Inside Staff Meal at District Commons: Ringing in Late Night Profits

by Katherine Sacks
Millie Dweck
June 2012

Biography

Restaurant

Staff Meal Details

Chef Jeff Tunks weighs in.

Staff meal food costs:
"Family Meal" is $12 on the menu and the staff usually eats this food five out of seven nights. Staff cost is $1.50 to $2 per person.

Size of staff meal:
12 to 18 people

Time of staff meal:
2:30pm for a traditional staff meal, 10:15pm to 10:45pm for the "Family Meal."

Worst staff meal:
Every day we had scrambled eggs and grits. Staff meal is funny because you could give them prime rib, and they will complain. You can't make everyone happy, no matter what you give them.

Favorite staff meal ever:
When you let your staff cook what they love to eat. My favorite one is when Ting, my Thai cook, does her Bento box on Thursday; she is really passionate about it. And when my prep girls do the pupusas, you can see the joy they put into cooking and that carries over into eating it.

Tucked inside what was once George Washington's hospital, District Commons caters to what is now George Washington University and Hospital, and the rowdy college clientele that comes with it. And Chef Jeff Tunks created a menu with those hungry bellies (and slim wallets) in mind, filling his front bar area during the late night hours.

After the dinner rush, Tunks (or one of his eager cooks) rings an old-school farm bell, signaling the start of their "Family Meal" menu, a daily item that is just as much a staff meal classic as it is a home-cooked favorite for guests. "We wanted to make it a fun part of the dining experience and to bring in a younger clientele," says Tunks. "It also drums up business in the lounge."

Most days the cooks dig into the very same meals, taking turns at quick breaks as they wrap up service. "Because we never really close—we're open from 7am to 1am—the kitchen grabs our food standing around a prep table," says Tunks. Other days the meal is so popular—Sunday's buttermilk fried chicken—that they sell out of the 25 or so portions, and the staff makes their own grub in the back. At $12, it's a steal for District Commons' customers, especially Tuesday's two hamburgers, two fries, and two Pabst Blue Ribbons. ("The biggest fan favorite for the college kids," says Tunks.) But it's an even better arrangement for the restaurant, which fills its bar-lounge seating and uses up menu prep in the "Family Meal" items.

Monday Night Nana Sue's Meatloaf for family meal at District Commons

Monday Night Nana Sue's Meatloaf for family meal at District Commons

Take Monday night's Nana Sue's Meatloaf: "It's my mom's meatloaf recipe," Tunks says,"[with] Army green beans cooked low and slow, scalloped potatoes, and a biscuit, all served cafeteria-style on a porcelain tray." The meatloaf uses grass-fed beef from District Commons' sister restaurant Burger, Tap & Shake, and the same green beans are served later in the week on Wednesday night's "Cleaning Out the Walk-In" dish. They also serve huevos rancheros on Saturdays to help reduce the prep for the Sunday brunch rush, and use the menu's mashed potatoes as a side for the chicken-fried steak (pounded out from a top-round used in a Burger, Tap & Shake sandwich).

But the team's favorite staff meal is Friday, says Tunks, and with good reason. He put the primarily Hispanic staff's go-to snack, pupusas, on the menu. Plus, "it's payday."