When you run a restaurant, you have to be ready for just about anything. And sadly, “just about anything” includes power outages.
Having the power go out, especially during service, can throw a huge monkey wrench into what should have been a smooth-running shift. Besides leaving your guests and staff literally in the dark, a disruption of electricity also means you have to contend with a walk-in and freezer full of food that now has no motor running to keep it cold.
While you might have to wait for the power company to come fix the electrical issue, there are still some things under your control.
If you plan ahead and know what to do, you’ll not only have the ability to salvage your kitchen stock, but also a unique opportunity to appease your guests in the most unusual of circumstances. You can turn what might have been a total disaster into a still frustrating but not impossible hurdle to jump.
Before the Outage
- Do some research into buying an electrical generator. It may not be feasible to buy a generator with enough power to operate your entire restaurant, but even a small generator to keep your POS system or refrigeration units online can be very helpful in the short term. Keep in mind the time and effort it takes to have your power company properly install it, but if you can make it work and it’s in your budget, then it could end up being a lifesaver in the event of an outage.
- While it’s smart to go digital with your important information, having access to emergency phone numbers (including the health department) written out on paper and stored in an easy-to-find place in your office is crucial when systems go down.
- Work out your plan ahead of time and train your entire staff on their role if the power ever goes out during their shift.
- Keep emergency flashlights in the building. Keep battery powered table lighting as back-ups as well.
- Make a practice of printing out tickets from the POS just in case the system goes out so you can still cash out guests who’ve already received their order. It might also be helpful to have an old fashioned credit card swiper on hand just in case it needs to be used as backup to run cards.
- Sit down with your chef and create an emergency menu of sorts – these should be dishes that you can make easily without your appliances but with the ingredients usually present in your kitchen. If the power is out for a long period of time, this back-up menu will allow you to continue serving your customers, despite the set-back.
- Have at least one phone in your building that only requires a phone jack. For your cell phone, make sure to keep a spare (and fully charged) external phone battery in your office. These batteries are relatively inexpensive and great in emergency situations.
During the Outage
- Immediately throw out any food, especially meat, that is in the process of cooking but hasn’t reached its safe cooking temperature at the time of the power disruption.
- Call the utility company and get as much information as you can about the problem and when they estimate the power will be back.
- It is critical to always have proper ventilation in your restaurant, so if your exhaust system has stopped due to the power being out, have your kitchen staff turn off all cooking equipment right away.
- Make note of the time when the power turned off so you have a good sense of how long ingredients went without being properly refrigerated.
- To keep the cold in, open your walk-in as little as possible. This simple step will help maintain a safe temperature for your food and could potentially prevent having to throw some ingredients out.
- While it should already be organized so it’s on the lowest shelves, make sure all raw meat in your walk-in and freezer is separated from the other ingredients. That way, if the meat does spoil or leak, you don’t contaminate your fresh produce and other food.
- Use that emergency menu mentioned above as an alternative for guests waiting in the restaurant. Bring out the back-up table lighting if it’s getting dark.
- If you have any reservations or private events for that evening, use your cell phone to inform them of the situation. Also, to give your potential guests a heads up, use your phone to access your social media accounts and send out a message about the outage (making sure to send a follow-up post or tweet when the electricity comes back).
- Communicate with your guests consistently throughout the issue. If any patrons wish to leave, make sure they get out safely and apologize for the inconvenience.
After the Outage
- After the power comes back on, note the time again and calculate how long it’s been out. This, and the current temperature of the food in your walk-in, will determine if you can salvage your stock.
- According to the Washington State Department of Heath, If it’s been two hours or less, the food in your walk-in should be fine to use, regardless of temperature, as long as it was already being stored at a proper temperature at the time the power went out. Just make sure to use it as quickly as possible. (For added safety, take extra care to check raw meat for the signs of going bad. Any foul odor? Is it slimy to the touch? When in doubt, it’s better to throw it out.)
- If it’s been two to four hours, you can still use food that is at 50 degrees F or lower. It is recommended to do so immediately, without freezing or refreezing it.
- If it’s been more than four hours, only use food if it’s at 45 degrees or lower.
- Frozen food that’s developed freezer burn from being defrosted and then refrozen should be tossed out for quality.
- Only reopen your restaurant after any and all unsafe foods have been discarded, your walk-ins are at least at 45 degrees F, all circuit breakers are reset properly, the ventilation system is turned back on, and hot water is available (for washing hands and dishes).
Finally, make sure to comply with any requests from your power company and the local health department throughout the entire situation (and consider consulting with them ahead of time for other tips in case of an outage).
If your health department has closed your establishment after the outage, wait for their say-so to reopen. You may be facing hefty fines if you don’t.
Closed longer than you’d planned in the wake of a serious emergency? Rewards Network can help with upfront cash and a quick approval.