November 29, 2016

Staff Meals – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Staff Meals - The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. Anna Johnston -

Is it politically correct to complain about the food when you’re living on a tropical island and having all your meals catered for you?

I’m thinking….. NOT!

It wasn’t until I found myself googling symptoms of scurvy that I started to think about all the amazing places I’ve worked at and realised (with the exception of just one place) that “the staffie” has had many names and terms of endearment; none particularly complimentary and rarely does one actually “enjoy” a staff meal.  One consumes it in the 20 or 30 minutes allocated for ones mealtime before dashing back to work.

So, lets get to the bottom of why usually creative chefs, who are capable of producing mouth watering dishes for the paying customer, turn around and put together staff meals like this in 30c+ heat and 85% humidity?

Spaghetti Bolagnaise - Staff Meals - The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. Anna Johnston -

Spaghetti bolognese

Sweet & Sour Pork - Staff Meals - The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. Anna Johnston -

Sweet & Sour Pork or…. chicken, maybe beef or turkey

Meat Pie with Mashed Potatoes - Staff Meals - The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. Anna Johnston -

Pepper Steak Pie with mashed potato and spinach and tinned peach salad

Now, don’t get me wrong folks, I’m not picking on any one establishment here, I speak from almost 20 years in the hospitality industry and from one who has eaten some seriously questionable food in my time.  Take for example Parliament House in Canberra, it was not uncommon to be served a plate of left over salad, (usually unrecognisable) as it was smothered in watery mayonnaise and dished up in the middle of a bitterly cold grey, wet and windy winter for lunch. Good thing most hospitality workers are blessed with an iron stomach!

So why does the paying customer get yummy fresh produce and staff get – well, there is no other way of saying this, but we get “left overs”.  And, hey, I’m not just talking about whatever’s in the fridge or pantry leftovers, because more often than not, those tasty morsels go into the special of the day, I’m talking serious left overs.  In most cases, professional kitchens use the staff meal as an opportunity to get rid of all the meat and produce that’s about to spoil (penne pasta with wilted beet greens, tomato skins and old sausage scraps for example). Now before y’all start gagging imagining scraps left over from the customers plates – Ahhhhh No…,  that would not actually be legal in Australia….! But one wonders my friend, one actually does wonder!!!

It’s time someone lifted the lid and disclosed all on this little talked about subject of just what ‘fully catered meals’ actually means when you’re a hospitality worker.  Yep, it’s a first world problem I know! And, yes…, I know the Chefs are working to a tight bottom line and cannot blow the budget. But the truth is, no self-respecting chef would ever put his hand to creating staff meals.  That job is delegated often to the lowest ranking cook in the kitchen.

So, instead of being just another complaining negative hospitality winger with a potential case of scurvy from a Vitamin C deprived diet; and a growing allergy towards sweet and sour sauce (Daydream Island “in” joke), let me give a shout out to a few the amazing chefs who have been given the impossible task of feeding sometimes hundreds of people staff meals for just a couple of dollars a head.

  • Wayan, a Balinese food genius who’s speciality was seafood and vegetables sautéed in chopped coconut, lemongrass, ginger, garlic and chilli. BAZINGA!!!

Staff Meals - The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. Anna Johnston -

  • Little brother Nizz, a chef who never let the food budget get in the way of a good feed.  Think Wagyu  Kobe beef and a nice glass of red!

Staff Meals - The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. Anna Johnston -

  • Staff Meals - The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. Anna Johnston - www.shenannagans.comScrumptious and slightly sweetened curries prepared by a much loved Fiji Indian woman by the name of  Mrs Chan.  Her claim to fame, in my books was her ability to successfully disguise the taste of lamb with her secret herbs and spices.

Staff Meals - The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. Anna Johnston -

  • Daren Tetly, Maria de los Angeles & the entire Press Club gang who on a daily basis would feed me fancy pancy delights…. Marco’s miso trevalla, lobster & bug tortellini, rare roasted alpaca or duck fat roasted potatoes.

Most of you guys, I’m sorry to say, have to go stand in the corner and hide your faces!  But, these guys will forever be memorable as true chefs who never let a plate of food leave their kitchen that wasn’t food for the Gods.  Thank you!  In my humble opinion – you are my heroes!

