A few years ago, my son had the idea to turn our backyard into a restaurant to benefit charity. That first year, we were in a bit over our heads, but everyone pulled together and the event was a success — and great learning for future dinners!
Now that we're more experienced, we have a pretty good plan for making sure everything goes off without a hitch, but a kids' backyard restaurant isn't just about the execution. After all, everyone's restaurant is going to be different because everyone will have unique situations.
So, what's the secret to backyard restaurant success? It's all about your attitude. Our Backyard Restaurant has evolved over time and even five years in, we find we've forgotten something, or burned something, or dropped something. But we do it together — as a family and a community — with a sense of adventure. Flaws and all, I'm pretty sure if we offered comment cards, we'd get five stars. And so will you!
Here are five tips for making sure this event is a five-star experience for everyone.
1. Say yes as much as possible.
As you start preparing for your event, you may find yourself wanting to enhance the things the kids have decided upon. Just remember, this is the kids' opportunity to make decisions and do the work. Give the kids some space to use their creativity to make this restaurant come to life. If it doesn't really matter, just say yes and help their ideas come to fruition, even if you'd choose something different.
2. Set some guidelines.
Saying yes doesn't mean you shouldn't give the kids guidelines when they need it. For example, although the kids could brainstorm 65 dishes they want to put on the menu, tell them they are only allowed to choose up to four entrées, one of which must be a vegetarian option.
You may find what they choose on their own to be totally doable without your intervention, but you may have to say, "I think we need a different suggestion for the tableside flambé."
3. Learn right along with them.
Some of the kids' ideas may push your skill level, too. I know I've learned many things side by side with my kids — like baking bread from scratch, stuffing homemade sausage, and smoking ribs. It's a great way to show kids by example that there is always a learning curve no matter how old you are.
4. Give everyone a job.
Everyone who wants to help gets a job at our Backyard Restaurant, kids and parent alike. The key is to find a place where each participant can thrive and give them the tools to do so.
Take a minute to get to know the kids and ask their interests. Have an introvert work the panini press in the kitchen, where he can excel without getting overwhelmed. Have the kid with food allergies get the drinks. Let the older kids mentor the younger kids as servers, and put the young kids as hosts with an adult.
Any adult who likes to cook gets a place in the kitchen overseeing the kids. The neighborhood hostesses can set up the backyard with tables they collect. And the accountant of the group can collect the money. And if some people aren't sure what they want to do, make them food runners. I learned from year one that everyone loves to run the food. Order up!
5. Remember: Imperfections are what memories are made of.
Unless you have a neighborhood full of kids fresh off Master Chef Junior, things will not be flawless. Go with it. The guests know that and want to be a part of the night — glitches and all. The kids will amaze you and the imperfections are what memories are made of.
About the author: Tricia Keels is the founder of Souper Heroes, a nonprofit whose mission is to have fun with food and community while providing for those who don't have enough of either.