New Survey Reveals: The most essential food items for outdoor dining

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AGA Outdoors grill with breakfast food cooking on circular cooktop

Halloween and Bonfire Night are just around the corner, and Brits are preparing to don hats and scarves and get outside for evenings of outdoor entertainment. In fact, around 20 million people are estimated to attend either a private or public firework display over the November period according to The British Pyrotechnists Association. We all know that the key to hosting a great event with friends and family is to serve great food. That’s why we conducted a nationally representative survey of over 2,000 Brits to find out what the nation’s favourite bites are for outdoor eating. This way you can rest easy knowing that everyone at your party is catered for and satisfied!

We’re making the most of our outdoor spaces

There has evidently been a large social change since the pandemic, with many of us choosing to head outdoors instead and make the most of our gardens and outdoor spaces.

According to our survey, almost 20% of the country is now cooking more outdoors compared to the last 3-4 years. In fact, a huge 38% of people have invested in new outdoor furniture since March 2020 (probably for all of those lockdown BBQs!). Out of those of us who bought new furniture, 95% said the investment was worth it and that they make the most of their new outdoor purchases.

Who’s on the invite list?

According to our survey, the optimum number of guests to invite to your outdoor party is between 6 and 10 people. 44% of respondents signified that they prefer the slightly larger number of guests to cater for, with 41% stating they’d prefer to cook for 3 to 5 people. Unsurprisingly, only 3% of respondents said they were interested in cooking for 16 or more people! 

Preferred number of guests

Percentage of respondents

1 to 2

6%

3 to 5

41%

6 to 10

44%

11 to 15

7%

16 to 20

2%

21+

1%

In terms of who we like to have at our gatherings, most respondents said they were most likely to cook for their partner, children and families. Interestingly only 17% said they were likely to cook for their parents.

What’s on the menu?

Getting into the meat of our survey, we asked our respondents what their favourite foods were to eat outdoors - from pre-meal nibbles and sides, to mains and desserts, we uncovered what the most important elements are to have on your plate when dining outside.

Pre-dinner nibbles

In our survey, 77% of people said that they have pre-dinner nibbles when outdoor dining. 49% said they often have them, whilst 28% admitted to always having some snacks for guests before the main meal.

We asked people which nibbles they prefer and the top choice should be no surprise - it’s clear that as a nation, we simply love crisps. Coming in second place were dips, with bread and olives closely behind.

Topping the rankings as the most important element of outdoor dining meals was burgers. Closely followed by sausages and two variations of chicken, the BBQ classics secured their place at the top of the list and in the hearts of our nation.

Ranking in last place however was tofu. The meat-free option didn’t prove popular, but several other vegan and veggie options came in much higher positions on the list.

Veggie/vegan burgers, kebabs, sausages and halloumi all made it into the top ten, proving that the meat-free versions of some of our favourite dishes are still essential elements of any outdoor dining experience.

Ranking (Most to least popular)

Type of nibble

1

Crisps

2

Dips

3

Bread

4

Olives

Burgers are officially the nation’s favourite outdoor dish

Topping the rankings as the most important element of outdoor dining meals was burgers. Closely followed by sausages and two variations of chicken, the BBQ classics secured their place at the top of the list and in the hearts of our nation.

Ranking in last place however was tofu. The meat-free option didn’t prove popular, but several other vegan and veggie options came in much higher positions on the list.

Veggie/vegan burgers, kebabs, sausages and halloumi all made it into the top ten, proving that the meat-free versions of some of our favourite dishes are still essential elements of any outdoor dining experience.

Ranking (Most to least popular)

Main dish

1

Burgers

2

Sausages

3

Pre-marinated chicken

4

Plain chicken

5

Meat kebab skewer

6

Ribs

7

Vegetarian/vegan burgers

8

Vegetarian/vegan kebab skewers

9

Halloumi

10

Vegetarian/Vegan sausages

11

Lamb steaks

12

Pork steaks

13

Salmon

14

Prawns

15

Pulled Pork

16

Pork Belly

17

Tofu

Who could have a burger without a bread roll?


If knowing what main dishes are the most important wasn’t enough, we also uncovered which of the country’s favourite side dishes and toppings are most important for their events. 

Naturally, anyone that loves a burger needs a bun, so bread rolls topped the list, closely followed by coleslaw, salad, and varieties of potatoes (we clearly all need plenty of carbs to power us through a night of celebrating).

