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Staff Meal - What is the norm?

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 
I work at a fine dining restaurant full-time and staff meal is only served occasionally, about 3-4 nights out of 7. Otherwise the staff does not take breaks during their shift and don’t necessarily know which nights they will be fed. How common is this?
I am willing to give up my break time as long as I am fed, but I have to admit after working an 8 hour shift on my feet I am hungry and don’t like to eat a huge meal when I get home after midnight.
Is staff meal considered a bonus that employees should be thankful for when they get it or is it fairly standard at most restaurants? Is it reasonable to expect it every night in exchange for not taking a break?
I would like to know what the norm is out there.
post #2 of 19
At one place I worked staff meal was the norm. Every single night I ate a very good sized staff meal, and got a beer or two a night as well. The most recent place I worked was very cheap, didn't like to give out staff meals or breaks. I'd say staff meals are the norm more than the exception though. I didn't enter this industry to go hungry...
post #3 of 19
For myself, the restaurants I've worked in have either been "eat what you want off of the kids menu" or "you can have one meal from the regular menu"
Unfortunately, I have yet to have the pleasure of working in fine dining, though I pray that will change when I move to Ontario in mid-late August.
post #4 of 19
Some places I've worked at had a policy where you had you buy your food (at a discount) and somehow find time to eat it. Typically we would just graze on prepped stuff or make little sandwiches.

Others just had a deal where you could make yourself some food if you wanted. It was expected you would not cook off a $30 filet every night.

I don't think I've ever worked at a place big enough to do a formal staff meal... although if I had more time I would like to throw together some walk-in junk and let employees do it up buffet style whenever they get a spare chance. Sadly, I feel that unless it was firmly regulated the vastly overpaid servers would gorge themselves all night and the kitchen would get scraps.
post #5 of 19
I have worked in all situations, from not being allowed to eat anything to serving "family meal" every night, and everything inbetween. I do like the idea of family meal, though it can get costly for a smaller operator, especially if you are not paying attention to what is being served. I really like the idea of family meal. It makes you take a quick break, and share some time with your fellow employees. I also hate it sometimes. I takes time away from someone (chef, cook, whoever) and on busy nights you can use that time to prep up. I also get really tired of the waitstaff (sorry guys). But it seems that the cooks are always thankful for a free meal, but it used to drive me nuts listening to servers complain: "Oh, I don't like blue cheese." "Didn't we serve this the other night?" "Im a vegetarian (today)." "Gee this doesn't look like leftover stew!" Then they expect you to cater to their whims and get pissy when you tell to eat what's served or buy their own. Overall though, I think the pros outweigh the cons. It's a great little perk for your employees and if you watch what you serve it doesn't have to be that costly. But I would say that only about 1/2 the places I worked at served family meal. The others were either pay for what you eat, or allowed the cooks eat on the run providing the privilege wasn't abused.
post #6 of 19
I agree with Pete.In my experience the back of the house is much more appreciative than the wait staff when recieving a staff meal or drink. Probably has to do with character as cooks generaly work there butts off in sometimes less than comfy atmospheres with there hourly wage and perhaps some food and drink being the light at the end of the tunnel while the wait staff are smoozing the customers in an attempt to increase gratuities towards there own benefit.Oh yeah,they also carry the food out and take the order.How many times have you cooks seen a wait staff person counting there tips off on the side during a shift? And complain about a staff meal?
Way to many.Apologies to any front of the house people,not all of you are this way but there are just about enough to have an open season dont ya think. Man ,Ive been cookin way to long................... Doug
The two most common things in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity !
The two most common things in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity !
post #7 of 19
Wow, I always thought staff meals were the norm elsewhere the world over.

In the two places that I've worked before, staff meals were provided.

Currently at the place I'm working, we get two staff meals a day, for the BOH and FOH.
Before the lunch and dinner service.
It's typically rice, a chicken dish, and a vegetable dish.
Some days, when there's more time, the dish gets fancier, ie: rice cooked with coconut milk/pandan leaves/lemon grass, for a local dish called "Nasi Lemak", leftover beef cuts turned into a curry, a soup, etc etc.

