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The Importance of Staff Meal


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Thomas Keller mentions the importance of staff meal in The French Laundry Cookbook. Bourdain humors us with the grateful Rainbow Room waiters on Raft Day. But how do you make a good staff meal? It involves clever use of scraps and leftovers, speed and ease of preparation, and of course, taste. Any good ideas for using up product? What's the worst staff meal you've seen?

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Thomas Keller mentions the importance of staff meal in The French Laundry Cookbook. Bourdain humors us with the grateful Rainbow Room waiters on Raft Day. But how do you make a good staff meal? It involves clever use of scraps and leftovers, speed and ease of preparation, and of course, taste. Any good ideas for using up product? What's the worst staff meal you've seen?

When I worked at the little restaurant at the Watergate, one day staff meal consisted of a large platter or SQUAB ELBOWS. Nothing more. :wacko:

Mark

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I laughed out loud when I read that. Kudos to Keller's chef for taking the staff meal seriously; the only time I worked in a top French place -- DC's Le Pavillon -- the staff meal was some combination of scrambled eggs, boiled rice, baked chicken and bacon. Every meal, every day.

Except when they served the fish -- and you didn't want to eat the fish.

Restaurant Nora, where I later worked, took the staff meal seriously, generally preparing one of the low-priced menu items in bulk -- a pasta, say, or curry and rice -- walking the staff through the ingredients, and educating us about food. The best staff dessert: A spoonful of Nora's chocolate mousse, and a swallow of Warre's '66 port.

Edited by Busboy (log)

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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As someone who has never worked in the resto industry, I've wondered what the staff is allowed to eat. I've been reading alot of threads about various restos on this site and one of the common complaints is staff that know nothing about the food they're peddling. :sad:

But i'll bet those squab elbows were really something. Sounds like what my grandmother used to feed her dogs.. :huh::raz::raz:

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This is interesting... I always assumed that at restaurants the staff would just be given an entree free from the menu if they had to take lunch (or dinner, or whatever) at the restaurant... Odd that that isn't the case.

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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At our restaurant, it will be the sous's job to devise something interesting, and nutritious, from various inventory. I feel it is vitally important to not feed crap to everyone (the worst I ever had was fouled fowl thighs, and although I begged off, a good many staff did not and got horrendously sick); additionally, I'd like it to be a learning opportunity to devise something worth eating from less-than-dear inventory (forgot the name of Keller's cook, was it "Eric's lasagna?").

We will also make several regular entree items, or specials, for our staff to try on a daily basis while we go over in detail how everything is made, what went into the thinking to come up with it, etc. 4:30-5:00 is a time to relax, bitch, whatever, 5:00-5:30 down to the business of the night.

Paul

-Paul

 

Remplis ton verre vuide; Vuide ton verre plein. Je ne puis suffrir dans ta main...un verre ni vuide ni plein. ~ Rabelais

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This is interesting... I always assumed that at restaurants the staff would just be given an entree free from the menu if they had to take lunch (or dinner, or whatever) at the restaurant... Odd that that isn't the case.

Ha ha ha.

Tim Kelly writes that at Bouley he had tinned sauerkraut and hot dogs for a year.

"Family meal" can be terrifying at many places.

Especially especially specially if it's fish.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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It really is a missed opportunity if staff meals aren't used in the way that Paul describes.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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The worst staff meals I ever experienced were at OH HO SO (A trendy So Ho Chinese place in the 80's). The staff meal would often be chicken feet in black bean sauce and other unidentifiable body parts and pieces. It caused deep resentments and some menbers of the staff to forage for themselves in all manner of creative pilfering.

Places that I've worked that served tasty, plentiful (even cost effevtive) staff meals seem to have better morale among their employees and a much better rapport between front and back of the house and that translates to a better experience for everybody.

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Back when I was doing the beer tasting circuit for restaurant staffs in New Orleand I used to be invited frequently to eat with the staff before service (these tastings usually took place in late afternoon before service, so I was there at meal time) and the one's that I remember as being particularly memorable were at Emeril's. ALways some king of "pot food" like creole, jambalaya, gumbo, courtbullion, red beans and rice with sausage, and the like, but really tasty and served in "all you can eat amounts". It was also great as it gave me time to spend with the staff when the supervisors weren't around, so I could curry a rediculous amount of favor with various beer swag (t-shirts, beer, etc.). There are alot of things that I don't miss about the beer biz, but the tastings are not one of them.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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It really is a missed opportunity if staff meals aren't used in the way that Paul describes.

I absolutely agree that this is a time to familiarize the wait staff with menu items and specials. Not a time to induce food poisoning or upturned noses and grunts of disgust.

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I've worked in a couple places where staff meal was stressed...and it was nice...everywhere else they make you stuff from the menu and then take money out of your check.