Ranking (Most to least popular)

Side dish

1

Bread rolls

2

Coleslaw

3

Mixed salad

4

Potatoes/potato salad

5

Onions

6

Cheese slices

7

Crisps

8

Tomatoes

9

Corn on the cob

10

Pasta salad

11

Lettuce

12

Mushrooms

13

Peppers

14

Carrot sticks

15

Olives

16

Hummus

17

Cucumber sticks

18

Guacamole

19

Boiled eggs

20

Feta cheese

21

Watermelon/berries/other summer fruits

The secret’s in the sauce

You can’t have a BBQ without some condiments! As suspected Britain’s favourite sauce is ketchup, but surprisingly, mayonnaise beat barbecue sauce to second place. The full ranking saw salsa, sriracha and perinaise rank among the least popular condiments, so maybe consider leaving them off your shopping list if you’re looking to save some money on your food shop.

 

Ranking (Most to least popular)

Condiment

1

Ketchup

2

Mayonnaise

3

Barbecue sauce

4

Burger relish

5

Mustard

6

Brown sauce

7

Garlic mayo

8

Hot sauce

9

Sour cream

10

Salsa

11

Sriracha

12

Perinaise

There’s always room for dessert

Even after pre-meal nibbles, mains, sides and sauces, we all know that we can always make room for some dessert.

Even with the nights getting chillier, the country decided that the most important pudding to have at an outdoor event is ice cream! 

The public also agreed that having a healthy option was important, with fruit making it to third place in the ranking.

Ranking (Most to least popular)

Dessert

1

Ice Cream

2

Cheesecake

3

Fruit

4

Cake

5

Cheese & biscuits/bread

6

Trifle

7

Pavlova

8

Pastries

9

Fruit Tart

10

Fruit crumbles

Non-alcoholic drinks are officially the most in-demand

Whilst many people choose to have an alcoholic drink or two at parties with friends, our survey showed that having alcohol-free options was the most important thing to remember when hosting an outdoor event.

We asked our respondents to pick the three drinks that were most important to them, and fizzy drinks topped our list with 39% of people proclaiming it as one of the most essential drinks. That was very closely followed by 38% of people picking beer, and 36% of respondents also saying that wine was an outdoor dining essential. 

Ciders also seemed to be a popular option, but the public were less interested in having spirits or cordials at their parties.
 

Ranking (Most to least popular)

Drink

1

Fizzy Soft Drinks

2

Beer

3

Wine

4

Cider

5

Cocktails

6

Spirits

7

Cordials

8

Other

The biggest stress factors for an outdoor party

Our survey also quizzed people about the perfect conditions for hosting their parties - from what the temperature should be, to backup plans in case the weather turns.

Although many people will be hosting gatherings across October and November for Halloween and Bonfire night, our survey showed that most people prefer it to be between 20°C and 24°C when hosting an outdoor dining event. Granted, those highs aren’t likely - but our autumns are getting warmer year-on-year, making it somewhat easier to have gatherings outdoors in those traditionally chillier months.

That said, whilst it’s not looking likely that we’ll be getting a heatwave in autumn, the 1% of respondents who prefer it to be under 10°C outside will certainly be very satisfied.

Temperature

Percentage of people who prefer that temperature

Under 10°C

1%

10°C to 14°C

6%

15°C to 19°C

13%

20°C to 24°C

39%

25°C to 29°C

19%

30°C to 34°C

4%

35°C to 40°C

1%

41°C+

1%

I don’t know

15%

What about rain?

We also asked our survey respondents what they would do if their party got rained on. The majority of people (32%) admitted that they would still cook outdoors, but would be likely to move indoors to eat in order to avoid any guests getting wet.

That said, 29% said they would brave the elements and still eat outside but under the cover of umbrellas or gazebos. Only 27% said they would give up their outdoors approach and do everything completely indoors.

What is the biggest stress factor when hosting?

Although the weather is definitely a factor to consider, 42% of the country believes that the biggest stress factor when hosting an outdoor gathering is making sure that all of the food is cooked thoroughly. Making sure grills are up to scratch and not likely to fail at cooking meat is clearly something that worries hosts. 

Only 36% of people said the weather was the most worrying factor, and an additional 9% listed their company and guests as being the most difficult challenge to deal with!

Outdoor entertaining never gets old

Entertaining guests over a good meal has always been one of the best ways to connect with friends and family. Whether that’s indoors or outdoors! 

If you’re interested in levelling up your outdoor dining experience, consider taking a look at our professional outdoor grills and cooktops.

Perfect for entertaining lots of guests, our grills help to make sure your friends and family leave events feeling satisfied with the great food you’ve had on offer.

Methodology

We conducted a survey of 2,000 UK adults between 24th and 31st August 2022, making this a nationally representative survey.