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feedback please on an idea for a child friendly cafe

(46 Posts)
forest Tue 25-Mar-03 20:11:58

It has always been a dream of mine to open a cafe. Since having had dd almost a year ago I found I was frequenting cafes quite regularly until dd became too mobile, now it has just become too much of a nightmare to take her out. I miss going to cafes and it has to be said there are some mums I have met that I would like to meet up with but don't really want them to come round and so meeting in a cafe is ideal. Anyway, this has made me think about the idea of trying to make a cafe more friendly to toddlers as I think the mum market is a huge one that is not catered (no pun intended) for.
So my idea would be to have an area that had play things in but was somehow "fenced" in so babies didn't escape. Mums could enjoy their coffee and yummy cakes and keep an eye on the little ones without having to constantly chase after them! I would also like the cafe to appeal to other people as I don't think mums should be isolated. So I would like it to be a "cool" cafe as I do live in a student area and would like them to come as well. So I would want it to be comfortable - nice chairs, sofas; good music; paper table cloths with crayons to doodle on; artwork displayed on the walls for sale; papers and second hand books available to read etc. Is this a feasible idea? Would you choose to come to a cafe like this? Do you think toddlers would behave sufficently? Have you any ideas?
I hope this doesn't come across as be touting for business or anything. It is just that I have mentioned it to dh and he is all for the idea that I have a cafe but he thinks it is a stupid idea to cater for mums. I just feel he is wrong and want mums opinions.

WideWebWitch Tue 25-Mar-03 20:21:20

I think it's a great idea. Ideally I think there would be a huge garden too so that toddlers and older children could run off some energy and so that everyone could get some fresh air but I don't know how feasible that would be for where you are.

Yes, I would choose to come to a cafe like this where mums were truly welcome. I can't stand wacky warehouse type places but seemed to spend a lot of time in them when ds was younger. No, I don't think toddlers would behave sufficiently (unless you're planning to sell tranquilising darts - JOKE!) but isn't that the point? That it wouldn't be like other cafes where you have to keep them on a tight leash? I think it would have to be a reasonably big space though if you were to have a play area where children could be closed in, so I'm not sure how feasible it would be. Can I do the cooking? I love coming up with healthy, delicious, easy to prepare lunches and snacks

lucy123 Tue 25-Mar-03 20:24:18

forest, I think that's a great idea.

Other things you might not have thought of -

-lots of space around at least two tables and a nice wide gangway for pushchairs/prams.

-outside play area and tables outside for summer.

um that's it - dd is still only little so I haven't had the chasing-around-the-cafe thing yet, but we have enjoyed going to Spanish cafes with play areas (she loves watching the other children and they like her).

The only problem would be that if you wanted to entice students and other young people, then you may need to provide a smoking area (remember refusing non-smoking cafes in my student days). It may not be an issue where you are, but a very well ventilated / air conditioned section away from the play area might be an idea.

Oh and finally - all your ideas are good, but even as a mum, the food is still my most important criteria for a cafe! (and the price).

Good luck. Where are you anyway?

Claireandrich Tue 25-Mar-03 20:33:06

Sounds like a great idea. Dh and I are always complaining of not knowing where to go with DD (11 months) now she is toddling and wanting to be a bit more active. We like places like Starbucks but I suspect Dd won't want to to sit still with a book or toy on her own for much longer - but then where do we go. I HATE the idea of Wacky Warehouse type places as i think it is so overcharged for tasteless food.