So tell me Dear Reader, tell me about the best and the worst staff meals you’ve ever eaten? 

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shenANNAgans is Anna Johnston, a 30 - something Aussie gal with an unwavering passion for the Hospitality industry. I love the quirky and unusual, designing events, travelling far and wide and eating food from all around the world. I am coffee blooded, a craft beer enthusiast, wine drinking yogi who enjoys writing about her adventures.

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Nathan - December 17, 2016 Reply

Overall most of these don’t look too bad but anything that makes you think you might have scurvy wouldn’t be great!

Kirsty - December 8, 2016 Reply

Oh Anna, lift the lid indeed! I had no idea about staff meals at all! Although I wouldn’t think they had the same ultra care, costly ingredients and attention to detail patrons received, but this… this… ewwww. Especially the pie with canned peaches as a side. *sigh* *cry* 🙁

Tandy | Lavender and Lime - December 8, 2016 Reply

Personally I think it is immoral to not feed your staff properly if you offer staff meals. It is so vital to good work!

Rosemary - December 8, 2016 Reply

That is so interesting and at the same time so sad to read about staff meals. Left!! Glad to hear that some chefs are working to change this. Hoping your meals get better in paradise! Sending you food love 🙂

John/Kitchen Riffs - December 8, 2016 Reply

Really interesting read. For some reason I thought staff meals were better quality than that. Not high cost items, of course, but imaginative and well-prepared dishes. Thanks for the eye-opener!

Evelyne CulturEatz - December 8, 2016 Reply

A really great topic to cver that we customers don’t think about. I had 1 freind who ate at work in a hotel and she never really complained but I gues she was lucky. I really want Wayan’s dish tough! And do lower chef deal well with food allergies and such?

Mindi Hirsch - December 7, 2016 Reply

My main issue with staff meals is that they tend to be loaded with carbs. For better or worse, I do love my carbs.

Hotly Spiced - December 4, 2016 Reply

I don’t mind a pie every now and then but I wouldn’t want it with a tinned peach salad. And you do have to wonder why you’re having tinned fruit in the tropics where so much fresh fruit is in abundance. I remember when I was doing my nursing training and living in at the hospital. We had to eat at the staff cafeteria. I’ve never had such starchy unhealthy food. I put on about 10kgs in three months xx

    Anna - December 6, 2016 Reply

    Hahaha… the tinned peach salad as a side to my meat pie was kinda funny, I will say I much prefer that then the mashed potato or fried rice side I had experienced in the weeks prior. Lol! 🙂 Yes, I have been told that the staffies served to medical folk is similar. Carbs, fats and no real nutritional value. Not sure Id be too happy about the extra 10kg. Gahhhh!

Tim UrbanDuniya - December 4, 2016 Reply

I had no idea that staff meals were like this!! I always assumed that they were sort of simpler versions of what the kitchen was already churning out!! Those “quality” staff meals look great though – what a lifesaver!

    Anna - December 6, 2016 Reply

    Yeah, seems a lot of folk think that Tim. I remember telling my friends about some of the staffies I have eaten, many of them thought I was being funny. Nope. And I have been spoiled over the years with staffies too. 🙂

Liz Posmyk - December 2, 2016 Reply

Wow, wow, wow… my heart, and my belly, go out to you XXX

    Anna - December 6, 2016 Reply

    Thanks lovely Liz! It’s not all bad, I have a great story to share. 🙂

Elizabeth - December 1, 2016 Reply

I never would believed it If you hadn’t done this fascinating expose on your industry 🙂
I actually laughed out loud 🙂
But come to think of it… every time I do catering I always end up with some weird left over plate… or cheese and bread!
Thanks for sharing!
liz xx

    Anna - December 6, 2016 Reply

    I love that I made you LOL! And that you got to see into a part of the hospitality industry that many just assume but dont actually know. 🙂 And if only the leftovers were turned into something a little more creative, or perhaps prepared in a way that wasnt so murderous. :/ Thanks for reading. I appreciate it. xox

kris - November 30, 2016 Reply

Great read. Can relate to this one… More from the side of cooking up some pretty nasty staff meals. I always blame the fact that it is the last thing you want to do after being hammered from 6am that morning, then punching out another busy lunch… then comes time for staff meals. haha. You start to question weather it is worth having friendships with any staff as you just can’t be bothered to cook anything nice.

