A Feast Fit For Your Work Family
‘Family Meal’ allows staff gathering for good food & conversation
Whether you call it family meal or comida, as many restaurants do, setting aside time for your front of house and kitchen staff to break bread together before dinner shift not only lets them sit for a while and eat a good meal, it also brings your team together for some quality bonding time.
“It’s the same as a meal at home with your family,” says Ken Oringer, who along with chef and partner Jamie Bissonnette, owns Toro, Coppa and Little Donkey in Boston, New York and Cambridge, Mass. “It brings everyone together and provides people an opportunity to discuss their interests and passions.”
Everyone knows tensions can run high in a restaurant during service, so family meal is a time for your staff to sit down, take a breath and regroup before opening the doors as the madness ensues for the next few hours. “Cooking for the people we work with 10 to 16 hours a day is very important,” Bissonnette says. “A great staff meal sets the tone for the night and lets staff know we are all one family.”
Family meal, if you’re not familiar (and if not, you should be), is where kitchen staff — and sometimes servers and bartenders — take turns pulling together a delicious meal. Sometimes they’ll introduce a new menu item so staff can taste it; share customer favorites; or completely veer off menu to prepare something from a cook’s culture, whether Mexican, Korean or Greek.
And sometimes these off-menu meals can spark new ideas. At New York’s white tablecloth New American restaurant The Red Cat, several of owner Jimmy Bradley’s cooks hail from Mexico. They’ll often make family meal based on dishes from childhood memories or their culture. One day during family meal, Bradley says, they discussed adding a separate menu during weekday lunch service highlighting Mexican dishes, and the Gato Rojo menu was born.
“(The menu) is usually five dishes and changes sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly,” Bradley says. “It’s a separate menu we hand out that’s loosely titled, ‘The menu the chefs eat.’”
Family meal is a great way to show your staff you appreciate them by giving them a square meal before each service, but it can also give you an opportunity to show other restaurants in town you appreciate them, too. Nashville restaurant group Strategic Hospitality started sending staff meal to new restaurants and bars about four or five years ago, according to co-owner Max Goldberg. And, in a further show of support to other local restaurants, instead of sending food from one of their 10 restaurants, Strategic often orders food from Arnold’s Country Kitchen or San Antonio Taco Company, two local icons.
“We started sending staff meal to other places as a way to let them know we’re rooting for them,” Goldberg says. “The restaurant community here is so tight knit that sending staff meal is like a giant hug.”
And isn’t that what everyone wants from their family anyway?