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Bringing back Family Meal: How feeding your team can strengthen their bond

Your maitre’d has an epic crush on your sous chef. One of your waitresses just punched a busboy, and your sommelier is nursing a monster grudge against the front of house manager. Sound familiar?

Life in a restaurant is a lot of different things. It is chaotic, entertaining, demanding, and rewarding. . . but most of all, it is a family. For better or worse, restaurants are families. And, like most families, they can quickly become war zones: senior staff vs. junior staff, management vs. servers, and front of house vs. back of house. If a distinction can be made, it can and probably will become a point of contention.

Believe it or not, this is precisely why those of us who love the restaurant business, stay in the restaurant business. If we wanted nine–to-five desk jobs, to be quarantined into little cubicles and given individually tailored assignments, we would have joined the rest of corporate America. But we didn’t. We chose to be a part of a (dysfunctional) family: imperfect, often feuding, and yet inextricably bonded by a common goal.

For years psychologists and family counselors have championed the idea of sitting down together every evening, as a family, for supper.  Undistracted face-to-face time with your family around the dinner table establishes feelings of closeness and deepens preexisting bonds.  Great restaurants understand these truths, and they use them to grow and strengthen their businesses. If you aren’t already convinced, I’ve compiled an incomplete list of reasons to bring back family meal.

  1. Team-building: The act of bringing your entire staff together for a mere 15-30 minutes prior to service is an excellent way to build a sense of community.  The act of eating together creates intimate, human bonds. Gathering around a common table levels the playing field and can actually ease tensions amongst groups.
  2. Focus: Sitting down together before the dinner rush is invaluable when it comes to getting everyone on the same page. Family meal provides the perfect opportunity to discuss menu changes, section reassignments, special guests, and any number of last minute details that need addressing. When everyone is clued in, the evening runs smoothly and conflicts are assuaged.
  3. Sharing Ideas: Family meal also presents the perfect opportunity to communicate new ideas. Here, chefs can test out new recipes and get instant feedback. Servers and front of house staff can also hash out their thoughts in a casual, unintimidating setting. It’s a great time for servers to brush up o their menu knowledge, making sure that they are able to articulately and intelligently sell your products.
  4. Theft prevention: For all I know, your restaurant is staffed with perfect angels who would never steal from you. However, if you are like most of us, you have hired your share of (literally) starving artists. When your staff is well fed and feels cared for, they are much less likely to steal from you.
  5. Waste Reduction: Family meal is an excellent way for the kitchen to use up leftover ingredients while reducing your operation’s overall food waste. You might actually be surprised and incidentally stumble upon new items for your menu.

If you are interested in creating a better work environment for your restaurant family, consider bringing back family meal. Eating together creates a sense of loyalty and has the potential to unify your staff in a lasting way. It may seem like a waste of time in the midst of your incredibly busy day, but the time you spend together will strengthen your business from the inside out. The family that eats together stays together.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts about family meal. Do you provide a staff meal? How has it helped your business? Please feel free to comment below.