Bring families (and staff) at the school together to enjoy an afternoon or evening of fun. While fundraising might be your main focus throughout the year, creating social opportunities for parents and experiences for pupils is also important. A family barbecue may encourage less confident or hard-to-reach parents to come along if there's no entry fee, and the children can come along too. Take into account that rain can come any day of the year, so wet weather plans are crucial, particularly if you can't move your event inside.
Aim to break even
Even if the primary purpose of your event isn't to fundraise, you don't want to be out of pocket. Work out how much your costs will be, and use this as a gauge to price the food and offer additional money-generating activities too. If you have space, set up some stalls to keep the children happy while their parents eat and catch up with friends. Craft activities, beat the goalie, pick a lolly, name the teddy... what will generate a bit of extra cash to help cover your costs?
Provide high-quality meat
Don't underestimate the power of a good burger. Good-quality meat is vital. If people have to pick gristle out of their teeth, they are unlikely to rock up to the barbecue next time you hold one. Local catering companies may offer frozen meat on a sale-or-return basis, or you can stock up for less through PTA+'s partnership with Booker. Serve fried onions too – you can't beat the smell. Offering a vegetarian alternative, such as vegan burgers or vegetable samosas, means more people can enjoy the event, just remember to cook them separately from the meat items. Ask parents if any other dietary requirements need to be considered. Use large oil-drum barbecues and make sure enough people are cooking, serving and taking money so queues don't form. If you can source multiple barbecues, space them out to stop visitors all huddling in one area.
Serve burgers and hot dogs in napkins to keep down costs. Other food, such as jacket potatoes and salads, will require plates and cutlery (and possibly somewhere to sit). Consider compostable cutlery and other catering disposables from companies such as Vegware, as paper plates are not recyclable once used. Offer plenty of sauces and place bins nearby for rubbish.
For advice on food safety regarding Covid-19, see the government's COVID-19 guidance for food businesses. Although PTAs are not required to have the same certification and stringent regulations as food businesses (unless the food handling operation is a regularly organised event), they can still be liable for any resulting illnesses from mishandling of food, so ensure safety measures are in place. Remember, you can also contact the environmental health department within your local authority for advice.
Hold some games
Get everyone working off those burgers by offering activities such as an egg and spoon race, sack race and circle games. Adults and children will enjoy playing games together, although adults may need a reminder of the rules! Mix up the teams to include all ages and abilities so that no one gets left out, but beware: adults tend to get competitive!
Unsure how your evening will pan out? Three PTAs tell us their stories:
'We hold our family BBQ each year, and it has become a really 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 as well as Irish dancing displays, a raffle and a stall selling items such as glow sticks, bubbles, bags of sweets and glow bracelets. We hired a candy floss lady one year who also made popcorn. The dads man the actual BBQ, 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 the event including sticks in sand, guess how many sweets in the jar and plant a sunflower seed; bouncy castle and face painting are popular too. Classes do a mini-show starting half-way through, which keeps parents at the barbecue for longer! I'd advise any PTA thinking of holding a family barbecue to get the BBQ fired up early as it's extremely popular. We get our burgers and sausages at discount price from a popular butcher in town.' Myra Smith
'We run ours on a Friday in June between 5:30 and 8:30 as folk get busy at weekends when the weather's good. We buy the meat from the local butcher, and he lends us his BBQ. We have a rota of dads on the BBQ and make sure they wear food-handling gloves. We also provide a bar with draught ale on a hand pump (this needs to be brought up a few days earlier to settle). To keep the kids happy, we have 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