Are you ready for a power outage?

Successfully weathering a blackout is all about preparation.

Electrical surge or super storm; any number of conditions can create a power outage in your restaurant.

Major outages cost millions of dollars in damages and lost business. Atmospheric and Environmental Research estimates total economic losses due to power outages cost businesses more than $70 billion per year in the U.S. The problem is likely to get worse: New research from Johns Hopkins shows that New York City and other metro areas could see a 40 to 50 percent increase in power outages, thanks to the nation’s aging power grid and worsening weather patterns.

Whatever the cause, the moment the lights go out, the clock begins to tick for restaurant operators. “The key is not to jump the gun and close, but do things in stages,” says Steve Woodruff, operations manager of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. Taking care of the guests already in house, sending out what dishes you can and apologizing for the inconvenience is just the beginning. “People understand. Many times, they stay and enjoy a few cocktails and ride it out,” he says.

No stranger to such emergencies, Woodruff offers these tips to save time, frustration and money.

1. Always print out the next day’s reservations (with phone numbers)

If computers go down, unless data is stored outside the affected area, you could have a lot of upset customers. With a printout, “not only will we call guests and cancel, but offer to get them into restaurants we have relationships with,” Woodruff says. “We have a phone list of those, too.”

2. Befriend your utility provider

Have its outage hotline handy, but also foster a relationship well in advance. And get a number for a direct representative within the organization. “We can generally get more quality information and updates through our rep,” says Woodruff. “Plus, they can be our advocate with those working on repairs. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

3. Know a reliable electrician

When the lights went out after a nearby lightning strike, a resulting power surge damaged the hood system at Commander’s. “If we hadn’t gotten the electrician on-site as soon as we did, we couldn’t have operated. The power was back on, but the equipment didn’t work,” Woodruff says. “As a result, we lost only 10 to 15 percent that night.”

4. Chase the truck

Woodruff  sends a senior manager to drive around the neighborhood and find the utility truck to let the repairman know there’s a restaurant full of hungry patrons waiting for power to be restored. “It might make the difference of 10 to 15 minutes. If there’s a hospital, you’re out of luck, but if it’s between you and a residential block, they might fire you up first. It never hurts to ask.” 

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