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Restaurant Staff Meals

Just curious about the staff meals restaurants provide? Do they provide meals of the same caliber of the meals the restaurant sells or is it something else? Does the restaurant use this meal as a way of introducing new flavors and dishes to the staff so that they can "sell" the dish to the restaurant patrons?

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  1. Depends on the place. Usually, staff gets scraps, leftovers, whatever is cheap or needs to be gotten rid of. At one French place, we always got the trimmings from the turned potatoes, usually deep fried. At another place, we'd get the leftover mashed potatoes from the night before (which were super rich with butter that would separate upon reheating and turn into a soupy potato butter slick - much better the first day), whatever meat trimmings there were, and a salad. In Oakland, the mexican guys would make tacos for the kitchen and usually pasta and salad for everyone else, with hot wings on Fridays. Still another restaurant didn't do staff meal, the cooks just all made themselves burritos (we kept tortillas and pepper jack specifically for staff) or munch on the housemade bread, and the waitstaff could order off the menu for half price. The servers there were very knowledgable about the food, so I think that method paid off.

    Staff meal can be good or not, depends on who is making it, how much time they have, what they have to work with. I'd say not quite up to the same caliber. It's usually the same cooks and the same ingredients, but less time and creativity is devoted to staff meal, if it's busy, staff meal becomes a hassle and an afterthought, and it shows.

    1 Reply
    1. re: babette feasts

      The 1 place that i worked that did do a staff meal usually did the same thing. We served the meals consisting of leftovers, Scooby snack(butcher cuts) meats and occasionally experimented with new flavors and dishes on the staff to gauge whether they were ready to go on the next menu.

      The kitchen staff tended to look at the staff ingredients in almost the same way as Iron Chef is themed. I looked forward to the staff meals because it was different and we could experiment, unlike the menu which was the same 20-30 dishes for 4 months at a stretch.

      We had the occasional bomb, but they were many "EUREKA" moments and meals.

    2. As Babbette says, it depends on the restaurant. If you're talking about a nicer restaurant, it's pretty rare that they will serve anything from the menu or anything of that caliber. if the house does its own butchering, there are often scraps. PLaces that do a staff meal (most independent places I think) usually order less expensive stuff--pasta, chicken, etc. to have on hand for staff. In my experience the quality ranges depending on how the restaurant feels about its staff and the cook making it. One place I worked would sometimes just not bother to make meals. On bad days there would be giant trays of mac and cheese (from sysco) or plain hot dogs from the deep fryer (quickest way to cook them). The place I worked right after that would make meatloaf one day, roast whole chickens the next.

      as for introducing and selling foods, often a restaurant will make an order of the special or a new menu item so that the staff can see it. After a description, everyone dives in for a bite or two. Not all places do this, but those who do see how valuable it is for the servers to know what the food tastes like.

      3 Replies
      1. re: nc213

        Most places I've worked didn't do staff meal. One place that opened as a new restaurant started out with the best of intentions to do staff meal, but there always ended up being little time and money to serve it, and the restaurant management didn't like employees in the restaurant eating at the tables, they said it looked bad to the customers. After awhile it was always whatever was quick and cheap and eventually it was abandoned.

        1. re: rockandroller1

          Eat at the tables? Never! Stand in the kitchen, crouch in the storage room, whatever, but staff should not be sitting at the dining tables, especially if there are guest in the restaurant (maybe OK if it's a table in the back or it's between services)

          1. re: babette feasts

            We were actually discouraged from eating on the line, but to be perfectly honest we never really listened to them anyways. Otherwise we ate in a claustrophobic locker room in the bowels of the establishment.

      2. Staff meal??

        whats that? places I worked back in the day did not have such a thing. Luckily as a cook there was always some food to be scavenged. At the Italian restaurant I cooked at we would grill off some chicken breasts for a quick sandwich on some italian bread, or if the chef wasnt looking deep fry a piece of the breaded veal, either item quickly scarfed down on your feet while working.

        The other option was buying a meal at a discount, but I asnt about to give any of my paycheck back to the "man"

        1 Reply
        1. re: swsidejim

          I certainly never got a staff meal when I worked at restaurants. We got a discount on leftovers, but since it was mostly meat-centric, that was a no-go.

