There’s something about summer that draws people to the outdoors. Clear skies, green landscapes, and warm weather have a way of turning an average indoor event into an outdoor extravaganza. Everything from dinners, mixers, and weddings find their way outside. Unfortunately the summer heat can make it difficult to keep enough ice on hand, so we’ve put together a few tips for maximizing your ice supply while catering events outdoors. 

Ice may not be the talk of a party, but it will quickly become the topic of every conversation if you run out.  

When planning a party, reception, or mixer, most people focus on cocktails, flowers, and whether to order chicken or fish. How much and how to use your ice is just as important, especially if you’re catering events outdoors during spring or summer.  

There are some hard and fast rules you should consider following when providing ice for an outdoor event.  

Make Sure You Have Enough Ice 

You need a plentiful supply of ice to host any event that provides drinks, but it’s even more important if you decide to move that event outside. Heat from the outdoors tends to make people thirsty and the ice melts faster, meaning repeat trips to the bar.  

So, how much ice per person for catering an event hosted outside? As a rule, you should plan on buying one pound of ice per person and multiply that by how long you think your event will last. This amount of ice doubles if you plan on catering your event outdoors. For instance, at a wedding, if you plan on having 10 guests at a three-hour outdoor reception, plan on getting 60 pounds of ice. You’ll also need to factor in ice used for keeping food items chilled.  

For large amounts of ice. The best way to transfer ice is in large, plastic coolers. This is also the best place to store the ice, as well (unless you have a really large freezer).  

Put Drinks on Ice Before the Event Starts 

Have you ever been the first one to an outdoor event, reach into a stocked ice bin full of bottles only to find the beverage is still warm?  

Ice cools a 12 oz bottle faster than just throwing it in the freezer. If you want your beverage nice and cold, it only takes about 15 minutes. For a larger bottle, like a bottle of champagne or 2-liter of soda, it takes 20 to 30 minutes. If you are putting a lot of bottles and cans into a large ice bin, 30 minutes should be enough time to make sure all your drinks are ready for guests.  

Pick the Right Type of Ice Cube and Storage 

Did you know different types of ice cubes are used for different reasons? Ice machine manufacturers have designed different shaped ice cubes to fit certain purposes. For instance, that crescent-shaped ice you find in bars is designed to prevent splash back when bartenders pour a drink. Smaller ice “nuggets” are designed so hospital patients can chew them and stay hydrated.  

For outdoor events, you should choose a larger ice cube rather than a smaller one. This ice will hold up better to the heat and prevent it from melting. Hoshizaki crescent cubes are a great choice for outdoor parties. They are some of the clearest, hardest, and slowest melting ice cubes on the market. 

When it comes to keeping your ice cold, the type of container you use to store your ice makes a big difference. You may have seen those large beer troughs made of galvanized metal. Yes, they look professional – but when catering events outdoors, it might be better to go with plastic coolers. 

Why plastic over metal? Well, metal is a better conductor of energy, and metal transfers heat to ice faster than plastic does. If your goal is to keep ice frozen, go with a cooler.  

Have Two Separate Supplies of Ice 

Outdoor receptions and mixers often have a bartender who dishes out cold beverages to guests. In some cases, beer and sodas might be placed in an ice bath, so bartenders can focus on making cocktails. Sometimes these bins become free-for-alls where guests help themselves to the drinks. At these types of events, there is always that person that insists on taking ice from the beer cooler and tossing it into his cocktail. 

Don’t encourage this type of behavior! 

Ice from beer tubs and drink bins is not sanitary for drinking. With so many different hands dipping in and out of those containers, dirt and all kinds of contaminants can end up mixing with your ice.  

It’s important that you have two separate supplies of ice: one to store bottles and cans and one for drinks. The one you use for drinks should also come with a scoop, so guests don’t have to use their hands and defeat the whole purpose of separating the ice.  

Make Sure You Have Plenty of Towels 

When catering events outdoors you should make sure to have plenty of towels on hand for any accidental spills. Towels are a necessity even if you have a bar. Don’t expect that a bartender will bring their own. One thing that will certainly irritate guests is staining their fancy suit or dress because the bar is sticky from spilled cosmopolitans.  

You should also keep towels near ice bins. One common party foul is forcing guests to reach into a bin of half melted ice and pulling out a soaking wet bottle. This leaves guests with wet, cold hands and water all over the place. By putting plenty of towels around an ice bin, you can make sure no one has to endure a wet handshake.  

Better yet, hire someone to manage the ice bin. That way they can wipe bottles and cans before handing them to guests and make sure they keep their hands out of the ice bin.