A little more than three years after opening El Moro Spirits & Tavern in Durango, Colo., Dave Woodruff felt his team finally had the swing of things. As general manager of the contemporary American restaurant, Woodruff watched as his staff began to ace the menu and live the company's core values. That’s just about when the fire happened. In October 2016, a water heater caused a fire that engulfed a portion of the restaurant. After the flames and excitement died down, Woodruff’s first thought was how his team was going to keep El Moro’s employees financially secure during the three months the restaurant had to close for repairs. His next was that he really didn’t want to go through the growing pains of opening a restaurant all over again. “I was concerned that I would have to start over with a green staff and build the culture back up from square one,” he says. The restaurant’s controller came up with a strategy that solved both of Woodruff’s concerns. Here’s how El Moro and other operations keep staff during short-term shutters.
Invest in the community
To keep staff employed during reconstruction, El Moro paid its team members to volunteer in the community. Employees volunteered at wolf sanctuaries, Christmas tree lots, animal shelters and other local organizations in need of support. As a bonus, the volunteer work helped spread the word about the restaurant to demographics that hadn’t visited before. “It allowed us to make sure our employees were financially secure and that we could keep them when we opened up, but they were also able to keep our name relevant within the social circle of Durango,” Woodruff says. The restaurant even saw a big boost in traffic during first few weeks after reopening.
Invest in education
After hail and water damage forced a Yard House location in Colorado Mills, Colo., to close its doors in May, the restaurant also paid employees to volunteer. During the three months the restaurant closed, the Yard House team logged 1,200 volunteer hours, according to The Denver Post. But team members could also earn their wages by attending Yard House-run classes on beer, wine and hospitality. The restaurant reopened in August with 88 of its 105 employees.
Invest in culture
Before El Moro reopened, some workers picked up shifts at its sister restaurant Steamworks Brewing Company, which promised work to all El Moro employees who wanted it. The partnership meant that team members could grab a shift and meal when needed. But Woodruff didn’t want employees to think leadership had gotten complacent. He reached out to staff every two weeks to see how they were doing and ask if they needed help. When El Moro was ready to open back up in the winter, only three employees decided to move on. “It all starts with the culture to begin with,” he says. “You have to make sure people are proud to work at your establishment, so when you are down, they’re proud and ready to get back on it.”