The first restaurant I worked at, I was a prep cook. One of my daily duties was to prepare staff meal. The chef bought whole chickens to get just the breast off because it was cheaper that way and I used the thighs and legs a lot. Many variations...typically with mashies or a side of rice and veggies... i also made giant sandwiches using surplus lunch meat from the diner next door...people loved that cuz they could have fries and it didn't matter if it sat for a while...the chicken was different. But yes, I usually looked at what was in stock, what had been prepped days before and could be liquidated and what people liked...I never tried to shortchange anyone because I knew they enjoyed a good meal before service.

I also worked at a place on Orcas Island, Washington and at the end of serive we got to choose anything...well except the 14 dollar a pound tenderloin...any fish; ahi, salmon, halibut.... I asked the chef once if it were a waste of money to give the good food to staff...he said, "First of all, there isn't many choices of after-service food on the island, secondly a happy staff is a cooperative and hard-working staff."

Of course, giving out portions of good fish is not feasible everywhere...but staff meal is always important. A good cook can take virtually anything in the walk in and make it palatable IMO.

"Make me some mignardises, &*%$@!" -Mateo

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My son-in-law and daughter both work for the same corp. in Charlotte N.C. They moved there from L.V. where she was with Spago and he was with Postrio. I went into her restaurant to pick her up, Mimosa Grill, and was really impressed with their lunch menu. I thought it was the most exciting that I've ever seen. I asked Susan if the kitchen could really cook this and what she liked. She isn't allowed to taste and if she wants to buy, at 1/2 price after work, not all the selections are available to the staff! Her husband Scott has in the last 6 weeks been promoted to the top chef position at their high in restaurant, Upper Stream. He told me that he is going to try to have tasting with the staff. He comes home after work and Susan has a plate waiting for him from the dinner that she cooks every night. I'm totally blown away about this, if my staff doesn't eat two meals everyday I want to know why. They taste as I create, I explain whatever knowledge that I know about the dish. I've even send food home with them, any leftovers, they all have roommates or lovers. Including them in with the, THE FOOD, makes them really care about the product, and me. I wish staff would , right before shift, throw the crap they get out, and "extort a new deal for a new meal".

Carman

Carman's Country Kitchen

11th and Wharton

Philadelphia, PA

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The first restaurant I worked at, I was a prep cook. One of my daily duties was to prepare staff meal. The chef bought whole chickens to get just the breast off because it was cheaper that way and I used the thighs and legs a lot.

I laugh because our staff used to threaten mass revolt if they were served chicken legs and thighs one more time, no matter how many different preparation methods we used. The staff meal was a definite time to bitch and bond at that restaurant, although sampling of actual menu items with the front of the house staff was done at a different time, not as part of staff meal usually.

Meatloaf was a favorite staff meal at that restaurant, prepared 5 different ways because each of the cooks/chefs had their own favorite meatloaf recipe.

The worst staff meal ever was taught to me by a chef at the CIA--he was very proud of his raft croquettes. For those who don't know, the raft is the ground meat and vegetable matter that floats to the top of a stock when you are clarifying it to make consomme. All of the flavor has been extracted out of it in the clarifying process, plus it is often made from scrap vegetable peelings and meat trimmings to begin with. He would add bread crumbs and eggs and roll them into balss, bread them and fry them. Yuck!

Fred Bramhall

A professor is one who talk's in someone else's sleep

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This is interesting... I always assumed that at restaurants the staff would just be given an entree free from the menu if they had to take lunch (or dinner, or whatever) at the restaurant... Odd that that isn't the case.

HA! I hear that all the time , "Oh you must eat so well working here". Not!

At afore mentioned restaurant, the waitstaff would call for pizzas to be delivered. The cooks would put out their platters of crap (squab elbows, fish scrapings, chicken necks) and then have the BALLS to beg for pizza from us.

Mark

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I assume everyone is talking about the official staff meal, as opposed to the unofficial staff meal which ranges from jumbo shrimp snagged on a trip to the walk-in to (in the case of one server at my former restaurant) food left on customers' plates.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

Twitter

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i work at ruth's chris, and everyone who walks in there assumes we're given filet mignon everyday for our staff meal. that is definitely not the case. sure, we get an employee discount when we dine in, and if we're working they do provide a staff meal everyday around 4:30, but the staff meal usually consists of sandwiches/hamburgers, fries, or chicken tenders, etc. we get a lot of burrito type fixings and salad. the only times we eat off the menu is when we make a reservation and dine in.

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As an extern in this 4 diamond restaurant in Miami, I was in charge of family meal every day, except that we never had a lot to work with. It's hard to find many uses for chicken legs without the staff revolting. We were so busy that we never really had time to eat what we served. However, the worst was my own mistake, when some of the chicken that went out was raw. Nobody was happy, especially myself

However, I did work at a restaurant where inventory was so well managed, that we our staff meals planned weekly. The owners certainly believed in feeding the staff like humans. We rarelly used scraps, and every meal included a salad and dessert. Those were the days! Too bad this isn't true of every restaurant!

