Restaurant operators brace for Hurricane Florence

Owners on the Carolina coast and beyond are implementing emergency plans for before, during and after what’s predicted to be a massive storm.
Photograph: Shutterstock

As a hurricane some are calling the “storm of a lifetime” approaches the Carolina coast, restaurant operators in the region are scrambling to secure their stores, ensure employee safety and prepare for eventual rebuilding efforts.

The National Restaurant Association launched a hurricane resources page on its website to help restaurant owners prepare for Hurricane Florence, with information from state restaurant associations in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

“The National Restaurant Association urges all members to heed the warnings of their state and local officials,” Mollie O’Dell, vice president of communications for the National Restaurant Association, told Restaurant Business. “Our people are our greatest asset, and we stand ready to support efforts to reopen businesses as soon as it is safe for employees to return to work.”

Analysts have noted several chains that could be most affected by Hurricane Florence, given their large number of units in the potential area of the storm’s impact. Among them is Bojangles’ Chicken n’ Biscuits, which has as many as 69% of its stores in the storm’s path, according to a Bloomberg Intelligence analysis.

Also likely to see significant damage from the winds and rain are Carrols Restaurant Group, Zoes Kitchen and Cracker Barrel, which has about 10% of its total stores in Florence’s anticipated path, according to analyst projections.

Cracker Barrel has activated its crisis response team and operations response team, Janella Escobar, the chain’s director of corporate communications, told RB.

A core group of 20 people oversees Cracker Barrel’s disaster preparedness protocol, which includes a variety of tasks such as human resources, loss prevention, information technology, distribution and field management, Escobar said. A total of 45 people have been activated to help manage the company’s stores in the affected areas, she said.

Team members are currently receiving regular updates from local and national meteorologists to track the storm’s approach.

So far, eight Cracker Barrel units within the mandatory evacuation area have closed, and several more will be shuttering as mandatory curfews take effect, she said. Members of the emergency response teams are helping to arrange transportation and temporary housing for the chain’s employees. After the storm, workers can apply for Cracker Barrel grants to help pay for home repairs and other expenses incurred in the disaster.

The crisis teams meet after each incident to debrief, Escobar said. They also gather quarterly to run simulations and update the chain’s emergency plans.

“You never want to go through something like this,” she said. “Especially with such critical mass and concentration in the Southeastern portion of the United States.”

The last major storm to hit the U.S. mainland was Hurricane Harvey, which caused widespread damage across Texas in August of last year. Chain restaurants in the state saw a 15% drop in same-store sales during the period, according to a report from TDn2K.

For details on how the grocery industry is preparing for Hurricane Florence, click here for a report by our sister publication Winsight Grocery Business. And for details on how the convenience industry is preparing, click here for a report by CSP.

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