          I got more free stuff working in bars than in restaurants: I always got at least a free beer at the end of the shift, and one owner insisted we all take shots at least once a night (which is where I draw the line - there's a difference between being generous and pushing alcohol on your staff).

        2. At the cafeteria we used to just get something off the line about half an hour before opening, and we'd all sit down to eat it. And there was one woman who found it necessary to make caustic comments about everyone else's food. (I used to would just get a baked potato and have it with butter, salt and pepper; and she repeatedly told me about the horrible things that all that pepper would do to my insides.)

          Now and then the cooks would have a little extra time on their hands and would do some experimenting, and we'd all share that. But that didn't happen all that often.

          1. I've been pretty lucky in all the places I worked. At a hotel where I worked for five years, we set out a hot buffet for all of the staff. This consisted of leftovers from our many banquets, so we often had prime rib and the like. Overcooked, but still. When we didn't have banquet leftovers, our largely Brazilian staffed cooked homestyle Brazilian food. Yum. And when we didn't have that, we had Stouffer's entrees.

            When I worked for the dining services of a film company, we ate whatever we wanted from what we were serving that day.

            At the catering company I work for now, staff meal is whatever is left over. Sometimes that means nothing at all. Other times, it's a feast.

            1. I've never worked at a joint that had a staff meal - imagine the luxury! Most restaurants I've worked in simply priovided a staff discount. Most places were a bit stingy but I did work at an East Coast themed bar that provided 50 % of on all food and appies, as well as staff pricing on alcoholic beverages (after-shift of course).

              1. my sis works for a large restaurant in NYC and she said they cook separate meals for their staff so they eat different (not so fancy) meals for lunch and dinner that have nothing to do with what they offer on the menu.

                1. Depends on the restaurant. Some places there is one staff meal where they cook inexpensive meals for everyone. However, one of my friends worked at a Thai restaurant got to pick between pad thai and green curry. After a few weeks, she told me she ate at home because she got so sick and tired of those two options.

                  1. i work at a restaurant that has over 300 employees,so the meals are necessarily in the school cafeteria,sysco system price range but most of the meals are decent.I've never worked in a restaurant that never gave the help an employee meal.They figured it was cheaper than people helping themselves to food the customers were getting.We actually have cooks that are dedicated to making and distributing the employee meal.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: travlnmike

                      Everywhere I've worked they had strict quality control and people were not allowed to eat anything the kitchen prepared, even "mistakes." There were always managers everywhere and if people were caught "helping themselves," they were in big trouble.

                      Instead they offer a nearly impossible to redeem employee discount. Not to be used while you're working, but only either before or after a shift (which is tough when you work open to close; the kitchen isn't open when you come in and is closed by the time you are done. Even if you only work the early shift, by the time you are off it's dinner shift and they get pissed if they have to stop what they're doing to fix something for an employee when they're in the middle of dinner service), or when you are not at work. And who wants to come in to the restaurant they see every day on their day off and then make the server wait on you? You can't sit at the bar, you can't eat in uniform, etc. I just think it's ridiculous. People think you get "free food" working at a restaurant, but other than the one place I worked that did "family meal" for a limited few months after they opened, I never got any free food.

                    2. At the Japanese restaurant where I worked, the staff ate whatever needed to be gotten rid of or was inexpensive. Anything that was cooked for that evening but not served, plus trimmings from meat or fish went into the staff meal, and the kitchen staff would take turns cooking the staff meal. Sundays were particularly good, because the place was closed on Monday, so Sunday was 'musgo' night ("everything mus' go"). Sometimes, tho, we traded dinners with a pizza place that was just around the corner.

                      1. As a server, I would get a discount off regular menu items. As a manager I got a shift meal, again off the menu. I never worked anywhere that had separate food for staff and customers.

                        1. One place I worked at was serving us what we dubbed "the walk-in special". Basically whatever the cooks would find that was not fit for the customers anymore or leftover prep from the past week or so.
                          Dump everything in a deep hotel pan, add some water, lots and lots of salt and bake the s**t out of it. Voila! Instant family meal. Never tasty, always highly suspicious, but hey, gotta eat something when you work until 2am...
                          One day, when I asked the Brazilian cook what that weird looking piece of chicken with barely any meat on it was, he answered "el culo"! (shivers...)

