Behind the scenes

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It’s by no means easy serving up to 1,000 meals a day, but after being open for nearly two years, we’ve got it as close to an exact science as it’s possible to be!

We’ve found it easiest to break our operations into two distinct areas of activity; the kitchen and the restaurant, each working with their own team of volunteers and focusing on specific tasks to make sure life at Armonia runs as smoothly as can be.

Our restaurant team is the guest-facing side of the Project, greeting everyone who comes to the restaurant with a warm smile and a friendly hello.

The first people our guests meet when we open at 12 will be the two volunteers working on the door. The main purpose of this shift is to ensure that our guests come at the allotted time.

We’ve had to break our day into three serving times, so that we’re not overwhelmed by large crowds, but have a steady stream of people coming throughout the day, making it easier for our kitchen team to serve up food.

Another key role for the door team in recent months has been the checking of temperatures and the sanitising of hands as people enter the restaurant, thus ensuring we reduce the risk of COVID transmission.

From the door, our guests are directed to the registration desk. This is staffed by two volunteers who are in charge of our huge guest database. Here they check people’s membership cards and keep a tally of the guests served everyday.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, they’re in the restaurant at 10 in the morning for registration, so that more people can register for free meals. For the rest of the week, they’re at the desk from 12 to 16.30, giving tokens to our registered guests which they use to collect their meals from the distribution point.

The distribution point is the interface between the kitchen and the restaurant, where our guests are given a cup of tea and served their food..

Supervising the distribution is our runner, who goes back and forth between the kitchen and the restaurant, updating the packing team on how meals are needed, and bringing the packed meals out for our guests.

The packing team becomes something of an assembly line when we’re open, with one person dishing up the food into takeaway boxes, another two sealing them, and the head chef keeping an eye on how much food has been served, ensuring there’s always enough warm food ready to be dished up.

The head chef has been in the kitchen since 08.30 with their five-strong team, putting the finishing touches to any meal preparation, combining all the ingredients and cooking the day’s dish.

They’ve also been in the kitchen with their team the previous afternoon, washing and chopping the vegetables so that they’re ready to hit the ground running in the morning and start cooking.

Obviously, cooking 1,000 meals a day requires a lot of pots, pans, knives and chopping boards, and no kitchen can function without a good pot washer!

We’re lucky enough to have an enormous sink, bought for us by Donate 4 Refugees, meaning we can easily and quickly wash our supersized kitchen and equipment, keeping the whole show on the road!

All in all, it can be a busy work week at Armonia, but breaking down the tasks into different workstreams helps us to stay balanced as we cook healthy and delicious meals for those who need it most.

A key part of our success has been putting the responsibility in the hands of our volunteers, allowing our family to come up with their own creative solutions to the problems that arise in the running of a free-restaurant.

Whether it is devising new recipes or managing the large crowd of people outside the restaurant doors, our community of volunteers are the backbone of Armonia and we wouldn’t be able to do what we do without them.