Friday, June 8, 2012

An open letter to my dream cafe

Marche St. George has a basic toddler area
As the mother of a now very mobile & energetic toddler (though he's not at the extreme end of the spectrum--I have friends whose kids run laps around him) I have almost entirely stopped going to cafes during the day. I used to go a lot when Sprout was easily portable & would sit (or better: sleep) in his stroller, on my lap or in a carrier for hours. But now that he's likely to run straight out the open door of a cafe into traffic, I can't just sit & enjoy an overpriced chai soy latte or a half-kilo muffin in peace.

Pretty much all of the cafes I used to love going to have some sort of major hazard or two that make them off-limits to me & Little Mr. Curious. Even the ones that try to be kid friendly often miss the mark a bit. Glass terrariums set on low shelves, doors always wide open to  streets with heavy traffic, fireplaces, display shelves full of breakable mugs at toddler height, lit oil lamps, play kitchen near an oven, buckets of choking-hazard sized toys.

I guess the people who own cafes in Mount Pleasant are already making money enough, but they could make even more by catering to all the parents of toddlers who are free during the day. Seriously, this is not a small market--there are a lot of us who work from home, work part time, work nights or whatever--just look at any morning drop-in gym, Strong Start program or community centre tots class. We get serious cabin fever staying home with the kid(s) & we'd love somewhere that we could actually sit, have a drink or a snack (better yet, beer!) while the kids occupy themselves in a play area full of new, interesting toys. Yes, I get to meet & talk to other parents at the aforementioned kids activities, but we rarely get to finish a sentence without having to dash off & nab a kid from a ladder, an overturned ride-on toy or the glue pot at the crafts table.

Business owners, if you cater to us, we will become loyal devotees because there aren't that many other places we can go. We're social media savvy: we will blog about you, check in on Foursquare, post about you on Facebook & tweet about you. We will talk about it in our stroller bootcamp classes & at the drop-in toddler gym. We will bring friends. If our kids like you, they will beg us to go all the time & we will give in to stop the whining. Then we'll come in & buy food & drinks for both/all three/four/five of us. Think of the turnover: even if you're really kid-friendly, we won't likely stay much longer than an hour anyway--you can earn a lot more money from us than all those people who camp out with their laptop for hours, buying one coffee.

So here's my wish list for this new kid-friendly establishment in Mount Pleasant:
  1. Get a sturdy play kitchen & fill it with toy food, dishes & pots. If you're worried about noise, plastic dishes are quieter & Ikea has (washable) fabric food.
  2. Don't put the play kitchen near the oven, the door or any other potential hazards.
  3. Large building blocks & cars are also fun, cleanable & not that tedious to pick up at the end of the day.
  4. The play area doesn't have to be huge, nor does it have to be fenced off entirely, but enclosed on three sides will make it easier for parents to relax.
  5. Keep the toys safe for all ages: don't have anything that's small enough to fit through a toilet paper tube so no little ones can choke.
  6. If you have the square footage, have a seating area near the kids area & one that's separated for those who aren't fans of the younger & smaller sized humans.
  7. You don't have to spend a mint on gear--there's lots on Craigslist for super cheap--but don't stock it with broken or dirty toys.
  8. Have a kids menu (hint: salads don't usually go down well with small children) of quick to prepare foods so kids can get their meals/snacks really fast. This will avoid a large percentage of low-blood-sugar tantrums.
  9. Have a baby change table in EVERY washroom. It ain't just women who change diapers, you know.
  10. If you offer table service, make sure to train all your staff on serving hot things around children: don't put tea/coffee/steaming food within their reach & don't move it over their heads when you're putting it on the table. 
  11. Make sure you have a lot of high chairs. If they take up too much room (there are stackable ones) get some boosters that strap onto chairs--they're pretty small to store.
  12. Leave enough room between tables so that strollers can actually manoeuvre. Better yet, provide an area for stroller parking.
  13. Have a lost & found--we lose stuff all the time but would love to get it back.
  14. Get a liquor license! Just because we're with our kids during the day doesn't mean we wouldn't like a beer or a glass of wine.
Parents: have you got any ideas to add to this list? Cafe/restaurant owners: are you convinced yet?


  1. I SO agree! The Grind on Main at King Ed would be perfect for this, since they have a large space, but their bathrooms SUCK for changing diapers. I didn't realize this, but we must live REALLY close to each other!

    1. YES! I hadn't thought of that one. Their bathrooms are HUGE though & could easily accommodate a change table. Picking up a used change table on Craigslist would pay for itself in a day. If they maybe put a kids area in the corner of the back room they could make tons of money in the day time, while still catering to the all-night uni study marathons that happen later at night.

  2. In Chiswick (UK) there was this Starbucks that had given up on it's back corner seating area and just carpeted it with those jigsaw spongey squares and filled it with toys. There was another one down the road that had zero children in it because everyone went to this one. It was funny watching people walk in not realising the situation! Chiswick = Kits bumped up a couple income brackets. I lived the neighbourhood over so would visit sometimes.

    The Pleasant Beans in the Mount Pleasant community centre isn't too bad? Though the open doors are a bit of a challenge. Elliot is a super fast runner and has been since he was 1, so I know what you mean about having an enclosed space on three sides. I think every neighbourhood could really use one of these cafes. I find it a bit difficult downtown as the cafes are so small - one other person with a buggy and you're taking up the whole place!

    1. See, that's perfect: the kids & parents have somewhere to go & the kid-haters can go to the other one! I like Pleasant Beans too, but the fact that Sprout has THREE escape routes & I don't have clear sight lines to all of them makes it challenging. The floors are slippery concrete too, as I recall. Love that they offer a whole full-size pot of tea for just a couple bucks more than a cup.

      I know what you mean about no room for strollers downtown. I always feel like I'm being judged for having a full-size stroller when I go somewhere like that. But the really compact strollers just don't hold enough groceries & the umbrella ones handle like a broken-down shopping cart. :P


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