Eating dinner as a family has been widely publicized, and scientifically proven, to have positive effects on children. In addition to raising self-esteem and reducing instances of substance abuse, eating together can also improve mental health and bond families together. Sharing a meal as a staff can have similar positive effects. Besides being a smart way to use leftovers, “family meal”, as it’s known in restaurants, improves work ethic, helps staff connect and can be a time for staff development.
The first, and maybe most obvious, benefit of restaurant family meal is that when it’s good, it keeps the staff happy. Having a full belly before a shift boosts energy and stamina, and feeding your staff a hearty meal is an implicit offering of thanks and gratitude and can increase team motivation. Meanwhile, as servers and cooks are fueling up, they’re also socializing and communicating with each other. Over the course of a busy day, staff sometimes only have brief, abbreviated interactions. Having the opportunity to sit with one another over food creates a stronger sense of community, helping the staff work better as a team.
There are a few ways to make family meal even better. Restaurants that offer it need to build it into the schedule. Plan family meal for a time when business is slow (probably the lull after lunch and before dinner); with considered planning, the majority of your staff can attend, and the kitchen can prepare accordingly. Secondly, while leftovers often make the most logical family meal ingredients, you can instead give your cooks some room to be creative. Let them try new recipes, or even order their own ingredients to make the meal special. Some of the best family meals are an expression of the cook’s personal cooking style or culture. And finally, make the meal productive. While family meal is a time for staff to relax and enjoy themselves, it’s also a wonderful time to share important information. Talk about the night’s reservations, have an educational wine tasting or go in depth about a dish on the menu.
Family meal can be legendary. At the Spanish restaurant where I worked in New York City, the one that went down in history was coq au vin. It can also be comforting; I still fondly remember eating chocolate chip pancakes after each shift of my first job as a server at a restaurant on the Jersey shore, laughing and chatting with my co-workers. Christina Tosi of Milk Bar has an entire chapter of her cookbook Milk Bar Life dedicated to her staff’s most beloved family meals. Make family meal count, and your staff will never skip it.