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Who turned out the lights?

It's 4:00 PM on a hot Friday in August. Your frozen seafood shipment for the busy weekend has just arrived. Without warning, the lights dim, flicker, and then the power goes out.

Power outages — from temporary outages caused by high winds to rolling blackouts caused by political malpractice — cause instant headaches. But being prepared and knowing how to react in the event of an outage can greatly reduce the stress and potential loss of product and business.

Preparation & prevention

  • Keep a stash of emergency supplies handy. Check it once a month to ensure that batteries work and supplies are fresh.
  • Keep your backup generator serviced. If you don't have a generator, know the number of an area supplier you can contact in the event of an outage.
  • Locate any off-site refrigerated storage facilities or pre-arrange with another area restaurant to temporarily store perishable items in the event one of you has an outage.
  • Train your staff to manually submit orders, process guest checks, operate your cash register and process payments by hand. (This is a handy back-up during those POS system crashes, too!)
  • Have a crisis policy with a detailed written plan that is easily deployed and accessible.
  • Have a cell phone or a phone line that is separate from your internal phone system.
  • If you're in California, or other energy crunched states, know your rolling outage block number and pay attention to outage warnings.

When the power goes out

  • Don't call 911 for information or to report the outage. Your power company and local news radio stations can provide further info.
  • Switch over to backup sources of power. If you don't have a back-up, turn off all equipment that operates on electricity. Turn off the gas burners, too. Without an exhaust system to take up the accumulating heat, you'll get a huge surprise when the Ansul system blows!
  • Reassure guests and staff members that things are under control. Access your plan to ensure all important steps are followed.
  • People who choose to leave the restaurant should be escorted in an orderly fashion by a pre-appointed servers with flashlights who are familiar with your evacuation policy.
  • If you have other gas appliances, you may need to turn off the gas at the main valve and extinguish the pilot lights. Ask you local power company for directions and keep them as part of your policy manual checklist.
  • Use proper protocols to ensure that food products are kept fresh and safe, beginning by discarding partially cooked products.

Back in business

  • Once power is restored, you'll need to decide whether you can re-open for business right away:
  • Has all potentially hazardous food been thrown away?
  • Have circuit breakers been properly reset?
  • Has gas service been restored and pilot lights been re-lit?
  • Are all equipment and facilities operating properly, including lighting, refrigeration, ventilation and restroom facilities?

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