Restaurants that come complete with a babysitter? Who ever thought the day would come? Certainly not those parents who’d given up on date night and have instead opted for the occasional ‘romantic’ Thai takeaway around the family dining table once the kids have fallen asleep. Or those who had cut down on date nights or catch-ups with friends at restaurants to only a couple of times a year due to the cost of a babysitter on top of a nice dinner, bottle of wine and a cab.
Child supervision is the latest service provided by just a handful of cafes and restaurants around the country, but it’s a trend that is going to really take off as parents begin to take advantage of the option and more and more establishments start jumping on the bambino-care bandwagon.
The establishment in Sydney that is kicking off this innovation with its Parents’ Nights is The Roosevelt Bar & Diner in Potts Point. The idea came to fruition when owner Sven Almenning and his wife found it difficult to schedule babysitting around adult dinners either by themselves or with friends who also had adolescents. Almenning decided to employ the qualified and trusted babysitter (who already takes care of his four-year-old twin boys) to look after kids between the ages of two and 12 every Wednesday night at the restaurant. The concept is simple. Parents pay $20 and their children are taken to a private room where they are fed and entertained. In the meantime the parents soak up a delicious meal and adult conversation in the main dining room.
“Everyone who has been in has loved it,” says venue manager Ben Hickey. “Parents are able to enjoy their meal and a few drinks while having the children taken care of at the back of the venue. The parents that are a little bit more concerned about their kids can easily check on them.”
As you could guess, the kids think it’s great. And why wouldn’t they jump at another chance to have fun and make new friends? “We set up a TV and play a Pixar film. We also have activities, such as finger-painting and Play Doh, etc, for the kids,” adds Hickey. “The babysitter brings different activities along each week.”
The baby business
Offering child-friendly activities is really nothing new in the cafe/restaurant world. There are tonnes of venues that supply drawing equipment for toddlers and tweens, and many larger restaurants and clubs that provide soft play areas and kids’ play zones. But actual supervision for children is something new altogether and it shows that restaurateurs are starting to think beyond typical food and drink marketing ideas, such as babyccinos, children’s meals and discount offers, to get parents to walk into their venues.
“Restaurants will always offer what their customers want. That’s why the restaurant trade has continued to grow year-on-year,” says Restaurant & Catering Australia chief executive officer John Hart, who encourages restaurants to come up with new initiatives that deliver on consumer desires. “My view is child supervision is giving parents a reason to go out without having to think about babysitters.” And this idea can only lead to increased bums on seats.
Despite the fact The Roosevelt Bar & Diner is known for being primarily a cocktail bar and parents are generally discouraged from bringing children, its leap to catering for kids midweek is gaining in popularity. “The Parents’ Nights allow parents who wouldn’t normally bring children in here a chance to come for a meal and a drink while their kids are entertained,” Hickey explains. “We are seeing an increase in business on the Wednesday night as parents can now come to the venue without having to pay for a babysitter at home. This means we are getting more people through the door with minimal extra overheads.”
How the others are doing it
CheekyChinos in Melbourne’s Chadstone is a cafe that embraces parents of all children, including the four-legged variety. In addition to having a pet zone devoted to folks with fur-children, the owners hired a psychologist to design a room filled with developmental play equipment and now provides qualified supervisors to watch kids from six months to six years old for up to an hour for a fee. It has even gone one step further and donates 50 cents from every child’s visit to Save the Children Australia.
A business that’s being running for nearly two years in New York, and we can’t wait to see something similar in Australia, is called Parent P-L-A-Y. It was set up to encourage a peaceful and relaxing meal, and discourage juggling romantic conversation with Mum searching for the wipes in her handbag. It’s essentially a drop-and-dine service. Parents book a dinner at a participating restaurant—one which has a separate function room, space or play area—and then arrange for one of Parent P-L-A-Y’s pre-screened babysitters and entertainers to come and look after their children in the restaurant. It means the parents can indulge in a little ‘alone time’ with the peace of mind that their kids are being looked after nearby.
Kids are the future
It seems many parents are no longer satisfied with rarely dining out until the kids are old enough to look after themselves, or employing an expensive babysitter on a regular basis just so they can indulge in our country’s cuisine. “The demographic that is fuelling the small bar scene in Sydney is now starting to have young families. They still want to go out and be social so we are offering them the best of both worlds,” says Hickey.
And it’s thinking like this that can greatly increase an establishment’s bottom line. It goes without saying that the most successful business ideas have been borne out of the necessities of others. “Either you have to be ahead of the curve or you’re playing catch-up,” adds Hickey. “There are a huge number of venues to choose from, the vast majority of which serve great food and drinks, and everyone’s looking for a niche to get ahead.”
It may just be that finding unique ways to cater for parents and kids is your winning niche.