Pop-up garden café
1.Find a fabulous bunch of 11-year-old girls to help A bunch of Abby’s friends heard about our plan and volunteered to help. They worked their butts off all day. They baked, waited tables, made kids lunch packs, cleared tables, smiled at patrons, painted faces, served cake, counted change and were hands down the most hard-working bunch of girls I've ever met. I can't rave about them enough. Running a real café was their idea of fun. There was nothing in it for them but hard work and leftovers – but they were excited and beyond keen to help.
2.Invite everyone you know (and everyone you don’t)
I created a Facebook event and invited everyone local on my friend list. We targeted people who might be at a loose end during the school holidays, wanting somewhere to meet a friend for coffee while the kids could run wild. Our backyard was perfect for that. The day before, I sent out a reminder, which ensured we had a bunch of customers the next day that kept our young staff (and me, the ring-in barista) working without a breath, for three hours straight. Our café was a raving success. So many customers.
3.Keep the menu simple and delicious We stuck to our strengths for this café, keeping the menu simple and do-able. The girls (and some of their mamas) baked cakes and cookies the day before. I contributed some allergyfriendly additions (brownie and almond orange cake) and on the morning itself, whipped up a batch of scones to serve with jam and cream.
For lunch, we offered pumpkin soup with garlic bread and kids packs. The pumpkin soup was - gasp - from a can! I kept it warming in the slow cooker and served it with ciabatta garlic bread, which we pre-buttered and cooked on demand. To drink, we offered espresso coffee, iced tea and coffee, hot chocolates and fluffies, berry smoothies and pots of tea. I ended up being the barista, keeping our Nespresso machine buzzing for three busy hours.
4.Decorate with all the prettiness you can find
To create the vibe for our café, we used every bit of cuteness we could lay our hands on. Every blackboard, strand of bunting, vintage teapot and cake stand we could find was called into service. We borrowed domed and tiered cake stands, wrote menus, signs and labels on blackboards big and small, and foraged down the street for flowers, which we displayed in cans, jars and bottles of all shapes and sizes.
The overall effect was eclectic vintage coolness with a colourful homemade twist. We created menus in Pic Monkey, which we printed out and clipped to vintage book covers with mini wooden pegs. We rounded up every table and chair we could find, and created a few more with planks and wooden trestles. Gingham tablecloths and foraged hydrangeas, coupled with plenty of fluttering bunting made for a very welcoming setting.
5.Work, work, work, smile, work
Word about our café spread faster than I could ever have imagined. Parents and grandparents hearing ‘coffee’ and ‘kids run free’ in one sentence flooded in from all directions and kept us run off our feet from 10.30am-1pm without a break. Every table was full, kids were playing basketball, climbing trees and making train tracks. Grown-ups were patiently waiting for coffees, smoothies and soup while we raced around trying our best to get everything out to the right tables without much delay.
Somehow it all worked. We had real customers, (not just supportive friends and rellies) and they were impressed! It was incredibly satisfying to pull off such a massive thing – a café worth coming to, in our backyard, staffed by 11 year olds and somehow, a success. We raised over $500 dollars and had an absolute blast.
It went so well the girls all agreed we should do it again. Next time, maybe in summer, leading up to Christmas. We'll pick a charity and donate proceeds to a worthy cause (plus this time I'll make sure the girls get something in their pockets for their efforts too).
The nitty gritty
We had enough servings of soup and garlic bread for 20 people (10 cans of soup, 20 ciabatta pockets). We had enough ingredients for kids packs for 20 kids (a pack of 20 bread rolls, ham, pre-sliced cheese, chopped fruit and grape kebabs, popcorn and gingerbread men). Coffee was made on a Nespresso machine – we ordered extra capsules in readiness. We had about nine litres of milk in the fridge for coffees, tea and smoothies. We offered soy milk, decaf, long black or latte as options. We made five litres of iced tea and five litres of apple soda (apple juice with soda water). We set up the food ordering and prep area inside in the kitchen/dining room. We asked customers to come inside to order and pay – they took a table number and their orders were brought out to their table by a waitress. We had a float of change ($25) and it was cash only. The girls took the orders, the money and gave change.
The waitresses cleared the tables and we washed the cups and plates by hand as we went to ensure a ready supply. We had takeaway coffee cups and brown paper bags in case customers wanted their goodies to go. Cakes and cookies that could be made ahead of time were kept in airtight containers until the day. Scones were baked on the day to ensure freshness, as they don't keep well. We served cakes with a choice of cream or homemade Greek yoghurt. We had three gluten-free and two dairy-free options to make sure there was something for everyone. The girls began by having a roster allocating jobs, but in the end they ditched the roster and stuck to a system of one person having responsibility for certain things. For example, one girl made all the kids packs, others stuck to waitressing, another took orders and plated cakes, while grandma ladled soup and grilled garlic bread and I manned the coffee machine. Simone Graham is mum to Joshua (13), Abby (12) and Jono (8). She blogs at greatfun4kidsblog.com. You can read the original pop-up garden café post there, and find all kinds of other fun ideas and parenting stories.