Don't suppose anyone fancies opening some good, nice, trendy child-friendly wine bars too do they?

judetheobscure Tue 25-Mar-03 20:40:32

Dh and I often talk about this kind of thing (although not as a serious business proposition). We would love to go somewhere with the kids where there was nice, reasonably healthy food for us and the children, decent coffee or wine, beer etc., and somewhere the kids can play. The big problem I can forsee (sp?) is the space issue - space for the play area and space for getting the buggies and double buggies in = higher rent for less covers.
Wouldn't be bothered about an outside area particularly.

tomps Tue 25-Mar-03 20:44:31

It's a great idea, and definitely the kind of place that is in very short supply. I used to work in the industry though and I would suggest you will need to come up with an alternative source of income in order to pay for a large space which you are basically providing free during the daytime. A big reason for not specifically targetting mums /students / pensioners is their ability to nurse a cup of coffee for hours, and take up the space of another potential paying customer ! Maybe you could also open in the evening to a wider audience. Don't mean to put a downer on your big plans, just offering a realistic perspective I hope. Happy to share my experience with you if it can be useful. I think if you contact mumsnet they will give you my email address.

bossykate Tue 25-Mar-03 21:01:18


wonderful! no of course toddlers would not behave!

had such a funny experience on sunday. there is a very cool, trendy cafe near me. although there is nothing *specific* for children, it is quite minimalist (i.e. not much clutter for your baba to (a) break or (b) brain themselves on), and the owners (french - maybe it makes a difference?) are *very* amenable to kids there.

in fact, i pass it most days and quite frequently see toddlers ds's age in there playing happily on the floor under the tables while the cool, trendy, boho mothers enjoy the guardian and a designer coffee (the floor is always *very clean* btw!).

so i thought i would bring ds there and do the same.

ha! he found the one danger spot in the whole place (a raised slate tiled ledge by the window and refused to be moved from there - of course - well why would he? that was where he could see the buses and lorries). so it didn't go as planned!

anyway, rambling now. the point is i think your idea is *marvellous*. where are you planning on opening it? ds and i will come!

think tomps's point is a good one and i would add, pick an an area where there are lots of SAHMs (i suppose that means a well off area) so you get business during the week.

tout away!

best of luck - there are so few places which both parent and baby can enjoy.

zebra Tue 25-Mar-03 21:05:57

We have had in our town two indoor play centres with cafe facilities. Both failed financially (2001, 2003), just a little too dear? Should have been very successful, large play rooms with cafe tables around the sides. Happy to warm up baby milk or food; selection of meals for tots or adults. One of them had lots of creative marketing ideas, glue for sticking, playdough, *and* good food for reasonable prices. Exactly what my unable-to-sit-still-for-long children required. But they had a surcharge for the child's visit (£1/hour or £3 for unlimited hrs per child), much more than people were willing to pay. You get most of the same facilities for more time at a Mum+Tots group and just 50p (for as many children as you might have), which *includes* the biscuits & a cup of tea. And you see the same mothers each week, which means that you start to feel confident leaving them to watch your kids when you nip out to the loo; not so easy to do at a cafe.

I think the surcharge tends to be necessary to pay for the space; to be honest, cafes run on very tight margins because food is so cheap and commercial rates high; they need most of the floor area covered with tables, with most tables full most of the time, to really turn a profit. One of our local indoor-cafe-play areas moved into a church hall with correspondingly low rent, on the argument it was a community service they were offering. They *still* struggled to pay a living wage out. We are in a pretty middle class town, but I met many mums who didn't go to these play centres because they (the mums) tend to be earning little if anything. Eating out had become a bit of a luxury -- not something to waste on the stress of chasing children, anyway (because they still need lots of supervision).

If you still want to give the cafe a try make sure you have parking sorted out; poor parking contributed to the demise of the church-based play-cafe. That business now taken over as a non/low-profit thing, run by volunteer mums. They charge 50p/child/hr and reputedly are pretty busy. Only open 10am-3pm on Weds-Friday.

What does seem to succeed (commercially) are pubs or McD's (as opposed to cafes) with kiddy play areas.

Just recalling our leisure centre cafe has a small children's play area -- quite a good place to go, actually, but subsidised by the council, of course....And the food is lousy!! Some supermarket cafes have similar, but again, subsidised by supermarket.

Sorry to rain on your parade.

