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Advice please - opening a Play Cafe

(65 Posts)
LadybirdsPlayCafe Tue 30-Jun-15 21:55:57

Hi there, not sure if this is the right place to post but here goes...

I'm looking to set up a 'Play Cafe' in my local area and would really appreciate some feedback. I've read several posts about soft play centres but this is a little bit different and I'd be really keen to find out exactly what mums and dads want from such a café.

The plan is to open a café for under 4s with low level soft play, books, dressing up and toys. With tables in the middle so that parents can actually relax and have a coffee, confident that their child is safe and happy and in plain sight and that there are no larger kids running round. The café would serve good, healthy food plus cakes and a toddler pic n mix of healthy baby friendly foods. There would also be an outside area with toys and picnic benches and a party room for birthday parties and hired out to local child-related businesses.

I'm currently looking for premises of around 3,000 square feet but struggling to find anywhere that has enough parking (about 20 spaces) and with space for an outside area. I'm looking for an out of town location and would think about 30 children would be the maximum at one time.

Any advice or thoughts on any of this would be greatly received.

Thank you.

FiveGoMadInDorset Tue 30-Jun-15 21:57:46

We have something similar in our town, play area in the back, tables in the front, it is on a shopping street and just moved from a smaller more out of the way street to bigger premises

TimetohittheroadJack Tue 30-Jun-15 22:06:43

So you would be restricting your market to parents with under fours only? No older siblings?

Honestly not a great idea. Even if you got groups of new mums chances are one of them is going to have an older child so will persuade the whole group to go somewhere that over 4s are welcome.

grabaspoon Tue 30-Jun-15 22:11:07

We gave come thing like this in an our town. It's a nice coffee shop which is split in half 1 side more adult friendly the other more family friendly. In the family friendly you have tables an chairs then a corner with a Wendy house, a couple of drawers with different types of toys, some books, and colouring supplies. Another cafe (a church one) also does this. Coffee shop with a box if toys available.

Twodogsandahooch Tue 30-Jun-15 22:18:19

Not necessarily a problem restricting entry to preschoolers. We had a soft play cafe in our town that did this. Worked out fine as was mainly open during school hours. I think older children could come in but couldn't use the equipment.

TimetohittheroadJack Tue 30-Jun-15 22:22:52

But what about weekends and school holidays? By not allowing older kids you are so severely restricting your market I can't imagine it would work. Also dress up and books will get wrecked quickly / you need more sturdy, drool proof toys

LadybirdsPlayCafe Tue 30-Jun-15 22:28:48

Thanks for the replies, just to clarify re older children - they would be allowed in the cafe but not in the play area. There's a similar venture that also has under 4s and is doing really well but is nearly an hour away.

The only local competition are two out of date and grubby soft play centres that cater for all ages and they tend to be avoided by people with very little ones. I have a 15 month old and a 3 year old and I struggle to take them to these sort of places as they scatter in different directions, one usually up a three tier playframe and the other to the toilets :-)

SavoyCabbage Tue 30-Jun-15 22:30:46

I would have a kitchen and a farm etc. rather than dressing up and books. Dressing up and books require adult involvement and the adults are going to the cafe for a coffee away from their dc. Not to read to them and fasten princess dresses.

TimetohittheroadJack Tue 30-Jun-15 22:34:28

Ladybird I don't mean to sound as if I'm raining on your parade, but can you imagine your oldest one being happy to sit in similar cafe next year and not play with anything? My oldest is 11. On the odd occasion I take my younger ones to the softplay after five minutes of sitting with me he wants to go and play.

Kraggle Tue 30-Jun-15 22:37:17

We have something similar in our town although no outdoor space.

A counter where you an order food and hot drinks then tables for the parents to sit. A couple of sofas then an under 2's bit with some soft play stuff books, jumperoo, ball pit etc and an over 2's which has those wooden set ups so a kitchen (with cutable food, wooden plates, trays, cutlery etc) laundrette, shopping trolley, food, more books things like that. There is dress up but I think it is limited to things like hats like a policemans hat, firefighter hat etc and tabards.

