I could get used to this ...

I could get used to this ...

One of the occupational hazards of being a mother (particularly of the stay at home variety) is navigating the perilous world of cafes. I live in a neighbourhood that is jam packed with cafes and everywhere you look they are dominated by women, children and monster-truck prams.

I’ve tried my luck at my fair share of them. Some are better than others and very few, I must say, have their strategy completely right.

It bemuses me that more cafes haven’t tapped into the mummy market more seriously. That box of broken toys in the corner is not going to cut it I’m afraid. Mum’s are a savvy bunch and a lot of them are sleep deprived and on the hunt for a good caffeine fix in an environment where they can relax for half an hour without worrying too much.

I have three hot chocolate-loving children and the amount of easily avoided blunders that have occurred by simply ordering them astonishes me. I think as rule of thumb, all children’s drinks (under the age of 8 or so) should be served lukewarm and in a takeaway cup. Straws and marshmallows are greatly appreciated but are optional. Also, make sure plenty of napkins are provided to wipe up inevitable spills.

When it comes to food options, think outside the box a little. I get it, most kids love chicken nuggets and hot chips, but I’d love the opportunity to order a small serving of something more interesting and so would my children. A few great sandwiches, some creative plating and a playful flourish here and there makes the cafe experience exciting and extra special.

Children love when they are given a little attention in the way of service with a smile, engagement in some chatter and being made to feel special by cafe staff. It really doesn’t take a lot of effort and it makes such a difference. In my experience when children feel good, their behaviour reflects it. If you don’t want snotty-nosed children wreaking havoc in your cafe, don’t treat them like second class citizens.

In terms of looking for great cafes to take your children to, the biggest drawcard for me is space. Whether it’s a designated play corner with books, toys and drawing things, or it’s a lovely green space where kids are free to run and play, cafes with space for little people to move about will win hands down over places with too many tables crammed in together.

Having a pleasant time at a cafe is not a one way street, us customers have to play our part in making it work too.

My biggest bugbear with mum’s at cafes is undoubtedly the group of mothers with prams. Prams take up so much space and usually require other people to compromise their comfort by having to squeeze in closer to their table, or worse still, having to get up out of their seat whilst you maneuver past. Whilst it’s not always possible to leave the pram at home, especially if you enjoy walking to your local cafe, think about grabbing an outside table or folding up your pram to be stored somewhere whilst you have your coffee. I’ve retired my Bugaboo and switched to a simple umbrella stroller for this very reason. It just makes it a lot easier to fold up and tuck into a corner when I get to my destination. Again, choosing a cafe with copious space helps too, especially if you’d like to keep your little one strapped in pram.

I’m well aware that when I’m particularly frazzled, I have a short temper, but it’s rather worth keeping this in check at a cafe. It’s very easy to snap at someone serving you if something goes wrong with your order, but remember, they’re stressed out too. Having children around does put extra pressure on their workload with extra cleaning and heightened vigilance.

Speaking of vigilance, keep an eye on your children. Yes, you deserve a break, you deserve peace and quiet, but waitresses and baristas are not babysitters.

I don’t think that children should be excluded from the experience of eating out. Cafes provide parents with the opportunity to enjoy some coffee and perhaps a meal together with their kids during the day, in a relaxed atmosphere. It’s an easy place to teach your children appropriate behaviour and can be a natural segue into eating out at restaurants with them down the track.

Do you think children and prams belong at cafes? Are there any great child-friendly cafes near you? What are they doing right? Comment below.