Bozza Tue 25-Mar-03 21:23:17

I must have an odd child because there is nothing my DS likes better than to sit in a high chair in a cafe people watching - all the better if I buy him a treat of course. When I started to take him out on his reins he would always pull towards any pavement cafes. Obviously I have to put some effort in to keep him amused if we are going for a proper meal and have to wait to be served etc - but a colouring book and some crayons generally works OK.

SueW Tue 25-Mar-03 21:57:59

- proper coffee

- babycino i.e. froth of milk in an espresso cup with maybe a marshmallow or something small on the side. Costs little, charge nothing, massive goodwill as mum doesn't have to share the top off her latte!

- Simple food e.g grilled panini, well made eggs any style with toast, etc Lots of fresh food cooked to order. Jacket potatoes NOT microwaved if you're thinking of doing them!

Worst 'kids' cafe I ever visited was the Boiled Egg and Soldiers in Clapham - never did understand why it was so popular with mums when it was too crowded and the food wasn't brilliant, IMO. Didn't give the impression of freshness, just long date stuff such as teacakes and potaties which could be kept forever. May have changed since 1997 of course!

bossykate Wed 26-Mar-03 07:16:26

suew, it's still going, but haven't sampled it, always looks too packed when we pass!

hmb Wed 26-Mar-03 07:35:39

I agree with the comments made below, but could I add one.

If there is a delay in the order pleeeeeeeeeese serve the children with their food first. That way the little beggers don't get bored and disruptive. Then when the children have finished they can go to the play area, and the adults can then get on with their food, unencumbered while the children play happily in the 'fenced in' play area. And please do fence it in, or anyone with a Ds like mine, will spend every second running after their child.

Great idea! You don'r want to move to Lincoln do you?

bells2 Wed 26-Mar-03 07:39:41

Agree on Boiled Egg and Soldiers. Can never understand why it's so popular. To me a welcoming and tolerant atmosphere is by far the most important thing and SueW's menu sounds perfect.

GeorginaA Wed 26-Mar-03 07:59:24

As long as every child's meal doesn't come with chips, then I'm happy. As long as at least one child's meal comes with chips, then ds is happy.

monkey Wed 26-Mar-03 08:00:56

suew - glad you said that - I used to walk past it every day but never went in. much to stuffy I thought.

I recently discovered by chance a 'kiddie cafe'. The toys were amazing - cars foir the toddlers to scoot around on, all manner of toys, a roof terrace with wendy houses etc, not having to worry about kids desturbing other people.

Food wasn't so good though, and it was self-service, so you had to actually move out of sight to get food which wasn't ideal, but then waitress service could really bump up costs.

Marina Wed 26-Mar-03 09:54:53

Forest, I think it sounds like a super idea and hope you think you can make a go of it. Would reiterate Lucy's point about a well-ventilated smoking area if you hope to attract a student clientele. I'd love something like this - our church's toddler group seem to make the coffee from floor-sweepings and buy hideous, rock-hard biscuits.
Was very interested to read Tomps' and Zebra's caveats though...

emmaij Wed 26-Mar-03 10:19:50

Great idea. And find waitresses that love children and have a smile for every single one. My other problem with the Boiled Egg & Soliders .. on the whole the waitresses (probably because they see so many kids) never acknowledge the children.

Get food out on the tables promptly

Lots of books for the kiddies and newspapers for the adults

Agree that food has got to be good ..

It is really is a fantastic idea. Who knows you could start a chain. My cousin started Pret a Manager from very humble beginnings believe me!

janinlondon Wed 26-Mar-03 10:25:04

Monkey - where was the good kid's play things cafe? Forest, I think your idea is great, though as some others have commented, stuffing as many covers as possible into the space you have is usually the key to a financially successful enterprise.

sykes Wed 26-Mar-03 10:26:32

This is something I'm also really interested in starting but it seems to be fraught with problems on the financial front - agree with a lot of what tomps and zebra have said. We've even thought about a members club - trendy wine bar by night, more geared to parents during the day. Creche area, mags, toys, cater for kids parties/christenings etc, etc. The amount you'd have to charge though made it seem exhorbitant and space is key as is location. Thought you could also sell gifts, I could go on and on and am obviously galloping when I can't even walk. It's something I'm working on and would love to talk to others about and REALLY appreciate advice. Forest, hope you can make it work. Where do you live?

