What Do Cooks And Wait Staff Eat?

How are the hard-working folks who can make or break a restaurant meal cared for at the end (or beginning) of a long shift? Do they send out for pizza?

Used to be, in the family-run restaurants of yore, the staff would sit down to a communal meal together each day, conversing and commiserating while sampling an array of specials. No really--it used to happen, and in some places it still does.

Often times, though, shift meals for a harried staff are an equally harried affair...and in some cases they're downright shameful. "It was always a battle," recalls one former fine dining server with an impressive Dallas resume. (He chose to remain anonymous for reasons that will soon come to light.) He describes face-offs between owners and chefs when it came time to feed the staff, often resulting in inedible or downright bizarre concoctions.

The best staff meals this fellow remembers were at large hotels, and the worst? "Anything to do with Patrick Colombo!"

See now why he wanted to remain anonymous?

Of course, this is just one server's opinion. But he describes unholy dishes comprised of chicken necks and odds and ends, swimming in pools of butter when he worked for the Dallas restaurateur behind such favorites as Sfuzzi and Ferré. Noting that, in his experience, the places who treat their staff well are usually the most successful, he theorizes that this lack of care for employees might be one of the main reasons Dallas restaurants are experiencing a shortage of great servers.

Makes sense to us.

Of course, a restaurant is under no obligation to provide a feast for their staff, but it's a longstanding custom in the industry. Long hours, low wages and a job that by nature precludes lunch and dinner breaks make the staff meal a welcome perk.

In this chain-dominated marketplace, many workers just clock out and order off the menu (and pay for it too), but some restaurants still do things the old fashioned way. Chad Houser of Parigi says that staff meals at the 25-year-old Oak Lawn Avenue bistro are always a priority, and they occur after each and every shift. Dishes can range from simple pasta to fish tacos or shepherd's pie, depending on how creative the cook is feeling that day.

"It's not an afterthought," he emphasizes, noting that feeding the staff is important and the ingredients he uses are always fresh.

Susie Buck of Jack's Backyard remembers top notch staff meals from her days at the Crescent Club--and that tradition continues at Jack's. "The kitchen staff usually whips up some personal creation," she explains. "Leo, one of our cooks, is always inventing something great."

As is so often the case, the guys and girls in the back of the house who do so much of the heavy lifting are experts at making something worthwhile out of what's on hand. The disgruntled Colombo alum put it best when he said, "If you value your restaurant, value your staff." Our own experience from our restaurant days runs the gamut from family-style feasts to handfuls of tortilla chips washed down with warm soda.

Actually, the latter sounds a lot like our lunch yesterday...wonder if Jack's is hiring?

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