Stephanie Wallis asks if your venue is missing a trick or two when it comes to child guests.
Now that the world of hospitality has opened up there is an increased focus on family-friendly events. Whether it be a wedding, corporate away day, conference, training day or big party, events are more often than not a family affair. The importance and value of time with the family, be that the immediate or extended, is most definitely here to stay, and post pandemic, venues should be reassessing and updating their offering to families.
Here is a list of five things every outdoor (and indoor) venue should consider when it comes to being family friendly. Sometimes it’s the simplest of things that can often have the most impact, and to be a serious contender in the event market, you need to be all-inclusive.
1. Something for everyone
Families come in all shapes and sizes, so make sure you have every age bracket covered, and we don’t just mean the children – adults are big kids too! Ensure there are activities for everyone with some for all the family together and some individual activities and spaces.
Shared experiences create memories.
Are your clients local, national, international or all three? This will have an impact when creating a calendar of public facing events (such as a seasonal experience) for your venue or for specific private events.
2. Tailor-made activities
If you’re hosting a relatively small event or just one or two families, a unique approach is to create something specifically for them. We often tailor activities to suit families based on their loves, likes or hobbies. When considering this option, it needs to be bespoke to each family and/or family member attending, and don’t forget to consider the dynamics of that specific family. Really get to know your individual clients.
Gone are the days when children can be ‘lumped’ together as one unit. There is an obvious difference between a baby of six months and a five year old, and neither does a 14 year old wish to participate in the same activities as an eight year old. So, within an experience created for the family, the specific requirements of each individual should be assessed and considered.
3. Adults not allowed
Time for the grown-ups to disappear so the younger ones can have some fun… When a venue has a host of supervised adventures and activities up its sleeve to keep children entertained (all planned and executed with meticulous expertise) then the adults get to enjoy their own leisure time.
As parents we often feel guilty about time spent apart from our families so create a setting where families can be together but can also spend time individually.
4. Themed activities
Obviously there are the many seasonal activities which can be created for all year round fun. Make these bespoke to your venue using your grounds and the particular spaces available. When planning public-facing events, ensure that the offering is not the same every year, to encourage families to return. Look at all of the academic holiday dates and any other specific national and international dates in the calendar and plan for the year while allowing for change as you move through the seasons. The pandemic has definitely illustrated how we all need to have flexibility in our programmes!
5. Join the club
If you open your venue throughout the year for non-exclusive events, consider setting up a private members’ club. As family members grow and mature, their membership can change to reflect this through the years and eventually the generations. This would ensure a retention of members. Again, are your clients local, national or international? Consider if you should you have a particular membership for each and how this will affect what is offered.
You can’t beat the great outdoors, and most children love being outside. Not only does it benefit their physical health and emotional wellbeing but it can develop the family dynamic. Some children like to be super active while others not but this doesn’t mean there isn’t an activity for those less physically active or able, quite the opposite in fact!
Create some outside rooms better known as ‘dens’ – great for teenagers and the less physically adventurous – where children can ‘hang out’ together, play games, make a sandwich, watch a movie, chat or simply curl up with a good book and their imagination!
Whatever the weather
Create covered or part-covered areas that can be used all year round, whatever the weather. An open fire or fire pits and cosy blankets may be needed in the cooler months, for both day and night adventures.
Cooking up a storm
Cooking outside is a fun family activity and can be done all year round. A simple pizza oven, BBQ, open fire or a Kelly Kettle are all great for outdoor cooking and if produce is grown on site it gives children the opportunity to learn about, create and eat it! This is one up on the food brought home from school in a plastic box. It’s equally as much fun if you go for the classic outdoor cooking activity – toasting marshmallows, a must do activity for everyone!
Get the experts in to assist and guide with each stage, from the garden to the kitchen to choosing the crockery, arranging the seating plan, designing the menus to the hosting.
If you go down to the woods
If you have wooded areas in your outdoor space you could create permanent structures such as dens and treehouses – who doesn’t love a treehouse? Alternatively offer den adventure kits, let families build their own and watch imaginations run wild!
If you have animals, look at ways of involving children through interactive, educational fun activities. Create something which is bespoke to that family and offers a completely different experience to one they could enjoy elsewhere. Involve an expert in this field to make this experience truly interactive.
Under the stars
Chaperoned ‘sleepovers’ under the stars are always a winner – think about hiring a professional childcare team to provide the care and create the adventure. Campfires followed by midnight feasts and for older children make it more adventurous and test their skills with a whole raft of wonderful experiences.
We love an outdoor children’s cinema with a mock-tail bar and homemade burgers, hot dogs or popcorn. Another firm favourite is stories around a bonfire with snacks and actors to bring the adventure to life. You can’t beat a silent disco too – boogieing the night away under the stars is great fun for all the family.
On the beach
You don’t need to go to the seaside to experience some beach fun; create a manmade beach with sand and provide buckets, spades, deckchairs, parasols, an ice-cream van and picnic hampers. The only thing you can’t control is the sunshine, but there is no reason you can’t move the beach indoors if the weather isn’t great. If you have water then this is another whole area for fun and games.
Bespoke, super interactive treasure hunts, where families follow a series of cryptic clues to find an item, or a fun scavenger hunt where they are tasked to find a range of objects, offer huge scope. They can be created for individual families or age ranges and written specifically for your venue and time of the year.
Keeping children safe and sound
If children are attending an event at your outdoor (or indoor) venue you need to ensure their safety. Unfortunately accidents can happen and keeping them safe and sound will take some careful and proper planning.
Here are just few considerations to keep your younger guests safe:
· Doors and gates – ensure hinges are covered and check the height of door handles (avoid head height to ensure the safety of little ones)
· Tables – check the levels and be aware of corners. If children are running around they can very easily hurt themselves on sharp edges, especially if they are at their height
· Floor surfaces – check the positioning of rugs and any slippery polished wooden flooring
· Highchairs – ensure they are suitable for younger children. Booster seats work well as they allow the child to be seated the same way as an adult. Long-legged chairs are also an alternative for older children that have outgrown a high chair so they reach the table comfortably and feel part of the meal.
· Are you providing the most appropriate cutlery and crockery for the different age groups and is it of the standard you are providing for the adults?
· Make sure you have qualified professionals on site when offering certain activities – and not just the obvious ones such as archery, axe throwing, abseiling or rock climbing! Knowledge from being a parent is not enough
· Have correct procedures in place in case of a problem or accident
· Ensure adequate supervision for everything you are providing to ensure a high level of service. Keep adult to child ratios well above the legal minimum.
About the Author
Stephanie Wallis is the founder and director of Safe & Sound Events, an event childcare company. She and her team not only consult with venues to enable them to offer a higher standard of service but remove logistical issues when inviting children to events. This bespoke service takes away stress for both clients and venues to create truly wonderful experiences.
For more information on event childcare and Safe & Sound Events, contact Stephanie at
firstname.lastname@example.org / www.safeandsoundevents.com