A Step-by-Step Guide to Planning a Backyard Restaurant for Charity

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Christopher Keels)

There are so many opportunities to give back, in ways big and small. It really doesn’t matter what you do or how much you give, so long as you give — and you feel good about it. But I have to admit that one of my favorite ways to raise money and awareness about hunger is through my family’s Backyard Restaurant.

My son Adam had the idea and made it all happen when he was just 7 years old, and we’ve been doing it now for five years. It’s a great way to teach kids two important lessons: how to cook and how to give back to their community. And over the years, we’ve gotten pretty good at it.

Here’s our step-by-step guide to planning your own kid-run restaurant.

(Image credit: Christopher Keels)

How to Plan Your Own Backyard Restaurant

A restaurant doesn’t come together overnight. Here’s what to do and when.

Two Months Prior

  • Set the date and time: You want to give yourself enough time to get all the pieces of the puzzle together — and also get it on your neighbors’ calendars to ensure you’ll actually have some guests.
  • Name your restaurant and draw a log: This is one for the kids.
  • Start thinking about the menu: Casually begin brainstorming over family dinners to get excited, but no need to finalize anything just yet.
  • Choose a charity: We do a little research to see where we can make an impact and present some ideas to the kids. They make the ultimate decision.
  • Make a music plan: We have always been lucky enough to have live music, but this is totally unnecessary. An iPod and Pandora can work just fine. But if you do know someone with guitar skills, now would be the time to reach out.
  • Look into wholesale options: Research and connect with a restaurant or caterer that will help you order your ingredients wholesale to save on food costs. This step has saved us so much time and money and you’ll be surprised how many people will want to help.

One Month Prior

  • Finalize the menu: Don’t be overly ambitious! Think as efficiently as possible. For example, maybe you’ll use the same side for two main dishes.
  • Make a prep plan: The better you plan all the pieces, the more fun everyone has. By thinking like a caterer and spreading out the prep over the week prior to the actual restaurant day, you’ll keep things light and fun and the kids will be engaged without burning out. This planning stage is the key to do that.
  • Make your shopping list: For every dish, list out the ingredients you will need to make it. You’ll need to fill in the quantities soon!
  • Design the menu: Recruit your designer friend to help you or have the kids do it. Don’t forget to add suggested donations for each item (instead of prices) and to highlight your charity.
  • Create a Facebook event page: This way, the rest of your neighborhood can learn about the details and RSVP.

Two Weeks Prior

  • Order or plan uniform shirts for the staff: Let the kids pick out the color, and consider getting them custom-made with your logo on them. You’ll be amazed at how this helps bring the team together!
  • Decide on food quantities: Base it on your Facebook event page responses and add quantities to your shopping list. The best way to do this is to divide the estimated number of attendees by the number of entrées you will be serving and then round up. For example, if you have approximately 40 people coming and are offering three entrees, I’d recommend planning for 15 servings of each entrée. Don’t forget to get the kids involved with this math!
  • Place your food order: If applicable, place your order with your restaurant or caterer; otherwise, schedule a day you will do the shopping.
  • Assign a point person for tasks: You know that prep plan you put together? Take that master list and give each step a due date and a point person. This will keep everything moving.
(Image credit: Christopher Keels)

One Week Prior

  • Get cooking: Begin cooking with the kids according to your master list, checking off anything that can be done in advance and will keep until the big day.
  • Check uniforms: If they’re being delivered, check their tracking number; if they need to be picked up, pick them up.
  • Print menus: Good paper stock is a nice touch.
  • Shop for paper products: Unless you have a million dishes and feel like washing them, you’ll want paper plates, bowls, napkins, and the like. You’ll also need name tags, notepads and pens for the servers.
  • Create two money jars: One is for the tips, which you’ll split between the staff later; the other is for the donations that will go straight to your charity of choice.

The Day Of

  • Meet with your staff: Do this in the morning. Invite all the kids and parents who will be helping. During this meeting, assign everyone jobs, if they don’t have one already. You can also pass out the uniform shirts.
  • Set up your restaurant: Set up the backyard tables and number them for the servers and runners. Roll the utensils and fill ramekins.
  • Handle any last-minute prep: Make drinks and finish any day-of cooking that needs to be done.
  • Open the doors: And don’t forget to have fun.

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.