Restaurant Development & Design

MAY-JUN 2017

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M A Y / J U N E 2 0 1 7 • r e s t a u r a n t d e v e l o p m e n t + d e s i g n • 3 3 Y our restaurant is in tatters, utilities and cell service are out, there's water everywhere, your POS system is torched, custom- ers are displaced, and payroll's due next week. Sound like one big, nasty nightmare? It is. But it's just the kind of night- mare that becomes reality when disaster strikes. The particular circumstances may vary, but the results don't: Busi- nesses are forced to shut down, regroup and rebuild. Revenues are lost, employ- ees and/or customers may leave, and out-of-pocket costs can be staggering. Simmering beneath it all is the stress and heartbreak of seeing what you've worked so hard to build quickly and unexpectedly destroyed. That's the thing about disasters: Whether natural or man-made, they're usually unexpected and as such often don't get sufficient attention until they happen — which, of course, is too late. Businesses that fail to create and prac- tice disaster preparedness and recovery plans set themselves up for bad situa- tions to become worse. "There are so many types of potential disasters. You can't prepare for everything, but there is a lot that you can do to be as ready as possible to act fast and effectively to stem losses and get back on your feet as quickly as possible," says Scott Teel, vice president of marketing at Denver-based Agility Recovery Solutions. "Regardless of the type of event, the focus in terms of being prepared is the same." That focus, Teel says, should start with identifying disaster risks and evaluating each for its level of probability and likely scope of impact. Plans can then be put in place and insurance coverage reviewed and updated as needed to make sure you're prepared to minimize the impact. Such pre-planning should center on four key areas: • Restoring power or having access to alternative sources of power • Establishing alternate systems for communicating with staff and ac- cessing business-critical information • Being ready to conduct business transactions manually or via alternative means • Getting your physical facility at least partially usable again as quickly as possible The plan should extend beyond your own walls to include your employees as you provide information and encourage them to have their own disaster pre- paredness plans in place. After all, if a natural disaster is bad enough to shut down your business, it's likely to impact their homes and families — and their ability to get back to work — as well. Waffle House, the Georgia-based chain of more than 1,800 family-style restaurants, takes such advice seriously and has dedicated serious resources to planning for and being able to quickly recover from disasters. With many of its units located in the South and along the Atlantic coastline, the company has lived through and learned from its share of devastating events, from tornadoes and ice storms to multiple major hurricanes. Hurricanes in particular are on the Waffle House radar. With most of its stores being corporate- or subsidiary-owned and with most of those located in hurricane- prone zones, there's good reason for that. Pat Warner, vice president of culture at Waffle House, says the fact that all of its restaurants operate 24-7, 365 days a year is an advantage in some ways but a disadvantage in others when disaster hits. "We're used to being open no mat- ter what," he says. "When we have to close, we don't know how to do that, so it presents a unique challenge." To help prepare its operators for such situations, the company has systems in place and checklists developed for every- thing from steps to take as a storm ap- proaches to restaurant closing procedures and schedules. It develops guidelines and reviews with managers how to operate without power or water, where to evacuate to and how to keep in contact with associ- ates during and after a storm. Managers are required to establish and maintain contact throughout the year — well before any disaster strikes — with local emer- gency and inspection authorities. When disaster strikes, Waffle House takes an all-hands-and-resources-on- deck approach to getting its restaurants back up quickly. If an incident is severe enough, the chain's construction team is deployed to assess structural damage, prioritize rebuilding efforts and commu- nicate schedules. A "jump team" of se- nior managers and operators from other markets comes in to assist. If needed, generators are delivered, fuel is supplied and food supplies are provided. "We have a team whose sole respon- sibility is to set up a fuel depot and keep the generators running," Warner says. "It's all organized, and everyone has a different role to play in getting our restaurants back open quickly. We feel a responsibility to our associates to do that — if we're closed, they're losing money — and to our guests. Waffle House is usually the first place they can go after a devastating storm for a hot meal, air conditioning and a cell phone charge. Once we get it back open, the local Waffle House is like a little relief sta- tion where the community comes together. We make that our mission." Warner adds that the Waffle House team learns something new from every disaster situation and tries to apply those lessons to its preparation and response systems. "We take a deep dive into what worked, what didn't and what needs to change before the next event hits," he says. "And everyone's involved in those discus- sions, from unit-level operators to senior management to key vendors. We can't prevent disasters from happening, but we can continue to improve our systems." Depending on the nature and extent of a disaster, even for well-prepared companies, the process of getting back to business can be long, frustrating and costly. That's especially true when inter- nal resources are scarce and more energy is spent on putting out the daily fires of operating restaurants than on planning for real ones. But for most operators, coming back isn't optional. Here's how two independent franchisees weathered their own recent disasters and what they learned in the process.

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