Staff Meal: It’s What’s for Dinner

We’re baaaack…

Welcome back servers! Another off-season behind us means another batch of tourists are on their way. It’s always exciting to come back after a month away and catch up with all of my restaurant friends and coworkers.

The chef in my restaurant likes to swap stories with the staff about their travels and culinary experiences away from Jackson, and we all get to relive a little part of vacation once more before diving into reopening, re-training and new menu food and wine tasting.

Most restaurants change their menus at the beginning of each new season, and with this infrequent but rewarding event we all get to enjoy the fruits of our (upcoming) labor. For most servers, the day we get to taste the new menu is the best-we-are-ever-fed in our own restaurants. Apart from being a guest on our nights off of course. As a server in a restaurant that serves dinner, we generally need to get to work between 3 and 4 p.m. Not quite lunchtime, not quite dinnertime, but family meal or staff meal is usually served around then. So we get used to eating at “early-bird” special time-frames because when we really want to eat is when we’ll be the busiest serving others’ dinner.

After years in the business, I’ve adjusted my internal time clock so that on workdays I eat when my 96-year-old grandmother eats. It’s a minor inconvenience, definitely not the end of the world, at least they feed us…

That brings me to my next topic: What are they feeding us? In all the restaurants I’ve worked, the staff meal has ranged from really, really delicious dinner to inedible, unservable slop.

Since I’m a career server, and I take my job seriously, I’ve always been proud to list the impressive roster of restaurants I’ve worked at. By impressive I don’t necessarily mean fine dining, Michelin-star rated. I simply mean I’ve always had the luxury of knowing I was serving really wonderful and delicious food. My work history runs the gamut, from casual to formal and lighter fare to multi-course, wine-paired tasting menu’s. Interestingly, the staff dinners provided to employees at this wide-range of establishments has never really lined up the way you would think.

In the best-case scenario (and the rarest), your chef allows you to order right off the menu when you come in at the beginning or at the end of your shift. In the worst-case scenario, you’ve been skiing all day long and you get to work hoping for a hearty dinner yet all that’s in the window is a too-heavily dressed and soggy salad and last night’s leftover soup of the day. Somewhere in the middle of my personal family meal satisfaction level is grilled chicken, fish or pasta with a healthy fresh salad and enough of a portion to fuel my body for the shift ahead.

I used to consider family meal a perk of working in the restaurant industry, but it often falls flat and fails to live up to the standards of what we serve our guests. Some of the health conscious servers I’ve worked with in Jackson can be seen carrying containers of their own home cooking to work or ordering out from someplace nearby after they’ve seen what’s on the menu. This is a good solution, however, you want to be careful that your chef doesn’t interpret that as an insult. The other problem with bringing or buying your own food is that it erases the bonus of the free meal.

Do you think it’s too much to ask that our chefs feed us well? There’s a good chance that if you’re reading this you work for one of many of Jackson Hole’s wonderful restaurants. If you work for a restaurant that serves food you’re proud of, do you think your staff meal should be a reflection of the chef and the restaurant as well? Or do you consider it a bonus that we should just be happy with what we’re given?

 


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