The Ralph Brennan team worked round the clock preparing food, which they served on paper plates to lines of hungry citizens and rescue workers, including noted visitors like then-President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush. By opening two of its restaurants quickly, Ralph Brennan touted New Orleans’ resiliency and provided food and employment—two ever-critical needs in the post-Katrina whirlwind.
Looking back now, Ralph Brennan was fortunate its spirit and moxie carried the day in the absence of a formal emergency plan defining clear steps and protocols. The company largely survived on a mix of guile and resourcefulness.
“As New Orleans had never faced such a disaster, there was no real need for [an extensive plan prior to Hurricane Katrina],” says Meaghan Regan, a publicist for Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group.
Today, though, the heralded restaurant group with six New Orleans eateries takes no such chances. Ralph Brennan maintains a comprehensive 68-page hurricane plan that includes a detailed outline for pre-storm preparations, a communications plan, a technology plan, a loss of essential services plan, a return-to-work plan, and up-to-the-minute personnel, supplier, and emergency contact information.
If disaster strikes, Ralph Brennan eateries are prepared. So, too, now are all the Starks’ restaurants in northern California.
Following the Tubbs Fire, the Starks hired a company to assess their emergency protocols and help in the development of a disaster preparedness plan. A binder at Willi’s now includes protocols for the last man out as well as key details around issues such as the safe exit of guests and turning off gas at the source.
“We didn’t have anything quite like this in place before,” Stark says. “Now, we realize just how important it is.”
While crafting an EAP is an important first step, Hub International’s Reese says restaurants must continually review and revise their plan. He suggests drills that make all employees aware of the protocols and a regular review of the content to ensure current and accurate information.
“By planning ahead and practicing the plan, your business will be prepared to handle any event,” Reese says.
Beyond the Plan
To further prepare for a disaster and mitigate the damage, restaurants should:
Leverage available resources
For those restaurants without a risk-management team or the wherewithal to hire a consultant, OSHA provides a free checklist and online tool that walks businesses through the basic components of an EAP. In addition, restaurants can utilize their local emergency management office for added counsel.
“There are specific protocols and rules, especially in coastal areas, on evacuation and other events,” Reese says. “There is also community emergency-response training that can better help you and your staff prepare for natural disasters.”
Value constant communication
Though Minnesotans know frigid weather comes with the territory (the most recent winter season included several sub-zero days and numerous snowstorms), restaurateur Luke Shimp consistently monitors weather forecasts so he can plan staffing levels accordingly at his Red Cow and Red Rabbit locations in the Twin Cities. If a particularly brutal storm is on the horizon, Shimp communicates regularly with staff via the company’s Hot Schedules staffing platform, as well as a private Facebook page.