NQWWW Wed 26-Mar-03 10:41:12

One thing I generally dislike about cafes (among them Boiled Egg & Soldiers) is the difficulty of getting the buggy through the door. On the other hand, when in a cafe and my ds is running around, the one thing I do want to enable me to relax is a secure door, so that if I do start reading the paper I can be sure he's not going to do a runner when someone else comes in. Don't know how you satisfy both of those requirements.

I would agree with the warnings re covering your costs - the low margins is why these places tend to be cramped and they don't encourage you to linger too long. Its a lovely idea but you need to do all the research and a very careful business plan before going for it. Students and mums would strike me as 2 of the lowest spending groups as far as cafes are concerned (although depends on the area, I suspect). I always remember the statistic I heard a few years ago that 1 in 4 cafes close within the first 12 months due to cash flow problems.

Sorry to sound so negative - I do think its a lovely idea and I'd certainly come!

Meid Wed 26-Mar-03 12:01:40

Forest, this is something I have thought about too from time to time. In addition to all the points already come up with I would like to add that I think the play area shouldn't be too big or too extravagant. This wouldn't be cost effective and would take away the coffee shop atmosphere and replace it with the atmosphere of a play centre. My suggestion for the play area would be just to have some childrens sized tables and chairs with paper and crayons provided. This would entertain the children for a while, but not too long so you could still have a quick turnaround of customers. You could also use this area for childrens parties at certain times of day. I think you should also consider the location of the coffee shop very carefully - think about where would mums be? I would have thought a busy shopping centre would be the best location or maybe this type of coffee shop would be best located in a sports centre or some other facility?
I hope this helps and good luck.

florenceuk Wed 26-Mar-03 12:13:34

Sorry to disagree but I would have thought smoking and kids/mums don't really mix - I know it would put me off. At lunchtime find the non-smoking areas in our local pizza restaurant fill up really fast and eventually the late-comers are forced to go and sit with the smokers. Starbucks is non-smoking and doesn't seem to have a problem attracting wide range of clientele.

I think even a small cafe with good coffee and fresh food is a major advance on what's available out there! Starbucks is the best there is, and that's not saying much. Maybe you could scale it back a bit - I went to a cafe in NZ which just had a small child's play area adjacent to the tables with toys/soft surfaces to crawl on - made a big difference to how happy DS was. Not designed as a creche but just something to keep them amused while you had lunch/cup of coffee. Lots of magazines/comfy sofas and ideally a garden out the back for days like today. But running a cafe is hard work - my parents owned one and every day went to work at 6am and home after 7pm plus weekends for baking - not an easy life and not fantastically well paid - unless you hit the jackpot and turn it into a franchise...

Bozza Wed 26-Mar-03 12:37:19

Agree 100% with hmb - kid's food out first - especially puddings. Went on a meal out recently 10 adults and toddler DS. Three course meal and DS did really well until when they bought the desserts when they bought all 10 desserts before DS's bowl of ice-cream. Obviously this isn't the kind of food you're thinking of but hmb's comment did make good sense.

I'm sure this is common sense really but make sure the high chairs are kept clean - lost count of the number of times I've had to clean a high chair with baby wipes so DS could use it.

Agree with offering more interesting range of kid's foods NOT just chips. Also maybe toddler portions alongside proper child portions which sometimes are way too big for a 1/2 year old.

slug Wed 26-Mar-03 13:50:51

Could you sell single nappies? John Lewis in Bluewater does that and it's a godsend when your child is having a diaorreah day.

Bron Wed 26-Mar-03 14:21:12

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

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