NorahBone Tue 30-Jun-15 22:48:40

I would avoid like the plague toys that have several pieces as they'll be scattered and lost within 5mins. The most popular toys always seem to be ride-ons -the ELC do good ones that are light and maneuverable and stackable.
I wouldn't restrict your menu to healthy things. I give my toddler steamed broccoli at home, but in a play cafe I want to spend money on something that will get eaten and not cause too much mess wotsits

aprilshowersbringmayflowers Tue 30-Jun-15 22:53:44

dunno where you are, but there's a fantastic, but very fancy schmancy cafe in N London that sounds a bit like what you're planning - Bear and Wolf, Tufnell Park. What's extraordinary about them is that they've nailed it so that they attract both the mums with pre-schoolers AND folk who want a cafe to work in, AND ladies who lunch. They have a back room for toddlers to play in, and a small outside space.

NorahBone Tue 30-Jun-15 22:57:28

We have a soft play place in our town btw that caters for preschool children (it doesn't have an age limit but the size of the equipment etc is geared towards toddlers) and it is a bit quieter during school holidays but since it opened I haven't been back to the bigger soft play near by; everything in the new venue is suitable for my 1yo and there are fewer big kids. There are enough people in my situation to keep it going.

PinkSquash Tue 30-Jun-15 23:01:44

I wouldn't use an under 4 play cafe as I have a 3 amd 8 year old and I wouldn't want to make my 8 year old sit with me while the younger one plays.

How would you deal with that next year when your 3 year old is 4 and isn't allowed to play?

mistlethrush Tue 30-Jun-15 23:01:50

Let me know if you have any problems with getting planning consent for a change of use to suit... grin

DS is now 10 - but cleanliness is right up there as a requirement that is so regularly lacking in this type of location.

sleeplessinderbyshire Tue 30-Jun-15 23:05:05

There's a fantastic place like this in Cardiff called Cafe Junior. They have a website I think. I always wish we had one locally when I go there when visiting relatives

Springtimemama Tue 30-Jun-15 23:50:45

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

VotePedroPony Tue 30-Jun-15 23:54:23

Would have thought under 5s made more sense i.e. not in school yet? That's what the one in my town is.

AntiHop Tue 30-Jun-15 23:56:35

I'd love to go to a place like this. Nothing like this round my way. My 10 month old dd is so active, it's very hard to go to ordinary cafes. Somewhere where she can play whilst I have a coffee would be bliss.

PosterEh Wed 01-Jul-15 00:01:31

We have one locally and they have no problem limiting it to preschoolers.
I'd put tables round the outside and toys in the middle to avoid hot food and drinks being carried across the play area. Outdoor space would need to be very well contained too. In fact I'm not sure id bother with outdoor area. From a parents perspective it's easier to supervise yet also relax if there is only one area they are able to play and if the weather is good I would rather go to the playground for free.

TimetohittheroadJack Wed 01-Jul-15 01:21:03

I'd agree that with my first baby is also have liked a cafe like this, but is it financially viable?
The birth rate in the UK is about 13 per thousand, so say for a smallish town of 20000 you have 260 babies a year. Times three (ish) for children between 0-3, potentially around 750 babies whose parents might use this cafe. Say 10% came and spent £10 per week, that would be a total revenue of £750 per week. Would that cover everything? And leave a profit?
I've plucked these figures out of thin air, but having seen a friend loss all the savings on a small artisan cafe that 'everyone would love' please carefully consider if this is a profitable venture.

CloserToFiftyThanTwenty Wed 01-Jul-15 02:14:18

There's something similar near us that really struggles to make money (it has changed hands a couple of times in the last few years). I think in this case the lay out is wrong - you can't sit and have a coffee at one end and watch the children playing at the other end, and your mention of outside space worried me for similar reasons.

I think you can make these work, but because you are (reasonably enough) limiting it to small children, you aren't going to make your fortune with this venture

Scotinoz Wed 01-Jul-15 04:33:54

We have a place like that near us. Bonus is that it's a supervised play area with qualified childcare girls. You can buy playtime - something like 15, 30 or 45 minutes. You have to stay in the cafe, sign your kid in, and you get a text to tell you to collect them. It's marvellous! 15 minutes for $5 (£2.50) - kids busy and supervised, and you can have 15 minutes of peace. Winner!

Usernamesarehard Wed 01-Jul-15 04:39:37

Ooh I'd love this. Good luck op.

Twodogsandahooch Wed 01-Jul-15 05:56:40

Just seen that you are looking for an out of town location. Is that purely because of cost?

If you go out of town then you will be competing with proper soft plays and won't get the passing trade.

I'm not sure I would drive out to go to a cafe unless it was pretty special. Our preschool cafe was in the town centre and do you could pop in for an hour after shopping.

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