There’s a reason many restaurants call the traditional pre-service staff meal a family meal. Not only is it frequently the only time when back of the house and front of the house share some informal time together, but it plants the seeds from which a unique restaurant culture grows.
Just as the family dinner table is often the focal point for an evolving family unit, so can it be for restaurant personnel as well. The meal can even offer the opportunity to impact the restaurant menu.
Generally, though, the before-service seating is a way to utilize leftovers and minimize waste, which helps to maintain a fragile bottom line. But for many restaurants the staff/family meal is an integral part of maintaining a high-functioning operation with dedicated employees.
Made with love
Arlin Smith is general manage of Big Tree’s three Portland, Maine restaurants: Hugo’s, Eventide Oyster Co. and The Honey Paw. “You have to retain employees these days. It is difficult to find good help,” he says. “Sometimes, you have to spend a little more time and money to make the job appealing and a quality place to work.”
Smith, a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, New York, founded Big Tree in 2015 with partners Andrew Taylor and Mike Wiley, both chefs. “When I was going to school, I wanted to be a chef, because I really loved kitchens,” Smith says. He supported himself during school by working as a server, however, and realized that his back-of-the-house. “I also discovered that I loved it. So, I continued on to get my manage’s degree.”
While Hugo’s, Eventide Oyster Co. and They Honey Paw have separate storefronts and entrances, they share a single kitchen. Each restaurant has its own line, and there is a larger prep area with a walk-in cooler. All three restaurants share the staff meal, which is served at 3:30 p.m. every day and prepared by multiple people.
“From the beginning, we didn’t want our staff meal to be an afterthought,” says Smith. “When I was working other restaurants, there were days when I would say, “Why did I wait around for this?” The meal was just such a disappointment. It totally defeated the purpose of having a family meal.”
At the three Big Tree establishments, there is always a well balanced family meal consisting of a salad, a protein and a starch. If there is meat in one of the dishes, a meatless dish is served, as well. Meals are planned and coordinated by prep manages, who also often prepare them.