Years ago, I heard about a café in Amsterdam called Kinderkookkafe which is entirely staffed by kids. They do the waiting, the cheffing, the setting up, the clearing up, the washing up, the adding up. Everything. I completely loved the idea of visiting a café peopled by little people in the role of big people. When I looked into it further, I discovered the way it actually works is parents book for their kids to spend a session there cooking, and then turn up at the end for the meal. But still …
I wondered if I could do something similar at home. The problem was I didn’t have a big enough room in my house, so the thought lay dormant at the back of my mind. Then this summer, finally, we got round to doing something with our gloomy, weed-infested, gravel pit of a garden and the kid's cafe idea burst back into life.
Yep, we’d have a “pop-up” café in our garden, open for one afternoon only. My daughter and her friend would be the mini-waitresses, front of house. I'd be kitchen staff, out of sight, dealing with cake cutting and boiling water.
So me and the girls set a date and got busy setting up shop. What would we need?
● Order pads
● Tables and chairs: We borrowed extra ones from kind neighbours.
● Tablecloths: I rummaged around in the airing cupboard for bits of nice fabric.
● Table prettification: We went to pick wild flowers but it was too late in the season, so we bought a bunch of white roses instead and put one in a jar on each table.
● Sugar bowls
● A calculator for adding up the bills.
Next came staff training. Chatting to the girls, I realized that waiting is not as obvious or as common sense as you think. We talked through the process step-by-step: Welcoming and greeting customers, seating customers, taking orders, giving orders to kitchen staff, carrying orders to tables, clearing tables, adding up bills, presenting bills, taking money, and even asking, “Is everything alright for you sir/madam?!” I also gave them a pep talk in acting calm, confident and professional, rather than giggly and self-conscious!
As the afternoon approached, the girls were half excited, half ready for disappointment. Would anyone actually turn up? 1.30 came. We could already hear the crunch of footsteps on the gravel! The girls shimmied with excitement and they were off! By 1.40 they already had two whole tablefuls of customers.
A steady trickle of trade continued all afternoon. Not too many customers for the girls to cope with, but not too few for it to feel flat.
And as people tended to linger for quite a while (“Another cup of tea and one more piece of tiffin, please?”), there was always a lively atmosphere.
The girls kept going and giving service with a smile all afternoon. But it was funny to hear them complaining like real waitresses towards the end of their shift:
“Ooh, that was a bit stressy.”
"My feet are killing me!"
Yet when we had our one and only lull at 4.30, they still said, “Oh, I hope we get more customers.” I thought this was extremely unlikely so close to closing time, but at 4.45, we heard crunch, crunch, crunch. Table for three.
At close of business, the girls eagerly counted up the day’s takings – plus some rather generous tips. They also came across a lovely comment from one of their younger customers.
Visit the Kinderkookkafe website here.