                          1. Just to comment on the "luxury" factor of staff meal. Sometimes it is a luxury and a nice thing restaurants do for their staff. Sometimes the restaurant takes a few dollars out of the staff's pay to cover it--say $3 a day--whether it's eaten or not. One place I worked, that provided fairly decent staff meals, would dock us pay for the 1/2 hour we sat down to eat, fold napkins, hear the specials, and have our meeting for the night, and call it a break. That might be acceptable, if we were allowed to leave, or to do anything other than sit there for the meeting while taking notes and folding napkins. On the flip side, the chefs in this restaurant would never have served us slop--they always made an effort to put something at least decent together for us.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: nc213

                              A friend was shocked when she started her job at a well-established place in town and found out, only once she got her first paycheque, that she was being deducted $10 every shift for a staff meal served only once, half an hour before dinner shift started. She had never even seen the meal because she could only arrive just in time for her shift. It definitely changed my perception of the restaurant.

                            2. At a Greek restaurant I hosted at, the first night you worked you got a free meal. I ordered the quail, but they wouldn't let me have it because it was on special, etc. Otherwise, they gave you 75% off the meal. You just couldn't order the things that were a premium item for 75% off, like jalapeƱo poppers. And all the bread, greek salad and baklava you could eat for free though.

                              At an Italian restaurant down the street, they made their staff a pasta dish every night, usually spaghetti al'amtriciana.

                              At a vegetarian restaurant I cooked at, the kitchen could make themselves any meal they wanted. Waitstaff got dinner at 50%. Most of the kitchen were carnivores, so we'd trade meals with the middle eastern restaurant around the corner occasionally. The most popular waitstaff meal was the "happy meal", 3 souffle dishes with brown rice, steamed broccoli and fried tofu.

                              1. There was a place that I worked at and it was making me gain too much weight!
                                They never used leftovers the next day and I worked salads and desserts...mmm.
                                At the end of the night, it was my duty/pleasure to create a beautiful salad for all of us in the kitchen and the the waitstaff with all the extra salad fixings...some of the best salads were just from mixing it all up and digging in.
                                The desserts were just set in the middle of the kitchen and we "had at 'em"...the line guys would plate any extras and we'd go at 'em while we wrapped up everything else. Weekend nights were dismal, since usually there would be only rice and some cupcakes left over and maybe a few pears...not much you could really do with that, so we'd just have a beer.
                                There is a sushi rest I go to for lunch, when I've stayed till closing I've had the honor of setting eyes on their staff meal...damn! Some of thier goodies lloked so good, I wanted to start ordering them but they are not on the menu. Darn!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: tatertotsrock

                                  I had that experience once in a Chinese restaurant: I saw an employee eating something that looked good, asked if I could order it, and was told no (even though I was a regular customer who worked in the same "mall").

                                  As other people have said, the staff meal is tradition in Chinese restaurants -- one place I regularly have lunch at, when I'm there at toward the end of lunch service I see them setting up at one of the big round tables and then all coming out of the kitchen to sit down and eat. The food always looks delicious!

                                2. At the mom-and-pop pizzeria where I worked, "staff meal" was whatever was leftover when the lunchtime pizza buffet closed. However, it was always worthwhile to work the Sunday morning shift, because the managers or kitchen managers would often cook for the staff with food bought out of their own pockets. We got everything from lentil soup to huevos rancheros to sushi, and they'd never let us pay for it.

                                  1. Staff meals are standard practice at all Chinese restaurants. No leftover or scraps either. Nothing fancy, but the cooks do make something for a group meal, most of the time with soup, veggies, meat, rice.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: PeterL

                                      Yeah, at my family's favorite Chinese restaurant, my mom usually asks (in Chinese)for whatever soup they've prepared for the staff. It's usually nothing fancy and never something that's on the menu, but it reminds me of the soups she used to make when I was a kid.

