This is the most essential part of any restaurant. You can use any children's kitchen: bought, used, plastic, wooden, make-shift, whatever.
- Have plenty of plates/bowls/cups stored on the kitchen's shelves. When my girls and I clean up their space after play, I remind them where their plates go. Keeping order in their kitchen will encourage them to play more when there is order and predictability in where their serving ware is stored.
- Be resourceful: find creative ways to store things like silverware. We keep all cooking utensils and silverware in a canning jar on the cooking counter. A glass jar is a great option because it shows off the contents.
- Use 3M hooks or metal hooks next to their kitchen to hang your child's apron, their kitchen hand towel, or pots and pans. This offers more space if your kitchen isn't huge and once again, adds to the aesthetics of their kitchen. It will fill like a real restaurant kitchen as they suit up before the first customer comes.
The Market (Grocery Store):
If you have some extra space, find a small bookcase, table, or unused plastic storage shelving, and turn this into the Market. It can have it's home right next to the kitchen so your head chef can easily stock up on produce and head over to the kitchen speedily.
- Decide what food categories to use to categorize the play food you have to make it easier for little people to shop. We have "fruits and veggies", "the bakery", "dairy and meat" as categories. You can print or hand make labels for each shelf of your Marketplace. Separating the food into group also helps teach children about different food groups and what makes their food different and the same. They are reminded every time they clean up and put their food back on the correct shelf. (We have a combination of wooden and felt food.)
- A store sign helps the Market appear like it's own entity, separate from the restaurant's kitchen. I used a cheap frame from IKEA, painted, added a page from a local grocer's ad (one that shows items we actually have at our Market) and added Caroline's handwritten text.
- Items that add to the Market: a cash register for checkout (we store ours on top of the Market) and a shopping cart, conveniently parked under our store sign.
The restaurant itself can be as basic or as elegant as you and your kids design. All you have to have is a table and a few chairs.
- In thirty minutes, you could throw together small cloth napkins from any remnant fabric. Those stay folded in a pile on top of the kitchen when not being used by guests.
- We keep a wicker basket with bread and menus on the table. Once guests are seated, our chef usually hands out the menus individually.
- If you have a small area rug, use it here. It ties the table and chairs together to feel like a separate space for your restaurant. Ours is from IKEA.
- Making personalized menus are easy and are the most meaningful part of my girls' restaurant.
How to make a menu:
- Decide on a name for your restaurant. Ours was purely Caroline's choice--one of her many made-up words.
- Use software to create the menu--for Macs, I simply used Pages. So easy! Your computer should have some basic software that offers templates for invitations, letters, cards, and such. I used a template for a tri-fold brochure.
- Use your photos for the menu. Take pictures of your kids cooking in your real kitchen, playing in their play kitchen, picking from the garden, photography of your real meals, or the likes.
- Let them help you with the content. We have a few quotations from the head chef, Caroline, along with the history of their love of cooking in the "About the Chefs" section. We included directions to the restaurant (i.e. "If you get off the Living Room exit and take a left, south on Basement Road...")
- Account for the play food you have and create a menu based on that for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Dessert. Don't forget to decide on prices together. Caroline opted for most meals to be free.
- Use your photos and text in the template, print on cardstock, and fold. We used one menu as a tri-fold for the middle of the table. We just taped it into a triangle.
Now is the fun part: having a grand opening to your restaurant! You could tape closed some extra menus, write a note on the outside, and send them with a stamp to friends and family to invite them over to try out the new restaurant. The menus could also be used as invitations for play dates to help in the kitchen at the new restaurant.
The Kitchen, Market, and Restaurant tied together in a niche of a corner work together seamlessly for children's play.