A mother has revealed how she quit her job to start a business that provides supervised activities for children in restaurants, pubs and food halls to allow parents the freedom to enjoy a relaxing lunch.
Sarah Frow, 40, from Wimbledon, south-west London, came up with the idea following a trip to a restaurant while on holiday in Ibiza with her son and husband in 2016.
A kids’ corner full of activities kept her son Theo occupied for hours, allowing Sarah and her husband to enjoy a three-course meal and providing her with inspiration for her business The Kids’ Table.
On her return she swiftly quit her fast-paced corporate PR job and set about starting her first business which in less than five years has expanded from operating in three venues to 28 with plans now to franchise across the country.
The 40-year-old from Wimbledon recalled that the venture was daunting at the start and that the pandemic had a devastating impact. But now the company is on track to make a turnover of nearly £300,000 this year, up from £49,000 in 2018, its first full year.
Sarah Frow, 40, from Wimbledon, south-west London, came up with the idea following a trip to a restaurant while on holiday in Ibiza with her son and husband in 2016
Childcare professionals run a range of crafts and games during weekend lunchtimes and school holidays in 28 venues across Surrey and London
The Kids’ Table is the first business of its kind, providing supervised activities for children in restaurants, pubs and food halls to allow parents the freedom to enjoy a relaxing lunch.
It pops up in 28 venues across Surrey and London on weekends and school holidays, with around 80 DBS checked, first aid trained, childcare professionals running craft activities and games to keep the kids occupied.
Sarah said: ‘The pub might already have a family audience for a Sunday lunch but when there’s nothing for the kids to do you’ll have a very speedy one course and then leave.
‘But with what we’re doing, because everyone is having a lovely time and the children aren’t getting bored, the parents are having a starter and a dessert and having a long leisurely lunch which extends the dwell time.’
She said that the decision to quit her job and take the risk of starting a small business was out of character: ‘I’m generally quite risk averse and I think if it had been a business that required a lot of up-front investment, that had a huge amount of overheads, it probably would have been something that I’d chickened out of.
The mother-of-two said that she had to force herself to set boundaries and treat the business like a nine to five so she could spend more time with her children Theo, 8, and Ruby, 4
‘It was definitely quite daunting but I had a lot of conviction in the idea. And I’d speak to other people and they’d suddenly be like “that’s such a brilliant idea, why has no one thought of that before”.
‘It’s been a very steep learning curve in terms of everything from registering as a limited company to navigating corporation tax, and sometimes when it’s untrodden territory and no-one else is doing it it’s hard to know what you can and can’t do.’
The mother-of-two said that she was tired of the corporate world and wanted more flexibility to spend time with her children.
‘But I guess what I didn’t consider is that when you become a business owner you never switch off,’ she said.
Sarah said that Debs, shown here with her daughters Georgia and Margot, joined at the perfect time as she was starting to find running a business single-handedly ‘quite lonely’
‘So even though sometimes I’m physically there for my kids and I can do the school run, I’m still thinking about the business or I’ll be getting messages coming in from the team and from clients.’
She advised other mums who are thinking about starting a business to make sure to set boundaries.
She said: ‘My business partner Debs and I got to a point in December, when we were just coming out of lockdown and there was a lot of pent-up demand for our service, where we were messaging each other at ten o’clock at night with an idea.
‘It sounds really basic but instead of sending each other messages we’ve now set up a google sheet to-do list and we talk through everything at a weekly catch-up.
‘It’s about being strict with yourself and setting boundaries because there’s no one to tell you that anymore, you’re completely in control of your own working day.’
She also advised first-time business owners to stick to their guns and know their worth, saying that she regrets agreeing to give people discounts when she was starting out.
Sarah said: ‘At the beginning I would sometimes back down and take money off or there would be a pub where I just had a gut instinct that it wasn’t right and I should have said that to them.
‘I’m sure this is something that a lot of small business owners do because at the beginning you’re so eager to build a reputation and build a client base that you might take on clients that maybe aren’t a great fit for your brand or that aren’t willing to pay the rates.
‘I wish I’d stuck to my guns more and not started discounting.’
Sarah and Debra Burnett, her business partner since 2019, are now in discussions with a franchise advisor about taking the business national, with plans to launch three franchises this year, and they are also planning on tapping into the wedding and festival market.
Sarah said that the pandemic really ‘took its toll’, forcing them to completely shut down overnight, but she is delighted that they have now managed to get to a better position than they were in before.
She said: ‘We beat our target of how many venues we wanted to have by quarter one of 2022.
‘I think there’s a pent-up demand of parents wanting this service and of hospitality venues seeing the benefits we can have in getting these customers back through their doors and incentivising them to visit their venue over another.
‘It’s absolutely thriving and we can’t move for new launches at the moment.’