Family Meal….family meal is a tough, contentious topic if you’ve ever worked in a restaurant.
My feelings on family meal are wide and varied. They start at the bottom with “go fuck yourself” and progress to the top and “come eat.” as a consumer I love family meal but as a producer, it can swing drastically based on how much other work I have to do.
I suppose how I feel about it depends on where I am working at the moment, the people being fed and their attitudes. I don’t mind feeding the appreciative ones. The ones who work really hard and understand how hard the kitchen works and appreciate their free meal every day.
The thing that triggered this post is an event – it happened last Sunday at work and I can’t wrap my head around it, can’t stop thinking about it. I’m feeling a few things – anger, frustration… disrespected.
A little background before I dive in: we are open breakfast, lunch and dinner every day except Christmas and Independance day. We aren’t mass production by any means but we definitely do some volume. Dine LA (restaurant week) just ended Sunday night, Monday we had a huge buyout for a movie premier, we are/were exhausted, overstretched and behind on prep. Family meal always falls to the saute cook… I’m not really sure why but for whatever reason, it does. Which means that it falls to me 5 days a week.
Sunday was a hard day. We got wrecked on Saturday night, almost 300 covers. I was starting from scratch for mis en place… Which really is two afternoons worth of work and I had about 3 hours to get it done between my arrival and the first reservation, never mind the happy hour snacks that would roll in through the afternoon.
Most days I stay ahead enough on my prep that I don’t mind making family meal. I am usually able to find a half hour in my day to put up halfway decent nosh for the crew around about 5 o’clock.
This day was obviously not one of those days, from the very beginning. Every cook was in the same position, scrambling to get ready before it got busy. We all came in early, we were running when we hit the ground. So, no help to be had from each other, we were all on our own gunning for preparedness. It took until about 5:30 for us all to get close enough that we could take a few minutes to put together a staff meal. We were doing it as a team when a big ticket of bar snacks came in. So, I put down staff meal and picked up the tacos. As we were plating, the sous chef goes “That’s weird, there is no table number or guest count. This better not be for staff. ”
Rewind the day about 10 minutes and step into the front of the house.
The servers don’t understand how the kitchen can be busy when there are no guests sitting at tables. They all started complaining to the floor manager that they are hungry and that staf meal in’t up yet. And his response is to try and shut them up by RINGING IN BAR SNACKS FOR THE STAFF.
“What? You guys are too busy to put up family meal? Let me create some MORE work for you and use up the meez you already did. That seems like a good idea.”
So there we are. The kitchen dimension intersects the front of the house dimension, and I am standing there, fuming, family meal in one hand and a big platter of bar snacks in the other.
Are you kidding me? Is this real?
Now, I get why restaurants provide family meal. The days are long, we don’t make a ton of money, it builds the team to share a meal. But, the expectation that your free meal be more important than the mis en place with which I will feed our paying guests? That’s just some bull. I get paid to feed them, not to feed you.
I don’t know. Like I said at the beginning, family meal is always (and probably always will be) a touchy subject.
I guess my point is that the front of the house needs to have more respect for the weight that the kitchen bears on a daily basis. You come in, you roll your silver and put out your candles, talk to your guests, ring some food in. It can be hectic at times, yes. I respect that to be a true professional server is an art form. However, that respect has to go both ways. Without me doing my job to the best of my ability, you quite literally don’t have a job. And that meal – Family Meal – is a gift, from me to you, because we can not survive without one another. If I want my passion to be conveyed to a guest, I need you too. We need each other. So Family Meal is my gift to you, to say thank you for your help.
But for the sake of our team, the respect has to go both ways. Recognize when we are flying. I know you can tell. I haven’t stopped to say hi today? Service hasn’t started and the cooks are already soaked with sweat? It’s Saturday? or, Saturday was banging and today is Sunday? Just take a second to stop and think.
And maybe say thank you once in awhile. That means more than anything else.