Family Meal: Team Building is on the Menu
Restaurant work can be grueling, requiring stamina and energy to withstand hours preparing and serving food to customers. Many restaurants believe a well-fed staff can better provide the hospitality needed for long shifts at a time. Enter the family meal, a long-honored tradition of restaurants all over the world. It gives the staff a chance to take a break from their busy days, sit together and chat over a meal prepared by one of their own. Or perhaps it gives them an opportunity for solitude before the rush of the dinner shift.
Dishes offered for family meal are usually different than the food served to customers, but often no less delicious. In most restaurants where family meal is still provided, a different chef from the line is assigned to cook each day. Ingredients may be from the prep list for the evening’s menu or perhaps leftovers that need to be utilized. While the ingredients may be surplus or less-used, the results are far from second-rate. In fact, family meal is often an opportunity for a chef to show off culinary skills and creativity and to allow the team to try out new flavor profiles that may one day appear on the menu.
These days, not all restaurants offer family meal, given financial constraints and dietary limitations of many staff members. Some establishments, however, intentionally continue with the tradition to foster a sense of family and comradery. When Burlingame Restaurant in Fernandina Beach was still in its development phase, its three owners, Eric and Deb Fanelli and Chef Chad Livingston, made a conscious decision to institute family meal. “We discussed how we wanted the staff to help out and work as a team. We wanted it to be a family,” says Eric. “So we offered the meal as a way to help enhance that feeling.”
The labor-intensive dishes on the menu features homemade pasta, from-scratch stock and vegetables in various forms, so the crew arrives early to prep for the dinner shift. By mid-afternoon the assigned chef has family meal underway, based on the bits and parts available in the kitchen. “Usually it’s something simple, quick and easy. Oftentimes it’s some of the best food we eat,” says Fanelli.
Weather permitting, the crew will congregate at Burlingame’s outdoor seating area to eat. Sitting together before a shift begins, the staff talks about the ingredients or cooking techniques used to prepare the meal, and there is usually some good-natured competition to outdo the previous night’s offering. “They will say how good it is and talk about what the chef did to prepare it,” Fanelli says. “They also have a competitive streak, and may give each other grief, or in a subtle way give compliments. Occasionally we’ll try out something that may go on the menu, like the chicken and dumpling dish that evolved out of a family meal concoction.”
Sometimes the crew just wants to use the time to connect with their outside life, or re-charge before the evening rush begins. And that’s okay too, says Fanelli, given the collaboration in the kitchen. After breaking bread together, the co-workers know they can count on their teammates, just like any close family.