At Play Cafe: Great Idea, Small Space

Let me start off by saying that I was the first to be SO excited about At Play Cafe. I wanted to be the first one at the door, but with Alex's strep throat the week they opened, we had to wait. Waiting meant I got the preliminary reports from friends. The reviews were mixed. Most loved the concept of sitting and talking with friends while their kids played-- and supervised by staff. Truth be told, I just loved having any place to take them during yucky weather.

So, we went today to meet some friends and try it out. When we arrived it was chaotic, due to some local entertainment which had just finished. The play structure is fabulous and fun for kids up to about age 4 would be my guess. Both my kids seemed interested in it enough for a while. The place was clean and the staff very friendly. They do have babysitters on hand to "watch" the kids, but when it gets crowded, two adults can't possibly handle that much commotion.

I'm glad to see a place where moms can take their older (but still young children) to play safely while nursing the other one. How wonderful to see so many moms who were literally walking around with boobs hanging out. I also love that someone has finally addressed a niche which needed to be filled. Like these two place in Richmond: The Playroom and Chat and Play Cafe.

My only complaint, at this time, is the layout. My kids didn't want to stay in the gated area because they could see me. They kept popping up over the short wall asking for snacks, drinks, etc. I'm like, 'We didn't come here to snack.' Which tends to be my standard response at places like the museum, the pool, the park. The staff doesn't really like the kids coming in and out because that leaves room for other kids "escaping." The parents' area is also small and bring in a few strollers and it's madness!

Then after that, it was my son throwing a tantrum because of the sandwich I bought him--the $6 Whole Foods sandwiches they have available. Which are pretty yummy. Thanks to the man who made me the grilled cheese, even though I wasn't a regular customer.

I wish I had some great tips for the owner, who seems like a great guy really willing to make this establishment work, but I don't. The space is difficult manage, and they will probably need to either expand or move to a larger space in order to give parents the space they need to visit and justify the $8 cost for kids to play.

Perhaps it's just that my kids aren't best suited for this place. I can't take them to story hour and organzied classes like music, sports and dance were off limits for a while. Perhaps, my kids are just better for great big open fields and playgrounds. So it's hard to have a place for every kid out there. I think the place is intended for children walking up to age 2 1/2 or maybe 3.

My only other thought would be it might be better if they opened it up a bit more and had the gated area be most of the facility and have tables/chairs inside the gate to allow moms to come in and visit where they can still get to their kids. As a mother of a biter, I can't leave her unattended anywhere for too long. But that's just my kid and my one situation.

With a bit of parent input and a more space (for the kids and moms), this place has a chance. I think they should scrap the idea of story time or music or classes at this point, unless they are going to limit the number attending and possibly the age of the kids.

We will give it another go one day during the afternoon when less kids are probably there, but we will always make sure we come with friends.

For others in area who have gone, let me know what tips you might have to make this place even better. I feel like they're about 75% of the way there.


Anonymous said...

Would you be willing to give specific directions or specifics on the location of the cafe in the shopping center? I went over there, and not being familiar with that shopping center, couldn't find their place. My 2.5 year old daughter and I can't wait to try it out. I'm so grateful for your review because my hopes were really high this place would be spectacular and I think you've made me realize I just need to be a little more realistic and we'll probably have a great time.

Linda said...

It's right next to the Ledo's pizza. They don't have their sign up yet.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the additional information about the At Play Cafe. They also don't have a phone number or specific address posted on their website, which is unfortunate. Poor advertising. We can't wait to check it out...

Linda said...

2254B Hunters Woods Plaza
Reston, VA 20191
ph: 703-391-6131

Anonymous said...

If they could get the next door space that would be GREAT! Does anyone
have influence of them making the walls go all the way up to the
ceiling, with some nice windows to see your kids through, but enough
covered space so moms are not so in view + it would keep the noise
down so adult conversation was to be had?! These are my main problems.
Add more workers for busy times as well... I was there twice during
"down times" and both my kids had a very good time. Bennett LOVED the
climbing wall, but it would make me nervous if there were more kids to
push him, or to distract the workers who so diligently kept an eye on him! Also he was upset when he saw me, so I had to stay crouched behind the wall which wasn't the most comfy:)

Kate said...

I feel the same way Linda. We went last week and for us, it was
just "ok" - I was actually thinking that Jack was perhaps a bit too
young, so I'm not sure what the optimal age is.

Jack had a hard time with playing while he could see me - he too kept
coming over to say hi, whine at me, or ask to be picked up. My friend
and I sat down at a table with a cup of tea, but after about 20 mins or
so, it was just easier to abandon our drinks and go inside and play
with the kids, than to endure their fussing since there were way more
kids inside than sitters. And then it just felt like having a
playdate, except we each paid $8 to play with our kids.

Anonymous said...

There are low couches and chairs in the back where adults can sit and not be easily seen by their children. We went when there weren't a ton of kids there, so my daughter wanted me to play with her at first, then warmed to one of the sitters in the play area. She also had fun in the more open room, though they only had one ride-on toy. It's not inexpensive, but the play area is very nice and there aren't that many indoor places to play. We will go when there's a bad-air day in summer or when it's too rainy to be outside. Considering one of the art classes, too, as they seem cool.

Gina said...

Linda--I originally found your blog just looking for indoor playgrounds once I moved here.

To all of you--I'm curious how important you find the part where you can be separated from your kids. I'm writing a business plan to open an indoor playground in the Springfield area (because we had them all over Southern California, where I'm from) and it's ridiculous there aren't more indoor things here for rain/humidity/snow/etc. I've been driving my three kids to Woodbridge/Manassas but find the inflatable places too intense for them (they're 2, 2, and 4).
After two years of waiting for someone else to open one, I'm ready to do it! Even driving to Reston is bad for me, same as going south I suppose, 40 minutes.

If you don't mind sharing your experience with me, I'd appreciate it. I'm at ginava3 (at) yahoo.com