Follow me @chefcgarcia

Fábula, my restaurant in Santiago, Chile

My Blog, en Español

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It is cost prohibitive to allow the staff to eat off the regular menu, as some people have suggested should happen. Say you have 20 staff...that's 20 free meals! No restaurant can afford to do that.

I've been subjected to a variety of staff meals. In places where I worked early in my career, where there was no formal staff meal, you could get menu items for half price (this was casual dining). The place I worked on externship from the CIA was the worst... High end hotel in England. We got the end bits, scrapings, and anything that was about to, or had gone off. There were times when the entire meal was made from food that was past it's prime. I've never made myself scrambled eggs for dinner so many times in my life! Sadly, when that happens, you do become a scavenger, being sure to prep/cook the diner's food in such a way that there is something for you, just to survive. Please note: this was a remote location, staff lived on site, and we were dependent on this place for all of our meals.

However, in US restaurants, I seem to have been luckier than most. Staff meals have been a mix of menu items and staff food - usually something decent like a pasta, or homemade pizza. Can't say I was treated badly! And they always had staff taste menu items - I have held hundreds of staff tastings, and it's amazing how it increases sales!

“"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"

"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"

"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully.

"It's the same thing," he said.”

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Hmm.. I realize it wouldn't make fiscal sense to serve the entire staff top notch steaks and other expensive cuts of meat, but just from perusing prices at many restaurants, even middle of the road ones, it always looks like there is a significant markup from what those bare ingredients would cost at the grocery store, and I am sure the restaurant can get them a heck of a lot cheaper than I can at the grocery store. Of course, I have never been in the restaurant business, so what do I know, but 20 meals that only cost $5 or so in ingredients is still only $100 a night, or do most restaurants actually run on razor thin profit margins? (This seems highly improbably to me... just considering what alcohol goes for at the bars of most places, wow talk about huge markup there...).

My only experience working in food service was at McDonalds at age 15. It was awful, but they did give everyone a free meal anytime they worked a shift. I have to say that after we had been there a while we would tend to get rather creative with what the free meal would be too.... I seem to remember a lot of experiments about what did and did not work well in the deep fryer (for anyone who is curious trying to imitate mexican fried ice cream with McDonalds soft serve and a deep fat fryer results in.... well, a really messy deep fat fryer, numerous burns, and a less than ecstatic management staff).

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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Do most restaurants work on margins where they would be careful to save $100.00 per day if they can--yes!

The other issue is more the good practice of finding ways to use the food that you have that cannot be served to guests, such as the chicken legs that seem to proliferate no matter how creative one is with menu writing, and the chains that have been trimmed off of the tenderloins, and the special that you thought would sell well but it didn't, and the case of cauliflower that is going to go bad if you don't do something with it quickly etc.

Fred Bramhall

A professor is one who talk's in someone else's sleep

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Do most restaurants work on margins where they would be careful to save $100.00 per day if they can--yes!

It's all in the math. $100 a day is $30,000 a year. $20 a day ($1 per employee in the example) is $6,000 a year. $24,000 more of pure profit.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

Twitter

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One pizza place I worked in did not do "staff meals" per se, but we were allowed to help ourselves from the salad bar (within reason), and any pies that were made wrong (like putting olives on a "no olives" pie) was sliced and put in the break room. Cokes were free. The draft was for after hours. He didn't sell a lot of beer, so we did our best to make sure they didn't waste a keg once it was tapped.

We rarely went without. It is incredibly easy to screw up a pizza. And the crusts were pre-cut and docked, so at the end of the night, the crusts that were about to be thrown out became fair game. You wanna know where cinnamon/sugar sprinkled pizza came from? I was making it 20 years ago...

This owner was extraordinarily cool, though. As long as you didn't abuse it, it was there. No one who worked for him went hungry, even on their days off.

I worked at another place that had free staff meals, but we had to prepare our own. And not get in the way. And not use the expensive stuff. But we had our fair shot at everything else. The chef would look over our shoulders as we were doing it, offering suggestions, and observing. Occasionally, he would sneak a taste. Several staff made meals made it onto the menu. Or at least were sold as a special.

Edited by FistFullaRoux (log)
Screw it. It's a Butterball.
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What's the worst staff meal you've seen?

I worked at a place in the Catskills in the mid-Eighties: Rudy's Big Indian. It wasn't the worst staff meal by any stretch, but it was the worst for me when they served Mahi Mahi to us.

Within twenty minutes, my eyes were sticking out on red stalks, my pulse went to about 160 a minute, and I broke out in hives. Apparently the only thing in the world I am allergic to is Mahi Mahi.

It was baaaaaaaaaaaaad. (Antihistamines saved the day, and my life.)

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In the absence of a formal staff meal, the usual equation in my experience has always been --

Beer to cooks = food to you

If someone writes a book about restaurants and nobody reads it, will it produce a 10 page thread?

Joe W

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