I am not one of those entitled mother-types who expects cafes in general to cater for children. I also have a particular dislike for the popular concept of what constitutes “child-friendly” (play gyms, play grounds, “kids eat free before 6” deals etc). In fact I believe that, as a general rule, children should be café-friendly rather than the other way round. I do not expect other people to enjoy eating in close proximity to my children and I, in turn, cringe pretty much every time I have to sit within sight or earshot of any OPCs in a café of my choosing, especially when I’m sans enfants myself.
However, realistically, human beings usually reproduce, meaning that, as a cafe owner, a large proportion of your clientele will have children. Those with adult children are heading towards the “old” category and belong in quiet old-people cafes, so I’m not talking about them. Those who are too young to have children generally belong in student cafes or nightclubs, so we don’t care about them either. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume, though, that many of your customers between the ages of 25 and 45 will have young children, so you’re losing out on business if you make your café completely soul-destroying for parents to bring their kids to. (NB I’m not referring to fine dining, fully licensed restaurants here, I’m talking about cafes.)
We recently had a short break to the South Island of NZ and stayed in Arrowtown. While we were there we were unlucky enough to eat at two completely child-unfriendly cafes. We were also lucky/brave enough to venture into the coolest, hippest-looking café in town and it actually turned out to be the most child-friendly, funnily enough.
Whether the Chop Shop had observed the other two in action and taken a lesson in what not to do, I’m not sure. But if they did, they appeared to have learned the following:
- Serve children quickly. No one likes a restless child, let along its own parents. Especially not parents who are trying to eat their own meals simultaneously with their child. It is a fabulous idea to get the food, and even better, the kids’ food, out there early. The sooner they eat, the sooner they leave-everyone’s a winner.
- Have a noisy café. Background music, of any sort, is great for hiding child-related noise (yes this is mostly crying, but also shouting, banging cutlery, dropping cups and shrieking at random). Parents will also feel soothed and refreshed knowing there is more to popular music than The Wiggles and Nursery Rhymes for the Criminally Insane.
- Have clean toys, and just a few. We don’t need a whole basket of grimy, chewed, chipped, peeling, arm-less dolls, cars and the like. Just a few simple plastic or wooden toys which don’t look like they were rejected from a jumble sale or deliberately left behind by their owners’ parents. And ideally, non-sound-emitting ones are best.
- High chairs are handy, there’s no doubt about it. But I don’t routinely expect cafes to carry them, in fact our favourite breakfast café on the mainland didn’t have any. (The owner of the café commented on this to us once, and we assured him that highchairs would surely just attract more people with children so best not encourage them by getting any). But if you do equip your café with a highchair or 3, just get the basic $50 ones from IKEA [actually, having just inserted that link, I see they are only $20. Even better]. They stack. They are plastic. They don’t have loads of clips and straps and nooks and crannies, which get chewed, broken and clogged up with kiddy gunk. You can wipe them down in a flash.
- Kids’ menu. I can take or leave the kids’ menu. If I take it, though, it’s because it has real food on it. If I leave it, it’s because it has some awful set-menu of nuggets and chips or fish and chips or vegemite sandwiches and fruit juice poppers, which annoys me and patronises my children, who actually don’t really like chips all that much. The best thing (IMHO) is to have something that’s cheap and easy (like toast) that you can add extras to (upon leaving Sydney, Master L at 2 ½ years old was up to sausage, avocado, mushrooms AND eggs as his “extras”).
- Declutter the tables. Seriously, the sugar canisters, the vases, the menu tabards in plastic cases, the candles, even the salt and pepper. We don’t need the distraction and we do need the space, so get rid of this crap please!
Chop Shop, we will definitely be back. You made us feel welcome even (especially?) with our children. You ticked all the boxes. What’s more, you had lots of yummy menu items we want to try over a proper, adult, 10am breakfast. Who knows, we might even leave the kids at home next time, but if we can’t, at least you make us feel like it’s no big deal to bring them with us.