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Severe Weather Planning Tips for Restaurant Operators

With spring arrived and summer not far behind, storm season is on its way too, with threats from wind, rain, hail, and all manner of inclement weather.

If you are in the Midwest or Southeast, there is a persistent danger of tornadoes. On the Atlantic coast, hurricane season runs from June 1-Nov. 30. In the case of the latter, predictions are trending high, with between 25 and 30 named storms; at lease one forecaster is calling for the “hurricane season from hell” in 2024.


Hurricanes can knock out power to thousands of businesses and millions of people, while the rain they generate can cause widespread flooding. It can take days or even weeks to remove floodwaters. Tornadoes, of course, wreak their own kind of havoc, from downed trees to destroyed buildings—and don’t forget the hail and rain.

As the skies turn from clear and sunny to stormy and foreboding, chances are you find yourself facing a delicate balancing act. While some restaurants flop in this sort of weather, others manage to not only survive but thrive during these ever-changing weather patterns.

What is a restaurant owner to do? Here are a few suggestions compiled from a variety of sources:

Create a Crisis Communication Plan

A clear and concise contingency plan will keep employees functioning as a unit during a weather threat. Decide in advance when to close and ensure that all employees know their roles.

Emergency numbers and contact lists should be available for employees and should include managers, Red Cross, public health authorities, bottled water supplier, municipal water and sewer facilities, rental outfits for generators and other equipment, gas and electric utilities, plumbers and a dry ice supplier.

Then there are emergency supplies. Consider having these items on hand in the event of a serious storm: flashlights, first aid supplies, disposable gloves for hand protection, hand sanitizer and wipes, tarps, ropes, and plastic bags, a battery-operated radio, non-perishable packaged or canned food, plywood and tools for boarding windows, extra batteries, and bottled water supplies.

Embrace versatility

Smart restaurateurs recognize that weather patterns can fluctuate without warning. They design their establishments with this in mind, offering both indoor and outdoor seating options.

During fair weather, patrons can enjoy the sunshine on a charming patio. On inclement days, a cozy interior welcomes them, ensuring the dining experience remains comfortable and enjoyable.

Leverage technology

In today's tech-savvy world, restaurants can benefit greatly from using technology to their advantage. Implementing online reservations, digital menus, and delivery services can be a game-changer during challenging weather scenarios.

Guests appreciate the convenience of placing orders from the comfort of their homes, especially during heavy storms.

Protect your assets

Before severe weather even hits, you may have some warning. If you have time, protect your assets. Secure your physical locations by boarding up windows, doors, light poles, signage, etc. Most important, protect your employees by communicating what is in store and how they should prepare.

Safety first

Slip-resistant mats can prevent accidents on wet floors, and proper ventilation systems can keep the indoor environment comfortable during heat waves. Proper training and protocols for emergencies are equally crucial.

Community engagement

In times of unpredictable weather, fostering a sense of community can go a long way.

Engaging with local residents and businesses can help create a support network during challenging times. Consider collaborating with nearby establishments for joint promotions or discounts, helping draw in more foot traffic and benefiting everyone involved.

Stay cool through power outages

One of the biggest dangers in a hurricane is the loss of power and how it affects food storage. Many Time and Temperature Control for Safety Foods (TCS Foods) may need to be destroyed if they go out of temperature range. Temperature-abused foods can grow harmful bacteria and spoil, putting people at risk for foodborne illness. Try these additional tips when dealing with power outages:

  • As soon as possible after losing power, create ice baths for TCS Foods such as eggs, meats, seafood, milk, cheese, prepared foods, cooked vegetables.
  • Monitor and document product temperatures as long as it is safe to remain in the building or if the power outage is confirmed to be brief.
  • Avoid opening reach-in and walk-in cooler doors as much as possible to keep foods cold. A freezer in good condition may maintain its temperature for up to 24 hours if unopened.
  • Discard any TCS Foods that have been above 41°F for more than two hours or if the time out of temperature control is unknown.
  • If power is expected to be out for an extended time, dry ice can help keep refrigeration temperatures at 41°F or below. Be cautious when using dry ice, as it can produce dangerous carbon dioxide gas in closed areas.

Ensure a clean water supply

A clean water supply and sufficient plumbing are necessary for any food establishments to conduct business:

  • If water is contaminated or a boil water advisory is in effect, use bottled water for drinking and cooking. Boiled water or a source of potable water must be used for all hand washing.
  • A dish machine or dishwasher should be used only if 180° F or hotter rinse water is available. In the absence of a usable dish machine, use a three-compartment sink and boiled or bottled water to prepare the wash, rinse and sanitize compartments.
  • If water has been contaminated, do not use any ice from ice machines or soda fountains. Once water service is restored and before using the machine, discard the first cycle of ice, then clean and sanitize ice bins after flushing the ice machine system.

Being proactive and creating a crisis prior to experiencing any type of natural disaster is an essential part of protecting employees, customers, and the overall structure of the business.

Content courtesy of AMMEX