The cooks and chefs are in the kitchen getting ready, prepping mise en place, key menu items, the night specials and doing any last minute organization. The last thing any chef hates, is getting distracted from his most important time of the evening, to make the staff meal. However, if it is planned ahead of time, it can be a good way to boost the morale of the entire restaurant team for the remainder of the evening. Maybe the front of the house employees are not literally sweating it out as much as the kitchen staff, but they are running too.
Think about it this way. Though there may be not that great of a relationship between the front of the house and the kitchen, without them, you might as well just be working at an open window, serve yourself joint. And lets face it, most of the kitchen staff are not the best personalities, nor the best dressed or coifed, and could care less about dealing with, what they may feel as a menial task of greeting and serving customers. Most BOH employees would probably admit they do not care for dealing with guests (though they would probably be using other choice words) all that much, which is the precise reason they are in the back. As the chef, even though you might not want to actually say the words, a nice staff meal is a great way to say “thank you” ahead of time.
Keep in mind…
Front of the house and waitstaff typically have to arrive about an hour or more before the restaurant opens in order to set the tables, clean off menus, buff glassware and silverware, do any last minute detail cleaning, paperwork and educate themselves on any menu changes or specials. If your restaurant opens at six, they are probably arriving anywhere from 4:30 to 5 to get things started. On weekend nights, most restaurants remain open anywhere from 10 to 11, and you know there is always a last minute seating or two, or three at 10:50, just when the kitchen is getting anxious to wrap things up and get to the bar for a much needed beer. These last few tables are going to have the front and back of the house staying until around midnight or even later to do the night’s cleaning and organization. With six or more hours of sweaty and stressful work ahead of all staff involved, they are going to need some good calories to sustain them.
Ideas for Staff Meals
A great time to educate…
Most of your staff is not going to bother coming to the restaurant on their night off in order to taste and experience the meals on the menu. Though it might behoove them to do so every once in a while, making their sales much easier, perhaps even more profitable, it is probably unlikely they will do so. Not to mention, these are not the employees who want to spend their hard earned tips out at a restaurant (even with a staff discount), when making rent is sometimes a challenge.
If you happen to be an establishment that changes the menu seasonally, on occasion, or just have weekly specials, the staff meal, when planned ahead of time, is a great opportunity for the kitchen to educate the staff, both FOH and BOH. Point out some intricacies, ingredients and methods of how the plates are prepared. Share with them what might have inspired you, as a chef, to create the dish. Guests love stories, and stories sell. However, I get as a chef, you might not want your employees witnessing your softer side. You don’t want them to turn and laugh when you hurl a plate towards them the next time.
Even if your staff is well-informed with the menu from previous staffers such as this, every once in a while, it is a good idea to review. And with the industry’s reputation for high/quick turnover, there is always at least one newbie who could use a little help. As the kitchen lead for the evening presenting the items, make sure each FOH employee has a pen and paper to take notes.
Educational staff meals are a positive idea for everyone involved FOH and BOH. The FOH will feel more comfortable in front of their guests when presenting a menu of which they are well informed, and a positive, confident server tends to earn more money. Who wouldn’t be happy about that? As for the BOH, it might cut down on disagreements and, ahem, misunderstandings between each side during the critical service time.
An uplifting meal…
As stated, six hours or more of sweating it out in the kitchen and running around the dining room with little time for a glass of water can be quite taxing, even for well-seasoned restaurant workers. On most weekend nights, there can be little time to prep menu items for the staff to view and taste. Sometimes all the chef, or the line cook tasked with prepping the staff meal has time for, is something family style.
Chefs who call in the food orders request cheaper ingredients to set aside for nights like these, usually some form of pasta, rice or other high-carbohydrate item. While these ingredients contain the much needed calories to sustain a long evening, they do not exactly give your staff an energetic jump start. Eat a bowl of pasta with cheese and maybe some sauce and some day old bread. Most marathon runners don’t do this any more! What’s the first thing you want to do, or wish you could do after consuming such a meal? Sleep. The pasta is fine, but cut the carbs a little with some vegetables. Next food order, add some canned beans or lentils to have on hand for a hearty, protein-packed vegetable and rice soup. Mix up a side salad with fresh greens, even romaine, chopped vegetables and a simple vinaigrette everyone will enjoy. Your staff will be more than satisfied. They will be energized for the stressful evening ahead.
The “thanks for all your hard work” staffer…
Many establishments forget about this type of staff meal. It may cut into the budget at times, or even be a little inconvenient for the owner or management staff to organize, but throwing a party with great food inviting the staff and maybe their significant others will go a long way. If it can be done off-premise, even better.
A “thank you” party could be thrown after a busy holiday season, or if you are a new restaurant, maybe organize one celebrating a successful first year. In either case, these times can be challenging and stressful for everyone involved. Don’t ask your chef to prepare the meal. Have it catered, but don’t skimp. Maybe have an open bar and a DJ. You are saying thank you for sticking around, for being loyal, for being patient with more than unreasonable customers, ducking flying kitchen weaponry from irate chefs (you might need an apology for that), and we hope to have you stick around for some more. All of this with a great big grin of appreciation, oh, and maybe a little bonus.