Run a family barbecue

A family barbecue brings the school community together to meet, mingle and play

Organising a family barbecue can help include less confident or hard-to-reach parents, especially if there’s no entry fee and the children can come too. Pick a time of day that will appeal to your crowd: a barbecue can work on a weekday or a weekend in the afternoons and evenings. Remember that it can rain on any day of the year, so it’s crucial to have a wet weather contingency plan, particularly if you can’t move your event indoors.

Ditch the entry fee

Fundraising is an essential aspect of many school events, but it‘s equally important to create social opportunities for parents and provide memorable experiences for pupils. Aim to break even: work out your costs and use this figure as a gauge to price the food. Offer optional money-generating activities, such as craft stalls, beat the goalie, pick a lolly and name the teddy to help cover costs and keep the children happy while their parents eat and catch up with friends.

What’s for lunch?

Don’t underestimate the power of a good quality burger. If people have to pick gristle out of their teeth, they are unlikely to rock up at your next event. Ask local catering companies if they offer frozen meat on a sale-or-return basis or stock up for less at a wholesaler, such as Booker. Serve fried onions – the aroma will make people start to feel hungry. Providing vegetarian options, such as vegan burgers or vegetable samosas, will allow more people to enjoy the event. Make sure to cook these items separately from the meat products. Ask parents if there are any other dietary requirements to consider.

Don’t forget the drinks! Supply plenty of thirst-quenching options for active children and something special for their parents. If you run a bar, you may need a temporary event notice (TEN).

Get cooking

To prevent long queues, use large oil-drum barbecues and make sure enough people are cooking, serving, and taking money. If possible, source multiple barbecues and space them out to prevent overcrowding in one area. Light the barbecue early, so you can start serving on time.

Service please

Use your PTA’s party pack or borrow one from a nearby school or library of things. Alternatively, provide recyclable plates from companies such as Vegware. Keep in mind that more substantial food items, such as jacket potatoes and salads, will require larger plates, cutlery and proper seating arrangements. To avoid waste, offer a selection of sauces in refillable bottles instead of sachets.

When setting up bins for rubbish and recycling, make sure they are not too close to the food but are still visible. Be sure to label everything correctly and tell everyone what goes where.

Hold some free games

Encourage your guests to burn off their burgers by organising fun activities, such as an egg and spoon race, sack race and circle games. Playing games together is a great way for adults and children to bond. Mix up the teams to include all ages and abilities to make sure that everyone is has fun and no one feels left out.

Three PTAs share their barbecue success

‘We hold a family barbecue each year. It’s a fun event for all our families. We run it from 5pm to 11pm – the children love it when it gets dark. I would suggest a bar (always a winner) and children’s non-alcoholic cocktails. We have a disco outside, Irish dancing displays and a raffle. One year, we booked a candy floss lady who also made popcorn. The dads man the barbecue, but we also need lots of volunteers to sell tickets, work the bar and help on the stall. A good rota makes it less tricky. Good fun, with lots of planning!’ Becky Hession

‘We hold games throughout our event, including sticks in the sand and guess the number of sweets in the jar. The bouncy castle and face painting stall are popular, too. Classes perform a mini show starting halfway through, which keeps parents at the barbecue for longer! I’d advise any PTA thinking of holding a family barbecue to get the barbecue fired up early, as it’s extremely popular. We get our burgers and sausages at discount prices from a popular butcher in town.’ Myra Smith

‘We run our barbecue on a Friday in June between 5:30pm and 8:30pm as folk get busy at weekends when the weather’s good. We buy the meat from the local butcher, and he lends us his barbecue. We have a rota of dads cooking the meat and make sure they wear food-handling gloves. We also provide a bar with draught ale on a hand pump, which we bring up a few days earlier, so it can settle. To keep the kids happy, we run a couple of stalls or a treasure hunt, and we put skipping ropes and balls on the playing field. We run a colour-themed hamper raffle using donations from the children, which we draw at the end. It’s useful to have something to signify that the event has ended and it’s time to go!’ Jane Campbell


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