Family meal isn’t dead; long live family meal!

By Oset Babür
June 23, 2020
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Credit: Jacek Kadaj / Getty Images

The restaurant business has never been more challenging. For our F&W Pro Guide to Reopening Restaurants, we've been collecting wisdom and best practices from leaders in the hospitality industry to help you navigate this unprecedented time.

As restaurants across the country eagerly welcome guests back into their patios, backyards, and dining rooms after months of COVID-19 related closures, it’s clear that chefs are taking hygiene precautions seriously. While gloves, masks, and temperature checks are absolutely critical for safely reopening dining rooms, we asked hospitality pros to share some of the measures they’ve taken to care for their staff’s emotional and mental health. 

Teddy bears, party of four

Since reopening Honey Salt in Las Vegas, chef Elizabeth Blau has kept team morale up by filling empty seats with teddy bears to help maintain social distancing—a method that has kept spirits high and smiles aplenty—while also offering employees increased flexibility with sick and leave policies.

Dance parties abound

While the restaurant was closed, chef Kelly Fields of Willa Jean changed the entire point-of-service system. Previously in the kitchen, they worked on verbal tickets. Now the tickets are distributed through the POS system. Since the team doesn’t necessarily need to reply to verbal orders, they have been able to play music in the kitchen during their reopening, leading to many dance parties. 

Family meal for all

Executive Chef Sujan Sarkar of ROOH San Francisco and ROOH Palo Alto says his team is also still doing family meals, just slightly differently than before. One of the chefs is responsible for cooking the meal and dividing it into portions for individual staff members. Instead of sitting together, they sit at least six feet apart while eating. Staffers who are not working on any given night can also come in and pick up food for themselves. 

Empowering managers

At Easy Bistro & Bar and Main Street Meets in Chattanooga, Tennessee, chef Erik Niel says: “The best thing I’ve come up with is to empower my employees to take care of themselves, even if it runs contrary to our basic principles of hospitality. We’ve had a few instances of people coming into the restaurant (customers, an electrician, etc.) that are obviously sick—coughing, sputtering, and struggling through being there. I’ve talked with and empowered our managers to take notice and ask that these guests leave quickly. It’s so counter to how we have operated in the past, but our team gets it. They are happy to have the ability to protect themselves, and the team, by asking sick people to please leave.”

Talking about what really matters

In Denver, the Frasca Hospitality Group conducted a staff survey about diversity & inclusion efforts. As a result, FHG is in the process of creating an Employee Resource Council that will allow for a space for knowledgeable and passionate individuals to have a say in decision making, and the ability to help create a better employee environment. This is about opening up decisions (donation, community outreach, volunteer activities etc.) to a larger group of people and being able to leverage the brand toward movements and causes that are important to their employees.

As far as staff wellness before and after quarantine, FHG has encouraged team members at different times throughout the closures in #toofit2quit activities, including hosting Zoom Yoga classes, socially distanced runs in the park, push up challenges, and more.  Lastly, Pizzeria Locale Boulder is offering half pizzas and salads for all team members at the end of their shift.

Supporting small businesses 

The team at Blackberry Farm & Mountain in Walland, Tennessee commissioned a local East Tennessee suit maker to make masks for all staff, which were provided free to employees.