Every cloud, no matter how ominous, has a silver lining.

Your restaurant will have many sunny days. There will be clear skies, ample foot traffic, and pristine patio conditions. Nothing will get in the way of you, your staff, and your supplies getting to the restaurant in time. But severe weather happens. Most recently, Canadian wildfires have created unhealthy air quality in the Midwest and along the east coast, causing many people to stay indoors. Weather incidents, like wildfire smoke, can create unsafe conditions for your guests and staff, interrupt your suppliers, and potentially do damage to your storefront. Climate change means that many natural disasters are becoming more intense and frequent. 

Some natural events are hard to predict. Even when severe weather is forecasted, predicting the intensity and duration is a guessing game. Wildfires and their smoky fallout are one example. Experts have struggled to forecast air quality, which changes by the hour. Wait until the last minute to prepare, and you can guarantee long lines at chaotic hardware stores and added stress. But every cloud, no matter how ominous, has a silver lining. There are steps you can take to prepare your restaurant for a natural disaster and keep your staff, customers, and infrastructure safe. 

1. Stay in the know

When severe weather is forecasted, stay alert to the intensity and duration of the weather event and adhere to local advisories on travel and disaster preparedness. Sign up for weather forecast mobile alerts and check reliable online sources like AirNow.gov to know when it is safe to travel and welcome guests again. 

Your geographic location determines the severity and types of weather events that could be coming your way. Research possible extreme weather in your area and how it might impact your operations. Know what supplies to keep on hand and how you can prepare your location in advance of extreme weather. In the event of wildfire smoke, for example, it’s a good idea to have N95 masks on hand and a well-maintained air filtration system. 

2. Keep your employees safe

Once you know the potential weather events that could impact your restaurant’s operations create a plan. A severe weather plan includes information like safety protocols, emergency contact information, and where to find emergency supplies. 

If the forecast looks ominous, maintain an open line of communication with your employees to ensure their safety and make them aware of any schedule changes. People with certain health conditions, like asthma, are more sensitive to pollution caused by wildfire smoke and may need to adapt their plans sooner. Labor management software helps you quickly adapt your staffing schedule and send an automated notification to your employees. You can also send mass messages to your staff, letting them know of any operational changes. Encourage employees to share resources and offer help with necessities like food, water, and electricity. 

3. Limit or suspend service if you need to 

The safety of your guests and employees is your top priority. Wildfire smoke may mean you simply need to close down outdoor dining areas and move things indoors. Or, if you decide that smoky conditions make it unsafe for your employees to get to work, you might need to limit or suspend service. If you’re working with a skeleton crew, make sure they don’t get overwhelmed and can still get home safely at the end of their shift. Technology such as QR codes and handhelds can help limited staff serve more tables without a sacrifice in service.

4. Leverage Online Ordering

While operations may be limited, you can still maintain business. If you offer online ordering, you can increase your ability to accept orders for pickup or delivery and pace your online orders according to kitchen capacity. Don’t forget to update your online ordering page if your kitchen is closing earlier than expected. 

If you’re still operating indoors, consider leveraging the chain of events as a way to gather customers—chances are they’ve got a bit of cabin fever and would welcome the chance to get out for a drink or bite to eat. Extending happy hour or offering a special could drive the revenue you might have lost to outdoor dining or canceled reservations. 

5. Inform your guests

As soon as you make a decision that impacts your operations, keep your guests informed. Send an email update and share a social media post letting your most loyal guests know of any changes to service, including hours and limited patio reservations. Update your Google Business Profile with your modified hours (or let potential guests know that it’s business as usual). Simple email marketing and social media tools can help you keep guests in the loop and bring them back in as soon as you reopen.

Similarly, a restaurant waitlist and reservation system lets you send 2-way text messages to your guests with confirmed reservations. This creates an open line of communication, giving you an opportunity to reschedule if necessary and showing your guests that you care for their wellbeing. 

As the saying goes, you can’t control the weather. Thankfully, with some forethought and the right team, you can control your response to it. 

Scott Youkilis leads SpotOn’s Restaurant Advisory Council & Brand Ambassador programs, driving brand awareness and business development for restaurant owners assessing their current technology needs. With 30+ years of experience in the Bay Area, Youkilis also works with state restaurant associations to position SpotOn as the preferred tech partner.

Expert Takes, Feature, Food Safety