I agree with Pete and chefboy too. Even with a free meal provided everyday, some of the FOH take it for granted, and complain verbally about the food, saying its this and that, and what not.
Truth is, in those days, when it's really busy, the staff meal is still prepared for our priviledge, and they can't even be appreciative for a free meal. :eek:
Around The World In 40 Winks
Around The World In 40 Winks
post #8 of 19
My first job out of culinary school was cooking in the employee cafeteria for 900 other people in a huge hotel. Not only did we serve the hotel's employees we also served the local Police and Fire Departments, and the staffs of all the retail stores on the block. The only things we served were leftover banquet food and frozen casserole like dishes we could pop out into hotel pans and heat up. Now at my current position with a much smaller staff I buy the same frozen entrees from Stouffer's for about $6 bucks each put one in the oven each night about an hour before we shut down and about 10 of us sit down to dinner before we go home. After cooking fine dinning for 200+ nothing beats Salsbury Steak and Mac n cheese. I think spending the $42 a week for a happy staff is money well spent.
post #9 of 19
You should read what Thomas Keller wrote about the importance of a staff meal. i completely believe that it is an important part of the work day. it brings everyone together, and promotes a sense of family, considering you see you co-workers more than your see your regular family!!
post #10 of 19
its my understanding that current labor laws suggest that for every 4 hrs work the employee is entitled to a 15 min break and for every 6 hrs work the employee is entitled to a 1/2 hour meal break

now i have been in this business for 20 years and at every place kitchen staff always ate off the menu with the exemptions of steak and lobster

i agree with most of what been said about bringing the staff together lets face it kitchen workers are one of the lowest paid jobs out there and if we can keep staff happy its worth the few bucks extra a day
post #11 of 19
Thread Starter 
Thank you all for the feedback. It does make me feel a little bit better that I am not completely out of line by mentioning this at work.
I have not once taken a break in all the time that I have worked at the restaurant and I have never ordered food off from the menu.
Some of the time a big pot of something is cooked for the staff to eat, but many nights I work an 8 + hour shift without a break or a meal. I work in the pastry department, so end up scrounging what I can there. Basically that means I end up feeling sick from eating sweets instead of something more substantial.
I haven't said much until now because I usually prefer to just keep my head down. But a person has got to eat...
..or at least be given a break where I can provide for my own meal.
post #12 of 19
Staff meals aren't the norm unless it's a Country Club or a hotel, at least not from what I've seen. In most restaurants you're expected to pay for your meal at a discount. (imagine, if you get half off it makes your food cost for that product 66 percent)

I like the idea though, it builds morale but it also takes time. A lot of times it's "not in the budget."

If I ever own a restaurant there will be a staff meal. Everyday.
post #13 of 19
The place I was briefly before the current job (and I do mean JOB), there wasn't anything like family meal, I worked 6 days a week, and was expected to NOT take a break at anytime. I had a full schedule form the time I got in in the early morning, until I left in the late afternoon. There was barely time to grab something to drink.

The place I'm at now, almost everyday has family meal prepared by someone, but occasionally I would get that task put onto what I already do day in and day out. Not to mention the job of the person that would bormally make family meal. (He didn't have time to do his own prep, but he had time to screw around after family meal was prepared, until we opened, go figure) That aside, Chicken, Burgers, leftovers from the banquet side, etc. are usually served. I'd feel like Forest Gump, explaining how many ways Chicken is served at this place, but let's face it, it's cheap.

I agree that a lot of the FOH is very ungrateful where I am at, when it comes to family meal. They seemingly come only to eat, and working is secondary. From the time they walk into the kitchen, they ask, what's for food today? I always want to say, nothing until you do some work, like we've been doing for hours, before you even got up from bed. They constantly complain that they are being served something cheap, yet, they take home cash every night. They work less hours than the kitchen staff does, and they have time to go out after work, if they want to. Most of our kitchen staff works, goes home for a bit of sleep, then goes back to work the next day. Our FOH is spoiled enough, that someone else picks up their meals form the sheet and takes them to the table for them. Most of the time, the wait staff is ungreatful to them as well.

I could go on and on, but this is about "family" meal, not about FOH. That's for another time.
Life without broccoli isn't really life, is it?
Life without broccoli isn't really life, is it?
post #14 of 19

Somethin' about meals

Staff meals are not uncommon at all. It all depends on the type of establishment that serves them.

One thing I saw left out on this thread were resorts. Resorts have large numbers of employees who take advantage of their employee meal as part of their employment package. Same thing for country clubs.

As to restaurants, most smaller ones would never consider this option. Larger ones sometimes do. It all depends on the character and makeup of the place you're at.

One further thing to point out, is that employee meals are often leftover foods, with little brag about. It's one way of getting rid of leftovers for larger operations.

Just my two-cents,

post #15 of 19

Muzzle not.....

Employee meals are actually required by law. Check your local listing. Not to mention union rules. We just finished working a film shoot, and work rules require hot food every six hours. Bartenders in California.....same deal.

I have worked a lot of places…..going on 40 years in the biz. In my world, managers that stiff the employees a meal in the food business are lower than slime. The only quote I know from the bible is: “Muzzle not the ox that treadeth the corn.” (In the old days, the farmers brought their grain over to the millers; he had a big millstone that was turned by an ox. It was a poor farmer indeed who put a muzzle on his ox so he could not eat when he worked.

