Restaurant crews typically operate in close quarters and rely heavily on a team dynamic to keep a restaurant running smoothly. At Rappahannock in Richmond, VA, staff road trips to nearby farms are helping enhance that chemistry.
Fultineer, who wears both a farmer and a chef’s hat, wants to make sure that his staff understood both roles. He regularly invites the whole staff, from the kitchen line help to servers and bussers, to local farms so they can learn more about the products they cook and serve.
Fultineer initiated the field trip program this year as an extension of the restaurant’s sustainable philosophy. “The best way to get the staff knowledgeable about it is to get them involved,” he explains.
Outings are scheduled on Mondays, when the restaurant is closed. Participation is voluntary and unpaid, although occasionally the kitchen staff packs a light picnic if the destination is far away. Groups have ranged in size from 12 to 20.
In addition to an up-close look at how their ingredients are raised, the farm visits provide some opportunities for hands-on experience. A farm that supplies chickens and eggs to Rappahannock intrigued a number of employees enough to take a trip back to help with chicken harvest. “Some of the staff are really in tune with that kind of thing, and they like getting the experience,” Fultineer says. “And they get a free chicken out of it.”
Seeing how other farmers grow crops has also changed the way the restaurant staff tends its own large rooftop garden, Fultineer notes.
While these excursions provide basic agriculture lessons—for example, why it takes three years to harvest asparagus—the also supply moments of surprise and delight.
“It’s amazing when you get some people outside the city limits, especially people who have grown up in city,” Fultineer says. “One farm has bobwhite quail, and a lot of people had never heard a quail call until we were out in the field there,” he adds.
“A lot of these little bits of information and experience become incredibly important, especially for the servers, who can share them with the table,” Fultineer says.
Do these shared experiences encourage bonding? “They definitely build morale, especially when the back and front of the house are both on the trip, because it’s something the company inspires them to do,” Fultineer says.