Nothing complicates the life of a restaurant owner quite like a disaster hitting the business, whether it’s a natural disaster (hurricane, tornado, nor’easters, blizzard) or a disaster from a heavy rain, broken pipe, or cracked foundation. Even with proper and thorough disaster preparation, restaurants can still find themselves dealing with complicated damage in the aftermath. Having a comprehensive disaster recovery plan for your restaurant is important.
Yes, you want to get back on your feet and reopen your restaurant as soon as possible. But rushing to reopen won’t do you any good. You need to take the time to make sure it’s safe and that you’re compliant with your local and state laws. Cutting corners after a disaster will only set your business up for more complicated problems down the line.
Complete a self-inspection.
As a first step in your disaster recovery plan, do a self-inspection of the restaurant as soon as you can. But before you even think of going into the restaurant, be sure it has been cleared to enter by the local authorities.
Once your property has been cleared and deemed safe to enter, take a thorough assessment. This initial risk assessment is an important first step to getting your restaurant back on its feet.
Speaking of safety, be very careful as you’re doing your self-inspection to avoid putting yourself in harm’s way. Broken glass, frayed wires, and other hazards could put you and your staff in danger. Proceed with caution.
For the self-inspection, be as picky as you can! Your goal is to document the current status of the property from front to back and document what you find. You’ll need to make a list of all damage to the front and back of the house. You’ll use this list when you meet with your insurance.
Take photos and a video of everything to use as documentation. If any equipment or other items are damaged beyond repair, do not throw them away until after the insurance agent visits. It’ll be easier for you to get compensated for a lost item if the insurer can see it in person. The exception to this is spoiled food, which could be a safety hazard to keep around. Make sure to still take lots of photos of the damaged food for evidence.
Work with your insurance.
Your insurance is there for exactly this kind of situation. Make sure to keep your insurance point of contact informed. Schedule a time as soon as you can for them to come in and evaluate the damage. You should also take the time to look over your insurance yourself and know exactly what you’re entitled to under your policy.
Let people know about your disaster recovery plan.
When disaster strikes, people can be curious, but mostly they are concerned. It is important to get in touch with your staff and neighbors and let them know where you’re at in your disaster recovery plan. Keep them well informed of the situation and what to expect. It is okay if you don’t have all the answers, but they want to hear from you.
And in the case of employees, they will be understandably concerned about their livelihood. If you have a staff of good people, it will be important to keep them informed, but also paid. Emergency financing can help with that, but ultimately, you are probably going to need all the help you can get to make sure your restaurant reopens as fast as possible.
Look, you’re not going to be able to do every single post-disaster task all on your own. And that’s okay! That’s why you have managers and team leaders.
Make a point to delegate roles and responsibilities in the disaster recovery plan out to your higher ups, fitting the task with the skillset. Just make sure to be precise when it comes to explaining exactly what you need from each person. This is a stressful time for everyone involved — it’s important you keep communication clear across the board so that mistakes and misunderstandings can be avoided.
Remove damaged food product.
If your electricity (and with it, the refrigeration system) has been turned off for an extended period of time, chances are you’re going to have to throw out some if not all of your food product. If there is visible water or fire damage to your dry storage or walk-ins, chances are the food is contaminated.
When in doubt, throw it out! Better to throw out some “could be okay” ingredients than use them and get someone very sick. Again, just remember to properly record what product you had to throw out and take lots of photos for the insurance.
The good news is that canned food product has a better chance of being salvaged after a disaster. You’ll need to inspect each can for dents or punctures (and then sanitize the outside in case of flood water contamination). And don’t forget to maintain safe food temperatures for any product you’re able to safely salvage.
Remember: when in doubt, throw it out!
Look for pests.
If there’s been any damage to the walls or doors of the property (especially if food has spoiled during the disaster), you might end up dealing with various pests in the building. Keep an eye out for any bugs, rodents, and other pests.
You should also look for signs that pests been there, recently, like droppings or dead carcasses. If you do see evidence of pest issues, you’ll need to contact an exterminator right away.
Look into local laws.
Depending on the disaster at hand and your local laws, you might need to get state regulatory authentication before you can legally reopen. Make sure to check what your state and city regulations require for a disaster recovery plan and follow them to the letter.
Get the ball(s) rolling quickly.
It’s important that all of this be done as soon as possible. Every day you’re closed after a disaster hurts your bottom line. In some ways, a successful restaurant disaster recovery plan is that balance between being thorough and being fast to act. It’s about using your time efficiently so everything that must be done gets done.
Jeff Parrott, owner of Farotto’s in St. Louis, learned this lesson first hand. A fire in 2001 put the iconic pizza place at risk, and even with quick action and smart choices, Farotto’s was closed for nearly three months. Over 15 years later and the restaurant is both recovered and thriving, but it could have gone very differently if management hadn’t been assertive with efforts and made a disaster recovery plan.
“We had to evolve quickly, we had to move quickly,” says Parrott. “We were shut down, every day we’re shut down we were losing revenue. We had to be on top of our game and had to put wheels in motion instantaneously. So it was a challenge for us, but we got through it and it made us stronger.”
Prepare for the future.
Once your restaurant is up and running — and your disaster recovery plan fulfilled — you should sit down with your managers and discuss how the process went and what should be improved. Are there preparations you would have liked to make beforehand? Were there processes you wish you had put in place for during the disaster? Is there anything you would have done differently when getting the restaurant running again?
This situation is never fun, but using it as a learning opportunity can make your business even stronger and better prepared.
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