It seems as though more and more businesses are letting the temptation of the holidays drive operating hours. If there is a buck to be made, then concerns for the impact on employees can be ignored. I get this – we all know that, in many cases, a business (especially retail) depends on a window of 4-6 weeks during the holidays to make ends meet for the year, but – there is a cost.

Restaurant workers have lived with this challenge for decades, and in some ways the desire for restaurants to remain open on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Eve is not just a business decision, but also a service that is needed. Whatever the reason – restaurants are busy on those traditional family holidays – very busy. When you have a desire to celebrate – we are there for you.

As I prepared to power walk in a Turkey Trot event the other day I was once again cognizant of the many friends who had already put in a handful of hours at their respective restaurants – roasting turkeys, baking sugared hams, making dozens of pans of stuffing, boiling hundreds of pounds of potatoes, thickening gallons of giblet gravy, and pulling dozens of pumpkin, apple, and custard pies from the overworked ovens. Thanksgiving is typically a buffet day at your local restaurant and the menu is dictated by tradition. The second shift will arrive close to buffet time and help pull together the buffet line with stacks of warmed plates, chafers filled to the max, carving stations, pre-sliced pies, and maybe an ice carving or two.

Once the doors open the service staff will be busy moving families to their designated tables, bringing drinks, directing everyone to the buffet line, clearing plates, and running replenishments to the tiered displays and chafers on the line. Restaurant staff members put their own family events out on hold, don their hospitality smiles, and kick back a few more coffees until the masses charge the door and host stand. Today will go fast.

In some cases there will be a staff meal before service, or more appropriately, this will take place after the crowds have left and cleanup is well under way.

Interesting how not too long ago very few people would ever consider a restaurant experience for the holidays. This was the time for family to get together, spend time in the kitchen, contribute their special course, laugh and clink glasses, watch a little football, and enjoy home and family. Today – some of the busiest restaurant days of the year are those holiday events. How did that happen? Why the shift?

Is it a simple case of convenience? No full day in the kitchen, no cleanup, and no bringing out the family silverware and china for that once a year showcase – sounds enticing. Is it a decay of family traditions? Is it a lack of cooking skills that were, for generations, imbedded in the family culture? Again, whatever the reason – this is the new reality for families and for restaurants.

As a result the culture of work has changed and as such the lifestyle traditions of the millions of restaurant workers across the country. How do restaurants adapt? There is an opportunity for the restaurant to create its own traditions and view this societal change as a positive move.

First of all, the restaurant has, in many cases, become the family meal. The opportunity to bring a family together for no other reason than to enjoy each other’s company, to share stories and talk about dreams, to take a moment to remember those who have passed and to celebrate the newest members with a full life ahead of them. This is a very important job that we have. If the traditional family gathering is not going to occur in the home any more than it becomes our opportunity to provide it in the restaurant dining room. Let your employees know just how important their role is in this process.

Second, the restaurant has an opportunity to celebrate a different kind of family with the same opportunity to enjoy each other’s company, learn about the strong heritage that exists within the restaurant team, share stories and dreams, take a moment to laugh, to remember those who have passed and celebrate new members of the family. If we miss this opportunity then be fail to understand just how important our staff family is, and we fail to acknowledge that these staff members have given up the opportunity to be with their personal families so that the restaurant can take care of business. Whether that opportunity takes place before the holiday or after, it is important that it take place. Breaking bread is such an important event that we own.

I would go even further and say that the restaurant should always take the opportunity to break bread with their extended family on a daily basis. The staff meal is not a necessary evil – it is a fantastic opportunity. An opportunity to learn about each other, to share unique experiences, to celebrate the chemistry that exists among team members, and to set the stage for expected work results. That staff meal is of consummate importance and should be planned with the same intention and enthusiasm as the menu for visiting guests. Set the table and make it something special.

During this holiday season I would implore restaurant owners and operators to celebrate your staff. Let them know just how special they are and express your knowledge that they give up something special to be there to help others celebrate the importance of family. As a customer – thank the restaurant staff for giving up what you relish so that you can have that moment with family. At the same time pause for just a moment to thank all of those individuals who by choice or not do the same so that you might feel safe and secure and relish the time with family that is so important. Thank our members of the military, police, firefighters, tradespersons, dispatchers, 911 operators, snowplow drivers, service station attendants, cab drivers, doctors and nurses, and other public servants who are always there when we need them.

Celebrate family during the holidays. Be safe, be well, smile, be kind, and enjoy the bonds that a great meal can provide.


Harvest America Ventures, LLC

Restaurant Consulting and Training


  1. Thank you chef once again for reminding us what’s important.

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About Me

PAUL SORGULE is a seasoned chef, culinary educator, established author, and industry consultant. These are his stories of cooks, chefs, and the environment of the professional kitchen.


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