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In the Event of Disaster: 6 Ways to Prepare Your Restaurant

Create a crisis management plan before a crisis occurs!

Every restaurant employee knows how needy customers can be—they want prompt seating and fast, cheap, and delicious food. It’s hard enough to manage consumer demands on a packed Friday night, but imagine if disaster struck and customers had to hunker down in your restaurant because of a “snowpocalypse” or quickly evacuate because of a kitchen fire. Do you have an emergency plan for your employees to follow? Preparing an emergency plan will help your employees know how to act in the event of a disaster, help to keep your food as safe as possible, and could potentially save your business.

Most restaurants are not prepared for a disaster and according to the National Archives and Records Administration only 43% of companies struck by disaster resume operations. On top of that, 29% of those that resume business fail within two years. Setting a plan will not necessarily guarantee the safety of your business, but it will increase the safety of your customers, as well as the chances of your business’s survival.

Though we hope disaster never strikes—here are a few helpful tips to consider:

1. Assess possible emergencies.

All restaurants should have a clear and accessible plan of action in case of a natural disaster, power outage, or water and/or food contamination. To create a plan of action for each disaster, you will first need to know the possible threats in your area.  There is a wide range of disasters or emergencies that could occur inside and outside your restaurant. Contact your local regulatory authority or do some research of your own to determine which disasters are common in your area. Remember to include a list of emergencies that could happen inside the restaurant.

2. Keep it simple.

Create a simple plan that can be followed in the middle of chaos. Your plan of action should be shared with employees and should be available at every computer station. Employees should understand who is in charge of making critical decisions. Keep a list of emergency contact information in a visible place in your establishment. Your local authority should be able to help you create this plan.

3. Manage the customers.

As always, your number one priority is the customer. More often than not, emergency situations rattle the staff just as much as the customers. As an employee, it’s your job to stay calm and to direct customers—it is, after all, your territory. Communicate calmly, clearly, and make sure all employees relay the same information.

4. Manage communication.

If you’ve lost power or need outside assistance for any reason, it’s important to reach out to the appropriate institutions and/or companies. Make sure your employees understand who to contact and how to report an emergency. This should be part of your plan of action; place a list of phone information of important contacts by the phone.

5. Manage the food.

Usually there are hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of dollars’ worth of food circulating in your restaurant kitchen. You will need to develop a plan to minimize the loss of food products and keep food as safe as possible. Step 1 for managing food is to get the food back into the fridge. To keep the refrigerator at a stable and low temperature, keep the door closed as much as possible. You can put ice from the machines into clean buckets and store it in the freezer and/or refrigerator. Consider securing access to a refrigerated truck or warehouse to preserve food during an emergency.

6. Manage water.

Restaurants use a lot of water. Consider preparing an “emergency menu” that includes a list of recipes that require a minimal amount of water for preparation in case you run into a water supply problem. It’s not a bad idea to keep a stock of bottled water in the restaurant’s break room. Clean water is key.

Again, every restaurant manages disasters differently, so set a plan of action for your establishment and make sure that all employees understand the plan.

—Cami Mills

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in February 2016 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

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