'If staff food is shit and not thought about or taken care of (i.e. produce overcooked or not cared for) I will punish you. I mean it. We are here for 17 hours a day sometimes and to have the energy to do your job properly, we need to eat properly. Have some pride in what you do. Staff Food is as important as any other job’.
– Lee Westcott; Executive Chef, Town Hall Hotel
It’s not often you hear restaurant employees raving about the food that arrives on the pass pre-shift, but at The Lockhart, 10 Greek Street and Typing Room you will find just that. These are restaurants that have realised the importance of delivering the same level of respect to their team as their guests, by providing a well-prepared meal before service. ‘It’s nice to have a point in the day when everyone sits down and has a meal together because that’s what we’re working on all day, every day for everyone else, so it's nice to participate ourselves, ‘ says Molly McDonald who is the Marketing & PR Manager over at The Lockhart behind Marble Arch. She and her husband Brad have an abundance of experience working in restaurants where the importance of staff food was taught to them and they have clearly ‘fed’ their team this same knowledge so that when they move on from The Lockhart they continue to implement the message that good staff food is important. Jared Dowling is a CDP there and says, ‘Every place I have worked in has had staff food, but this is probably the best place. It’s about nourishing and acknowledging the staff. We spend all day cooking, we might as well get to enjoy it.' Brad firmly believes that ‘staff food is as important as cooking with seasonal ingredients’. But it’s so much more than just a carefully prepared pimento cheeseburger, or home-cooked lasagne - it’s down time.
It is a widely known truth that hospitality folk spend 90% of their time on their feet, running from the plancha to the pass, the waiter station to the table, a marathon obstacle course and each go around has a different set of surprises. The 30 minutes they are guaranteed time to sit down and shoot the shit with their fellow comrades not only nourishes their bodies, but it nourishes the soul. It's about the culture of a restaurant - it's imperative. Culture is what creates consistency amongst a team and respect for each other whether on the floor or in the kitchen. As management or owners you are in charge of creating a balance, educating your team and making work a place they want to come to as much as your guests do. If you wouldn't serve your guests family meal, then why are you serving it to your team?
What do they talk about? It would seem there is a chunk spent discussing the latest openings around town or where everyone has been to eat recently, but it’s mostly banter. Todd Higgins, who heads up the kitchen at Luke Wilson and Cameron Emirali’s 10 Greek Street in Soho, says, 'The front of house usually make noises to tell us how good the food is and say things like "oh my god this is so good! Who made this?" Or they give us loads of compliments so our egos get big (laughing).’ Two of the more vocal characters on the line at Typing Room, Rachide Balde and Andrew Sleath, throw insults down the table, which makes the heavy book of reservations seem less daunting until they get into position for a Thursday night service. Meanwhile at The Lockhart the team live vicariously through their Casanova of a bartender, regaling them with stories of broken hearts across London. There is of course the placing of bets on how busy they are going to be and you get a lot of 'you want to clean the freezer?', 'I wonder how much shit we are going to get into tonight', 'I’m so hungover', 'when do you have time to have sex?' and a classic 'I think we are about to get fucking busy' but it’s all playful and fun, like a family sitting around a table taking the piss out of each other.
So who makes family meal? Typing Room operates on a schedule that depends on which station you are working in, so if it’s a Wednesday the larder station is in charge but if it’s Friday it’s down to fish. At The Lockhart it’s a team effort with each station taking ownership of one element of the meal. Over at 10 Greek Street it’s ‘usually pastry because they don’t have as much prep to do as the other stations, but we all pitch in,' says Todd. ‘We never want to waste things, so we’ll use the cuttlefish which was a garnish from a dish and the curry was made up of the trimmings from our lamb dish and the duck confit terrine. Saturday night at the end of service we put all the food out on the pass because we are closed on Sundays. We are all usually pretty tired, it's a nice treat.' The front of house are in charge of setting and clearing the table and it’s customary to offer a thank you to the kitchen for taking the time to prepare such a lovely start to work.
But what is the ‘best part’ of staff food? It’s a fairly easy question to answer: sitting down and eating with a knife and fork. The simple pleasures a restaurant guest enjoys is the one thing staff look forward to most.
- Photography of 10 Greek Street by Daniel Willis of The Clove Club
- Photography of The Lockhart by Kate Beard, freelance photographer and writer