                                      1. re: PeterL

                                        yes the whole staff at chinese places generally sits down together either in the dr or the kitchen around 3 pm for staff meal-- mostly soup with greens & pork and/or tofu & rice, and a few other sides.

                                        otherwise it really varies. staff who work at places with buffets or banquets often get to help themselves of the leftovers & may even get to take some goodies home. at other restaurants cooks can cook whatever they have time to make for themselves, waitstaff can get 50% off or receive a basic staff meal. sometimes there is a pot of stew in the kitchen everyone can eat from. many places offer the discounted employee meal to waitstaff so they can rec better to customers, but draw the line at subsidizing very expensive eating habits (i.e. waiter joe's weekly surf & turf. . .)

                                        1. re: PeterL

                                          Definitely true. Meal times are after the lunch and dinner rushes. The cooks usually make a pretty decent meal--more home style than restaurant style (i.e. generally lighter and healthier).

                                        2. I used to work at t korean run sushi bar and the owner would make a Korean spicy seafood soup called Mae'un tang, using the portions of the fish that we could not sell - head, guts, bones.

                                          Probably one of my favorite meals (and Oaxacan cook's) in the world - kochujang - deep red soup , with tofu fish eyes peering at you. Must be served with steaming hot rice along side. Perfect meal for a drizzly, foggy fall day.

                                          1. I work for a high-end steakhouse chain, and our meals vary greatly. We call ours "family meal" and it is served about 4:45 at a large table in the corner of the dining room. (we open for service at 5) Oftentimes, it is something centering around beef such as stroganoff, fajitas, burgers or meatloaf. A large mixed salad usually rounds out things. Sometimes though, we will have sysco type things like chicken fingers, eggrolls, wings. And probably once a month, mnagement will do carry out fromPapa Johns, Jimmy Johns, or Wendys. (all close)

                                            1. It really varies from place to place. My first server job was at a BBQ place. First week you ate free (to learn the menu), after that salad bar was free, rest was 1/2 price. They actually provided a lunch break during your shift! But you could not bring your leftovers home, suspect they were worried extras would slip out the door. Worked at a Japanese steak house place, soup/salad free, staff meal was whatever the assigned cook felt like, so it varied from lasagna to cold cereal & milk. You never knew, so I would hedge my bets & eat something before I arrived. Most places I have worked it was a discount off the menu with free non-alcoholic beverages. Very seldom were overages/mistakes allowed to be consumed. They seemed to think that would encourage "mistakes".

                                              1. General rule of thumb: the better the restaurant, the worse the staff meal. Luxury ingredients are just too expensive, so you get leftovers. Fleur de Lys being the one exception I know. And they all sit down together, IIRC.

                                                At the casual restaurants, we ordered off the menu.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: chaddict

                                                  I agree. The casual Houston's type palces staff ordered off the menu. Bit then, TT can't stand Houston's so I suppose that counts as a crappy staff meal as well.


                                                  1. re: TexasToast

                                                    I work for a large hotel that offers employees a reduced-price lunch and dinner menu from our restaurant. Years ago the hotel offered free meals that were quite good (a buffet lunch with hot and cold foods) but the cost became prohibitive. Sometimes after a large banquet function there will be some leftover covers and we will get a call to come to the kitchen and plate up for free. Just the other day the offering was chocolate mousse, bacon wrapped chicken breast with a sort of sun-dried tomato stuffing, some steamed, seasoned cauliflower and broccoli as well as fresh crunchy green beans.

                                                    My friend's husband works at The Peabody (a 5 star hotel) in Orlando and from what I understand they offer their employees complimentary meals of whatever is on the menu(s). He apparently dines like a king.

                                                    1. re: TexasToast

                                                      Houston's employees can order off the menu, 1/2 off. Otherwise, every opening shift and every closing shift they are given a meal. Often times leftover prime rib or rotisserie chicken turned into something else. Or, the cooks will make something totally different. Taquitos,tacos, etc. They actually treat the employees well in that regard.

                                                  2. I read about a fine New Orleans restaurant that used to make Red Beans & Rice for the staff, then the customers found out about this and started ordering it.........

