A Winning Family Menu
Safari MK is a national multi award-winning children’s soft play and party venue based in Milton Keynes. As well as providing a place where families can play and spend time together, it is committed to serving high-quality, home cooked family food for both children and adults. Take Stock went to find out the secret to their success…
There is nothing on Safari MK’s menu which a parent wouldn’t let their child order.
“We’re sneaking healthy ingredients into children’s favourite foods and presenting them in a fun way,” says Gordon Forster, owner. “So, if a child wants a burger they can have it!”
Gordon’s background is in hospitality and his wife Fiona in accountancy, and they set up the family-run business four years ago.
“The vision for Safari MK was to create something unique both in Milton Keynes and within the indoor play industry,” explains Gordon. “We wanted families to want to come and eat together as well as play. We have three children under the age of 11 so understand the demands of young children and what parents need to enjoy a relaxing day out with them. And an important part of that day is eating a delicious, nutritious meal.”
Food plays an important role within Safari MK, which is why Gordon and his wife hired a head chef to create the menu and run the kitchen, setting a standard way beyond the level that the majority of leisure venues enjoy.
“We wanted Safari MK to produce modern, good quality lunchtime food to the same standard as a fancy cafe, and knew the only way to do that was to get an experienced and skilled chef,” says Gordon. The kitchen also houses a sous chef and three full time trainee chefs.
The burgers at Safari MK are made by local butchers with good quality meat containing a minimal fat content, lower salt and sugar.
This ethos also goes for their ‘chicken nuggets’ which are actually real strips of chicken oven baked, and served with their chunky oven chips.
“Nothing here is fried,” says Gordon proudly. “Everything is either baked or steamed in our many ovens. Healthy eating is just thinking a little bit more about the food we eat. People think ‘healthy’ is boring but it isn’t – it’s just eating a balanced diet and taking more time to think about the ingredients that go into your dish, and the method in which you cook it. We are not the sort of place where food goes from the fryer to the plate.”
The menu is so impressive that most people – including parents – who visit the play centre always stay to eat.
“In every meal we produce we make a conscious, determined effort to reduce the fat, sugar and salt content without compromising the quality or taste,” says Gordon. “And that’s a promise I can make to all the parents who bring their children to us.”
Many first time visitors to the centre are always pleasantly surprised and impressed by the menu; a clear testament to the good job Gordon and his team are doing.
“We also work really hard at the presentation and how our food is served,” adds Gordon. “We use the correct cutlery and have lovely plates – there is no plastic in Safari MK. We want our customers to feel that when they come here to play they are also have a nice lunch out – like a special treat. And as a result, nearly everyone who visits Safari MK eats with us.”
Vegetables are added to every child’s meal and the sandwiches are garnished with carrot and cucumber sticks. Only a small handful of handcooked crisps are added to adult sandwiches and they are also asked if they want a complimentary salad garnish.
“We decided it’s better to give customers the choice,” says Gordon. “That way if they want to be extra healthy they can and if not the salad isn’t wasted.”
The menu is changed seasonally and they have a weekly specials board. The main meals like bolognese and curry are the same for adults and children – just smaller portions.
Open from 8.30am during the school holidays and 9.30am term time they offer a continental breakfast for children and adults have the choice of bacon, sausage or egg baps. There’s a gluten-free bread option for their sandwiches and a range of snacks for those customers with allergies. A folder is available detailing all ingredients and allergens in everything so parents and children know exactly what they are eating.
The cafe also offers a range of sugar-free and low sugar drinks, however, full fat alternatives are still available as eating in moderation is key believes Gordon.
Safari MK won three awards at the BALPPA (The British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers & Attractions) in 2018. It won Attraction Of The Year, Employee of Excellence award for its centre manager Jen and second place in the Food and Beverage Excellence award.
So, what’s the key to their success?
“We are consistent and don’t cut corners,” replies Gordon. “Use the best quality products and cook them correctly. Think about how you can make the best panini, not the cheapest way you can produce it. Lots of food outlets easily over complicate their menu – but there is no need. We keep it simple. Serving good meals isn’t rocket science. It’s what every customer deserves.”