Great read.

    Anna - December 6, 2016 Reply

    Hahaha… I feel ya when it comes to keeping the frienships with the staff when it comes to meal time. 🙂 I say tho that many of the staffies you prepared for me over the years were rather spectacular.

Amanda (@lambsearshoney) - November 30, 2016 Reply

Wow – being fed that kind of dross is most unpleasant. It must be difficult to sit down to that when you can see the food the guests are getting.
And there have been reported cases of scurvy back in the press recently!

    Anna - December 6, 2016 Reply

    Some days it really is very tough to sit down and eat that kinda food when you just know that the guests are eating all kinds of yum. But mostly I think we hospitality workers have been conditioned to just accept it for what it is. 🙂 You are not the first person to tell me that scurvy is actually a thing. CRAZY!

Jessica - November 30, 2016 Reply

Thank you for saying what all hospo workers have thought for centuries!
Some highlights of staff meals I have experienced over my years include countless delectable dishes – the best advice my mother gave me was to ‘get in with the chefs’ so I did one better, I became their friends and even dated a few. Chefs make awesome friends, they’re usually the nicest and most down-to-earth people you’ll meet (and know how to party).
Needless to say, I was usually given wonderful dishes – from creative and visually appealing wagu on a deconstructed salad through to chicken pot pie fresh from the oven.
In my earlier days as a hospo worker, I had my tastes of the bad (bay marie full of slop, gravy and off-cuts of something).
When I worked at a hotel chain, they actually implemented a sandwich/salad bar which ROCKED and was cost effective. They chucked a sandwich press in there and added cheese, and selection of meats so you could make your own toastie – SUPER popular for staff lunches. Another hotel I worked in offered $5 staff meals but were decent, like a pizza or burger that would be served to diners.
Hope food gets better! x

    Anna - December 6, 2016 Reply

    ABSOLUTELY make friends with the chefs to ensure you get to eat some of the finer foods. Very wise advise from your Momma Bear indeed. 🙂 And dang… did you work with my brother, he’d serve Wagyu too.

    We have a salad/sandwich bar here too, I agree, it is wonderful being able to create a plate of food with the ingredients you really want. The pizza and burger option would be sweet, although not the best for health and sticking with you. High sugar etc. But, good that the punters are eating what you as staff members are served.

    Thanks mate. I am working on my relationship with the green grocer on the main land, and of course, the chefs. 🙂

Mabel Kwong - November 29, 2016 Reply

I’ve always heard about staff being served the left overs or food meant to be expired. Never worked in hospitality myself, and I really appreciate your honesty. Usually I like to buy or bring my own lunches. Not a huge fan of eating food that is served by my work cafeteria. But definitely kudos to the three chefs mentioned here who know how to make good use of what there is and actually turn them all into something deeliiicious! Big hugs to you 🙂

    Anna - December 6, 2016 Reply

    I love that you pack your work lunches, I do so miss having access to a kitchen to make my own food. I will be working on my microwave cooking skills for sure. 🙂 Sending you BIG hugs back. xox

Alice - November 29, 2016 Reply

Sending you happy food vibes with a hefty dose of Vitamin C. I haven’t encountered this sort of food before, though I will say the green room cafeteria at the SOH does leave a bit to be desired. Worst yet, staff actually have to pay for those meals!

    Anna - December 6, 2016 Reply

    Thanks lovely one, I am working on my relationship with the greengrocer at Airlie Beach to ensure I dont get me the scurvy. 🙂 Haha… yup, paying for a plate of stodge is not cool. :/

Mandy - November 29, 2016 Reply

Hon, for a sec you had me thinking left overs from someone elses plate! What a thought, hey!
Think I will stick to toast and butter it that were the case. 😀
Have a beautiful weekend sweet Anna.
🙂 Mandy xo

    Anna - December 6, 2016 Reply

    Haha, nope, no leftovers from guest plates, but sometimes I have wished for that. Ha. That says a lot huh?! Toast with peanut butter and jam is my go too.

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