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Is your restaurant protected against natural disasters?

The National Restaurant Association has compiled a handbook for operators who want to prepare against floods, blizzards, wildfires and the like. Take our quiz to see if you should order a free copy.
disaster preparedness
Restaurants may not be as ready for a disaster as they think. / Photograph: Shutterstock.

Seasoned restaurateurs typically have ample experience in dealing with a furious guest or employee. Handling a raging Mother Nature is a different matter altogether.

Operators have seen their businesses threatened in recent months by a host of natural disasters, from wildfires to floods to tornados. This week the National Restaurant Association provided a new defensive tool in the form of a step-by-step guide for defending a restaurant against any catastrophe nature might throw its way.

The free Always Ready guide also devotes considerable space to what insurance a restaurant should carry against natural disasters and how it should deal with the carrier to ensure prompt reimbursement. Those provisions seem prompted by the problems operators encountered in trying to collect on their business-interruption policies during the pandemic, much to their unpleasant surprise.

Many of the operational recommendations tend toward the inexpensive and commonsensical. But see for yourself by taking this quiz on best preparation practices, as reported in the new how-to guide. 

I. In the aftermath of a devastating natural event, accessing key records and documents can be critical to the establishment’s recovery. A good way to streamline that process is to…

  1. Print out everything and put the papers in an impregnable receptacle like a safe.
  2. Make sure all key documents are backed up on a server or separate drive and then take that hardware with you when evacuating.
  3. Don’t worry about them—someone will have copies.
  4. Store everything electronically in a cloud-based storage system.

Correct answer:4
All but C can also be helpful, but there’s a drawback to each. For instance, you may not be able to regain entry to the restaurant because of damage. A safe won’t help you in that regard. A proprietor or manager is better off putting essential documents in a waterproof protective package and taking it with you.

Still, physical copies can get damaged in the chaos. Ditto for hardware like a server, a laptop or a standalone storage drive. If the info is in the cloud, it’s safe from fire, water or being crushed, and accessible from anywhere.

II. In case a calamity like an earthquake or wildfire should force the sudden evacuation of your restaurant, inform every employee that they wield the authority to order everyone out if they think that precaution is necessary.
True or false?

Correct answer: False
A better approach, according to the NRA’s guide, is designating what members of your staff are entrusted with the responsibility and then organizing them as part of your advance planning into a known chain of command.  Employee A has the authority, but it automatically shifts to Employee B if A can’t give the order.

III. Earthquakes can trigger a fire and wildfires can suddenly spread to a structure like a restaurant if the winds are strong. To avoid chaos in those situations, designate one staff member as the one who’ll combat the flames with a fire extinguisher.
True or false?

Correct answer:  False
Every member of the staff should know how to use an extinguisher. Their training should also cover when to use one and what type to use. Devices that spray water won’t work on some kitchen fires. A blaze fueled by grease or cooking oil requires the use of a Class K extinguisher, which is charged with chemicals.

IV. Examining your restaurant after it dries out from a hurricane-related flood, you discover some cases of liquor were soaked.  The bottles were unopened, so the contents were uncompromised. But their labels show water damage. Can you just wipe off the fifths and serve what’s inside?
Yes or no?

Correct answer: No
Anything touched by the floodwaters, including sealed containers such as unopened bottles or Number 10 cans, has to be tossed.  According to the NRA’s guide, the water was likely “dangerously filthy,” and handling the containers is a risk unto itself. The no-go applies to jars, beverages in a pull-tab can and ingredients stored in water-tight plastic bins. If the package got wet, it needs to get tossed.

V. Responsible restaurateurs will ensure their employees get paid despite a natural crisis.  To do it, operators should…

  1. Stockpile cash before an anticipated disaster to cover wages.
  2. Encourage staff members to set up direct deposit of their pay.
  3. Stock up on payment cards, the pre-loaded payroll cards that function like debit cards.
  4. Pay employees via Venmo, PayPal or a similar money transfer service

Correct answer: All of the above.
Okay, it’s a trick question, but the sneakiness underscores the resourcefulness employers may have to exercise to make sure employees get their pay when it may be direly needed.

The NRA guide stresses in particular the benefits of having cash on hand if power and internet access are disrupted. Being able to pay upfront in cash can bump an operation up the priority lists of vendors.

VI. The Always Ready guide recommends that operators form a crisis management team before an expected extreme weather event but keep it limited to employees with crucial expertise.  Which of these areas of focus are not on the list of disciplines to have represented?

Human resources
Social media
Risk management

Supply chain

Correct answer: Catering.
For the sake of agility, the committee should omit representatives of nonessential near-term functions.

VII. Someone who identifies his or herself as a crisis recovery specialist reaches out after a hurricane to assist in getting your restaurant re-opened. The first thing to do is….

  1. Thank them for sparing you a hunt for help and ask about their rates.
  2. Say you’ve never heard of such a thing and curse them out for being opportunists.
  3. Check their credentials or otherwise verify they’re not scam artists.
  4. Ask how they got your contact info.

Correct answer: 3
“Because there are often a lot of scams following storms, be wary of services that reach out to you,” the association’s guide recommends. “Make sure to call and verify the people you talk with before giving them money, signing contracts or providing private information.

A free downloadable copy of Always Ready is available here.

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