In OldSchool French houses the employee meal is an important management tool. We would work our asses off, throw pans, scream insults, vow eternal jihad, etc during service. Then everyone would sit down for a decent (well, these were French people….so whatever did not sell) meal, multi glasses of wine, and a rehash of the night. Venting...burying of hatchets..."closure." In truly advanced houses, the tips are pooled, and the tip breakdown takes place at the employee table. EVERYONE gets to see. Strong incentive to improve your work, skills, standing, etc.

In my American restaurants, the cooks were on their own. Eat or die, suckah. The girls….we always let order. I always kept a close watch on WHAT they ordered. They would combine sauces, ingredients, preparations that gave me clues to new dishes. When they came up with a winner, I would name it after the inventor, run it on the menu, and give her a bonus.

In my shop now we do mostly catering. The rule is eat and drink whenever you can….out of sight of the guests. Drink must not change your personality, unless of course your personality NEEDS changing. Anyone can eat anything, any time. Leftovers are fair game, but bring your own container…..and if you forget once to take your doggy bag, and we find it a week later in an ice chest….you are banned for life.

One night a week we do a regular restaurant meal at our kitchen for locals. After service, the employees eat at one table, and can order anything they can convince the exhausted cooks to fire up. I budget three bottles of Gruet champagne for the staff morale for the shift. Pints of Newcastle is a non-budget item.

This winter, we worked at the Highlands Inn for the Masters of Food and Wine. They have a full-time EDR (employee dining room). I am sure it is to some industry standard…somewhere. Sneeze shields on the salad bar, electric steam table, etc. It reminded me of camp in upstate New York. Mystery meat, sulfite soaked lettuces, burner-fried coffee, generic cola machine. Something about slicing 40 pounds of truffles for Andoni Aduriz, cranking 200 servings of hazlenut soya foam for the tatooed genius from wd-50, and peeling 200 pounds of sweetbreads for the plicks at Cinq in Paris……and going downstairs on break to some Rykoff “product” simmering at a perfect 140 degrees…. that puts you off your feed. The ice-cold milk machine was a plus......

You are what you eat after all.
post #16 of 19
Where I work we are allowed a salad for every shift we work, and kitchen staff get fifty percent off menu prices if they want to order something of greater substance. Also the managers only give you "fake angry your-in-trouble-eyes" if they see you chewing on something on the line... but they know better than to make the cook spit it out. So in the end where I work you end up eating enough to say you had a meal. :chef:

Unless I was getting ungodly experience (or pay) I would never take a job at a restaurant that refused to feed its employees.
Chris Hinds
Chef, Blue Door Cafe'
Culinary School Prospective
Chris Hinds
Chef, Blue Door Cafe'
Culinary School Prospective
post #17 of 19
Staff meals pay back hugely. I have a dishwasher that can roll fresh springrolls tighter and prettier than any I've seen. After a major event I'll bring in a pork shoulder and make carnitas and a pot of beans with epazote...the Mexicans go bonkers, apparently the French guys that share staff with me only give them very old scraps. Separate 6 packs raise my popularity rate several points.....amazing what a few bucks will return.

Waitstaff on a catering job get to eat whatever they want during the lulls....out of site. I send food home with them often.....they take care of me and I take care of them. Absolutely a two way street.
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #18 of 19
I've seen it all! One Canadian franchise I worked for had a no-grazing policy, and the chef policed it very well. If you were caught shoving a frenchfry into your mouth, you were sent a bill for a full order of fries at menu price. How, then, am I to do quality control?? These were the same folks that rationed gloves like it was wartime.

My current employer has a fairly good policy. Simply put, if you work 6+ hours, BOH is entitled to a free meal from the following list: BLT, burger, kid's pasta, or salad. 8+ hours and you can get an entree (as long as you're not abusing it with 10 oz steaks every night). FOH gets 50% off. But they abuse it to the maxxx! One waitress in particular will order an "add chicken breast" then expect us to smother it and cheese it and accompany it with veg and starch (and not the leftovers, she says... they're yukky)

That, as far as I'm concerned, is B.S. And they'll give us such a hurt look if we don't comply! Like it's somehow our fault that they're too cheap to actually order what they're expecting us to cook for them. (guess they have to fund their Cancun vacations somehow!!!.... never been to Cancun myself)

One of my biggest staff-meal-pet-peeves is the waitresses that will always wait until we're starting to tear down the lines before they actually order their overly-complicated staff meals. I'll tell them the same thing every day. Figure out what you want and ring it in. Let me know it's your staff meal, and I'll hold it till the end of the night. Don't give me the impression that I'm done cooking, then suddenly spring 8 FOH meals on me after I've turned off the grill.

Phew! Venting's exhausting!
post #19 of 19
At my restaurant we basically let the staff eat whatever they want when on duty as long as the break doesn't interfere with customer service. When off duty, they and their family can eat at 50%. We don't have specific rules but ask them not to take extreme advantage of the policy and most don't. :talk:

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