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Querencia

                                                      Most of the places I worked at would allow employees to eat from what they called the "employee menu"- the burgers/sandwiches simple ones- no ruebens or specialty sandwiches/salads and soups and only a select few appetizers. If you wanted to order anything else you would pay 1/2 price for the meal.
                                                      I did learn early on as a bartender to take very good care of the chefs and I would be rewarded at dinner time! This meant that I could send glasses of beers (for those beer battered items AHEM!) and I would be sent out the "mistaken orders"

                                                    2. From reading the rest of these posts it seems like I get a pretty good deal where I work/have worked. I get to order from the menu, choose from around 20 different options, plus a shift drink (well liquor, wine or beer) every shift.

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: sarahelan

                                                        A drink every shift??? Wow...that *is* generous. I used to get liquored up with the boss after hours, until his wife realized we were seriously cutting into the profits!

                                                        1. re: ricepad

                                                          When TT was at the bar at some of these places, there servers were always getting shift drinks (as was TT).


                                                          1. re: TexasToast

                                                            shift drinks are standard, at non-corporate places, i think. sometimes they are limited to taps only, or certain liqs.

                                                      2. I owned a fine dining rest for quite awhile, you know the place you need to have reservations for a weekend with an amazing chef and wine list ....After a week of eating the readily availavle bisque du jour and artinal bread, I would bring in chinese or down home BBQ for the staff-sometimes the fancy stuff that "tastes like Chicken" just doesn't cut it! BTW my CIA chef loved PB&J that would make for my daughters

                                                        1. I've worked in almost every kind of place you can think of, from a family-owned diner in rural NH to a well known fine-dining establishment in New Orleans' French Quarter, and I've always, always had food available- but it ranged from 'anything under $6' at the diner (darn near everything), to 'family meal' at the fancy place. That was usually an inexpensive family-style meal, like shrimp-less jambalaya, casseroles, etc. Very informal- but always fresh and honest food- no Sysco stuff. Even when I worked at a local pizza place as a teen, I always left with either a mistake pizza, a sandwich, or a small 1-topping.

                                                          1. I work in a high-end hotel, and while I appreciate the gesture of a staff meal, the disparity between the fantastic food served in our restaurant/banquets and the stuff they pass off as "food" in the cafeteria is shocking. We occasionally luck out and get boxed-lunch leftovers, usually good wrap sandwiches, or desserts left behind after a big wedding, but that's the exception rather than the rule. Most of our entrees are a mish-mash of whatever's left over -- scrambled eggs ground meat, cheese, potatoes, whatever, layered into some kind of casserole or "lasagne." Then there's the institutional stuff -- salisbury steak, breaded chicken patties, limp cold cuts, etc. I could stomach a decent portion of most of it, were it not consistently cooked bone-dry or rendered unchewable by repeated reheatings, swimming in grease and/or outright spoiled. Most days I'll gladly drop a few bucks to eat at one of the quick-service joints in the neighborhood.

                                                            1. My husband and I owned a restaurant a number of years ago. It was Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner. Our policy was anyone working that day could come in for dinner at 3. If they worked at 3, they could save back a plate and have it at the bar after their shift or take it home. The meal was taken in our office at a dressed table and was typically the lunch special for the day or something that we whipped up just for them. Nothing nasty, but nothing with too expensive ingredients. Salad and soup was always offered. We would talk about what the specials were for the evening, what business was like in the morning and the night before, reconnect, talk over gripes between and among shifts. If someone had not yet tasted something offered as a special for the evening, they said so then and when they came on for the evening they would get a tidbit. Hungry or thirsty server are bad servers. Otherwise, 1/2 off meals when they came in on their time. 1/2 off drinks and at the end of their shift they got a beer or a well drink for free.

                                                              1. When I was in grad school, the college at which I lived did a lot of wedding receptions, and I think that I worked every one in the two and half years that I lived there. It was a long day, as we had to make sure that all the glassware and silverware were polished, do the set-up, set the tables, do the service, clean up, etc., so it was a 10 to 14 hour day. We had our staff meal in the kitchen during the speeches, and we ate whatever the reception was served, and a glass or two of wine. Pretty sweet deal. Normally it would be what you'd expect, beef, chicken or lamb, but it also provided me with my first exposure to Korean food. Good times.