot of smaller companies cannot do this."

For other events, the bakery produces a combination of its fresh-baked pies, quiches and cakes, along with classics such as Lancashire hotpot and canapés. "We make up products fresh for events, but we do hold some items that we can bake-off immediately," she says.

But while outdoor events and other corporate catering can boost a baker’s profits and keep the kitchen productive all day long, there are great benefits to getting your name known in the local area and beyond. So if you’re thinking about expanding to events catering, you might want to show your face at local trade shows and other events as well.

"I think it’s important for bakers to get out there" says Richard Bertinet of The Bertinet Kitchen. "If you ask people in England to name 10 chefs, they can do it easily, but they cannot name two bakers." The French baker feels so passionate about his public that he regularly holds free bakery classes at local Taste events to showcase his trade.

"We’ve got involved with the Taste festivals," says Bertinet. "We started out with the Taste of Bath, and they have given us a great opportunity to have people get their hands dirty and find out what we do. We run a hands-on class for about half an hour, where people will make bread or pastries. It has been very popular and, this year, we’ve moved to cover the London event as well."

Getting known in the community

For Bertinet, showcasing your trade at an event or show means more than extra profits. It’s a chance to get your name recognised for quality products, and to impart a powerful message about the importance of bakers in the community. "Bakers should be known among the community; they should be part of that," he says. "People need to appreciate that bakeries are not about toast and soggy doughnuts. It’s a very simple process to take breadmaking to people and it makes a big difference to their appreciation of the product. I’ve had people who have come to my classes at the Taste festival and you build up a rapport with them. Then they come into your shop every Saturday and buy two loaves of bread."

Bertinet also believes using outdoor events and shows to your advantage can help absorb the inevitable rise in bread prices, as wheat costs soar. "If people feel they know their baker and they trust their products, they will be prepared to pay higher prices for their loaves, because they trust that they are not being ripped off," he says.

So while you might be looking for outdoor events and corporate catering as a way to boost your profits, properly done, it’s an activity that could have much more far-reaching implications for your reputation and your brand. Not to mention a chance to get out in the sunshine and meet the people who really matter: your potential customers.

=== Tips for success ===

Ten-shop Gloucestershire-based Janes Pantry turns over £6,000 a week in catering to corporate events and buffets. MD Neville Morse explains what you need to do to make this trade successful:

It’s got to be fresh: all the food for the event should be made on the day it is to be consumed. Janes’ dedicated buffet team make up the sandwiches on the morning of the event and these are then delivered in refrigerated vans to their destination.

It must look professional: everything should be smart, right down to the logoed menus, napkins and plates that are provided.

Market it well: shout about your service - on all accessories and on your delivery vans.

Vary the offer: Janes does buffets ranging from £5/person to £9/person plus VAT.

Keep it simple: "a good wholesome buffet" is what Janes offers, so don’t be tempted to go too fancy.

Do your research: make sure you know what market is out there and target it accordingly; phone companies in your area and email them the menus or send them in the post.

Consider your image: think about the packaging of the food, how it’s going to look when it arrives, how easy it is for the customer to put out and what they will do with the packaging afterwards.