With childhood obesity levels at record highs and parents more likely to bring their children with them when they head to the pub, providing a quality play area can bring a bundle of benefits.

Keeping the children happy, safe and entertained is an almost guaranteed way of encouraging their folks to stay with you for just a little bit longer.

It's a strategy that has been paying dividends for multiple operator Colin Stuart of Blackwater Bars. He teamed up with Heineken's Star Pubs & Bars division to open the Cook House Pub & Carvery in Prestatyn three years ago.

It took a major investment from Star (around £600,0000) and Blackwater (a further £120,000) to transform what had been a venue known for having a late-night licence into a family-friendly pub with a play area.

 

Reap the reward

The expense has paid off, though, with the pub winning Star's Best Outdoor Area award in 2015 and a second Cook House, with an even bigger investment, now opened in Liverpool.

Colin explains how the outdoor area in Prestatyn has grown. "There's a designated children's play area, which has evolved over the time we have been here.

"It is in an enclosed, no-smoking, family-friendly area," he says.

 

 

 

"We have recently added a candyfloss machine and slot machine rides for younger children, which they can go on for 50p a ride. We also do face-painting at weekends and have started doing breakfasts with themes such as Frozen, where we get actors to come down and play the parts."

There is also a children's menu and events designed for families — such as a royal wedding garden party complete with a bouncy castle.

It ensures the pub is busy throughout the day, although Colin says trade can tail off when families go home. "We are busy from 9am to 9pm, so we don't want to sound greedy, but this is a pub, so we want our drinkers as well," he says.

"At the new venue in Liverpool we have a 9.30pm curfew for children. It is part of a licensing requirement and we don't want to morally dictate to people but because it has been like that from the start, it does bring in different people later on."

 

Vantage point

The garden has been designed so as well as being able to sit nearby, parents can also see what is going on from inside the pub.

He adds: "We don't have anyone out there all the time — this is a pub, not a crèche. But staff go out to see customers and will keep an eye on it but it is self-policing."

The biggest responsibility for pubs is ensuring play equipment is safe. Colin says: "Obviously we use a bona fide company and check it all the time. We check it every day and also carry out regular full risk assessments. We haven't had any issues with it at all."

Star's property and strategy director, Chris Moore, adds that providing the right environment is essential for keeping families happy.

"A priority should be to ensure your boundaries are secure and children can't get out. Then informally zone your garden, creating a children's area away from any roads, smoking areas and places where other customers enjoy a quiet drink or meal.

"Provide shade for babies and bring the space alive with giant games like Jenga, coloured outdoor bean bags and, for younger ones, activities such as sandpits and small tables and chairs with drawing materials."

Another pub that has seen its outdoor space transformed is Jackson's Boat in Sale. Last year the pub introduced a £12,000 pirate ship play area featuring a deck slide, ship's wheel, gang plank and a net climber.

 

 

One of the key benefits was helping to keep a local junior football team that uses a nearby field entertained.

Pub manager Dionne Blackshaw says: "The pirate boat is really lovely, we are delighted with it and the new play area has really been the icing on the cake for the refurbishment.

"It provides a fantastic, safe place for children to play while their parents can sit outside enjoying a drink and food. We have also restored our nearby football pitch, bringing it back to its former glory, and have agreed the Brooklands Dragons, a terrific local community football team, can use it."

 

Play it safe

Accidents do happen, so do your best to make sure you and your customers are protected.

• Start on the right foot: make sure you use a company that provides equipment that meets safety standards.
• Regular checks: check equipment for safety and the entire area for things such as broken glass and damaged fencing.
• Record it: note down when you do your inspections for your own records.
• Policy: have a play area policy in place, letting people know things like the age of children who can use equipment and that food and drink can not be taken on to equipment.
• Signs: make the rules clear, with signs around the area.

For further advice on play area safety, visit the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents' website.