Power outages are inevitable—electricity customers in the United States experienced at least one power outage in 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Energy's latest annual power report. In addition to these tips on preparing for when the lights go out, here are some more guidelines from restaurant operators on how to prepare for power outages.
Make a crash kit
Many operators recommend preparing a crash kit—like a first-aid kit for power outages. Kaleb Harrell, partner and co-founder of four-unit casual-dining concept Hawkers Asian Street Fare in Florida, and Quirino Silva, director of culinary operations for fast-casual chicken brand Flyrite in Austin, Texas, both stock their restaurant crash kits with knuckle busters (manual credit card machines) and credit card slips to process card orders manually when a power outage downs the POS system.
Backup plans are key—but make sure you can access those plans, says Jon Eisen, partner and director of strategic growth at New York City fast-casual chain Between the Bread. He creates backup plans on paper for all circumstances—including power outages, fires and water issues—and goes through them with managers. The plans are kept in the manager’s office on a marked shelf.
Operators recommend training staff on what to do when—not if—a restaurant loses electricity. Harrell says Hawker’s staff members undergo crisis management training, which includes instructions on how to handle a power outage and POS failure. Flyrite’s power outage training also includes tips on dealing with customers by encouraging employees to “be compassionate and patient with any guests that might be upset at the inconvenience of the outage,” Silva says. Senior staff and managers are also instructed to let guests know there’s a plan in place to take care of the restaurant, Silva says.
While some operators say closing their units is inevitable if the power doesn’t quickly return, Eisen says his restaurants try to remain open “under all circumstances possible.” He encourages his staff to “get creative,” saying one time he even ran to a restaurant across the street and asked to use their kitchen. If the gas works, employees continue cooking with gas burners; but if not, customers are urged to order food that doesn’t require cooking, such as salads. If customers are “seriously inconvenienced”—for example, if they have to wait double the time for their food or their meal can’t be prepared as it is on the menu—they may receive a small discount. But for the most part, he says customers are understanding.
“If you’re attempting to provide normal service, most customers are conscientious enough to be completely understanding of circumstances beyond your control,” Eisen says. “The most important thing is that you and your staff work hard to continue to provide normal service despite the challenges and that you keep guests happy—I think most will find the humor in it.”
Push for grid upgrades
Power outages are often a result of bad weather; though if a restaurant experiences occasional power outages, there may be an issue with the power grid. Harrell recommends operators, especially those in older neighborhoods, contact their power company and petition for a grid upgrade if power outages become a common occurrence. “Many older neighborhoods are in desperate need of upgrades to their power grid, but the power company will not address these unless it is brought to their attention,” Harrell says.