Exploring The Ritual Of The Family Meal

May 30, 2024

Consumer Trends

Since 2009, we have been committed to being a cornerstone of hospitality, catering, and event services in Los Angeles and beyond. Obtaining this legacy isn’t earned solely by the culinary genius that ends up on the plate, but by our staff’s collective efforts to make a memorable experience for guests from start to finish. Our staff’s resumes boast award-winning European restaurants to cult favorite hotspots across North America. This team collectively brings more than 1 million hours of industry experience to the table, providing a solid foundation to execute events at any scale. Our crew is the lifeblood of our organization and it would be impossible to capture our culinary ingenuity without their support and expertise. This is why we ensure at every event our staff gathers for the ritual of a family meal to express gratitude, recharge, flex culinary skills, and build community.

As long as eateries have existed, there has been a need for a designated gathering time for staff. It wasn’t until 1999, when Chef Thomas Keller dedicated a portion of his food bible The French Laundry Cookbook to the concept, that it became a part of the public’s lexicon. According to Toast, “Family meals are a tradition in the restaurant industry, where the entire staff gathers together to share a meal before their shift starts. It can help boost morale and drive down employee turnover rates - as well as ensure that everyone is properly nourished and ready to provide the best service possible.” At family meals, the staff are not eating from the same menu as guests. Instead, leadership or a sous chef cooks something special, soul-satisfying, and energy-replenishing dishes designed for everyone to enjoy before the event chaos begins. 

To give the ritual of family meals a bit more historical context, in the 19th century before the existence of culinary schools, if one wanted to break into the industry, they would find a “stagiaire,” the French word for an unpaid apprenticeship under a chef. Terms of apprenticeship would often include the chef's sole responsibility for the stagiaire’s board, meals, clothing, and well-being. Chefs in this era understood that the duty of being a kitchen leader meant providing practical skill development and displaying care for those under their guidance. 

Family Meal as Seen in The Bear

More recently, Hulu x FX’s critically acclaimed restaurant comedy-drama The Bear (whose highly anticipated season three returns June 27) often showcases the family meal as a pivotal moment of camaraderie shared between work families. A spoiler-free recap: an aspiring chef in mourning takes over his recently deceased brother’s failing sandwich shop. A motley crew of personalities, the group works together to breathe new life into the establishment, often creating menu additions based on previous family meals. Since the show's debut, there has been a newfound reverence for the family meal, inspiring eateries to take a more diligent approach to caring for their staff. At Schaffer’s family meal, we like to get creative with what ingredients we use to create genius-crafted menus that excite the taste buds and sustain energy throughout a shift or an event. 

Below are a few things we keep in mind when coming up with family meals

  • Provide Communal Nourishment: Most Schaffer family meals are held in our common area, allowing everyone to take a break, connect, and preserve their capacity to create magic for guests. The 24/7 demands of our culture create bad habits such as snacking to replace meals, taking lunch at our desks, or eating breakfast during our morning commute. We rarely share a meal with others. Research conducted by The Big Lunch, a national effort in the UK that encourages eating together, and the University of Oxford found that communal dining increases well-being, as noted in “Breaking Bread: The Functions of Social Eating.” The research evaluated the association between eating together and happiness, community connection, and life satisfaction. Responses from the survey showed a strong connection between social eating and social bonding, to the point that “communally eating may have evolved as a mechanism for humans to do just that.” 
  • Construct a Cornucopia of Creative Choices with Energy-Dense Ingredients: Despite its versatility and cost-effectiveness, a crew can’t live on pasta and carbs alone at the risk of crashing in the middle of a shift. If planned intentionally a family meal should keep staff energized for long periods. Incorporating energy-dense ingredients helps balance blood sugar levels with a low glycemic index of carbohydrates, often including protein and small amounts of healthy fats. We eat a lot of salads, tacos, curries, and BBQs to keep everyone energized to perform excellent culinary services. The possibilities to cook nutritious, energy-dense meals that don’t compromise on the quality of taste are endless. 
  • A Stroke of Culinary Genius: The practice of family meals provides our chefs the opportunity to flex their culinary skills while taking pride in nourishing their team members. Many of our family meals are inspired by the region from which the sous chef preparing the meal hails. Recently, we had a spectacular lunch of fresh pasta made by our pastry Chef Lydia. Our sous chefs roasted salmon with thyme and lemon accompanied by beautiful heirloom carrots served with a crunchy romaine salad for a perfect family meal that satisfied 30 different palates. The unforgettable meal not only kept us energized throughout the day but also brought the team closer to one another, making our bond to create culinary genius that much stronger. 

The culinary industry is built around a sense of community. This goes beyond just a transaction between the chef and the customer. There is a delicate ecosystem of cooks, dishwashers, chefs, servers, and managers who come together to do their best work. This work can only be achieved if leaders remember that staff are people, not machines. Being steadfast in the commitment to their well-being through traditions such as family meals creates happier employees, which leads to happier customers.