It’s 3 p.m. and while most of the working class has scurried back into their offices or hit the road onto the next work site, another group is grabbing the first breath of fresh air since they punched the clock. Following the late lunch rush, restaurant staff finally has time to take a breather; they take opportunity to shove down anything that will hold them over until they punch out for the shift. That “anything” comes in the form of Family meal, the single most coveted five minutes in the work day. Whether you are a seasoned veteran or a freshman working in food service, you have had the pleasure of taking part in this one-of-a-kind dining experience.
The servers are always first in line. Like seagulls at the beach, their ability to pounce on extra food at any given time is reminiscent of hyenas on the corpse of a buffalo. The chefs and line cooks get the scraps, partly because they know that it’s kitchen BS, though mostly because they just don’t have the time to get to the mess first. However, somewhere between stuffing their faces over the trash can and stressing out about not having the pommes purée ready before service, there’s a hint of relief, followed by pure joy. This is freakin’ delicious.
I was a 16-year-old host at a mom-and-pop red sauce joint when I first discovered family meal. The “Cocineros” put together a dish of eggs, sausage, and noodles, which roughly translated into “something con juevos.” It looked like Alpo dog food, and yet, I loved every single bite. I only knew the conversational Spanish they taught at school, so I managed to get a simple thanks across while I sat and enjoyed my chow. They moved quickly, and all at once, I was again, by myself. The table was cleared, and the cooks were back behind the line. It was brief, but satisfying. I still think that this experience was one of a few instances that cultivated my love for the industry.