Is your business prepared for a power outage?
In January alone, Australia has experienced a power outage in several cities. Here in Perth, unseasonable rain caused widespread power outages. The rain caused arcing in the electricity network’s insulators, which had a build-up of dust. In other cities, such as Melbourne and Sydney, there was a power outage that left 45,000 premises without power due to surging use of air conditioners to fight record-breaking heat waves. Power plants struggled to meet demands. Weather-related power interruptions are almost impossible to avoid.
For businesses such as restaurants, this can cause critical operational and safety issues. Restaurants usually operate in a hectic and frantic, so a power outage indeed adds stress in creating a wonderful dining experience for your guests.
The stakes are high, but if you plan and have a system in place, you will be able to quickly adjust to it and continue operation while power outage is ongoing.
It is safe to say that you already know what happens during a power outage – your customers are plunged into darkness, your equipment like refrigeration and dishwashers shuts down, no hot water (if there’s water at all) and your operational flow is majorly disrupted.
But how does power outage specifically affect your restaurant business?
You can potentially lose sales in more ways than one. Your inventory and stocks can spoil as your freezer stocked full of items have no motor running to keep things frozen, people in the middle of their meal may choose to hurry to finish it and lose the chance for additional sales that often happen when people stay longer – extra wine, desserts or coffee. Worse, if you or your untrained staff are unable to appease your guests properly due to lack of assistance or negligence, it may lead to complaints and they may not return for business.
If you are unprepared, you will be at the mercy of the power company to fix the electrical issue. But if your restaurant is physically prepared for it and your chefs and kitchen team know the game plan, your restaurant will survive the crisis. You can even turn this unfortunate event to an opportunity to show your guests how prepared you are and how well your team handles the situation. Impressed guests can mean return business or positive reviews/word of mouth.
Power outages cost damages to business through loss of customers, food wastes, loss of operating hours and cleaning.
How do you safeguard your business from the damages of power failure?
Preparing for the outage:
- Make sure that all your building and safety codes are up-to-date.
- Know the regulations in your jurisdiction on what to do during power loss. Some may require you to close immediately.
- Research the type and specifications of the generator that can operate your entire restaurant. If budget is an issue, you can choose a small generator that will keep important equipment operating such as your POS system or refrigeration units. Remember, It takes time to install generators so find a schedule for that. If you are planning to open a restaurant, then make sure that this is part of running one.
- Print emergency phone numbers on paper. Quick access numbers include local health department, staff members, utility companies, and upcoming reservations (so you can call guests to reschedule). Post or keep them in an easy to find place in your office so that it will be easy to get to during power failure. It is understood that you may not be able to operate your computer and other digital equipment. If battery powered, remember that the power will eventually drain.
- Keep a spare (and fully charged) external phone battery or power banks for cell phones in your office. These batteries are relatively inexpensive and great in emergencies.
- Having said that, it is smart to go old school sometimes. Have a landline with at least one phone plugged directly into a wall or a phone jack.
- Establish a workflow or sequence in case of power failure and train your entire staff to what their roles are if the power outage happens during their shift. Training should be ongoing. This will reinforce the plan to your team even if you have hired short term, temporary chefs. Practice these drills so that your regular staff will be able to assist your short term temp chef and minimise undue stress. If possible, do different emergency practice drills to limit the risks and chaos during a power outage.
- In case of citywide power outage and your restaurant is physically prepared to operate even during a power failure, your manpower schedule may be disrupted if your chef or kitchen staff will not report for work. Make sure that you have a backup plan for this. You can contact reputable short term staffing agencies to hire a temporary chef quickly. Anytime Chefs’ goal is to find the right help for Hospitality Business Owners and Head Managers, at the right time ANYTIME you need it!
Do you need TEMPORARY CHEFS QUICKLY FOR EMERGENCY STAFFING?
- Organise your walk in and freezer in such a way that all raw meats are either on the lower shelves or are separated from other ingredients. In case of prolonged power failure, the juices from the raw meat will not leak on the rest of the food or contaminate them.
- Create an evacuation plan in case the situation warrants it.
- Have battery-operated emergency lights set up in your restaurant as backups. Keep flashlights available with working batteries on accessible locations. Include in your plan a schedule of checking batteries so that you will not be finding out if they are drained when it’s too late.
- Make sure you have a thermometer and alarms installed on your refrigeration equipment. These will let you know when the temperature inside has reached an unsafe level and will compromise the quality of your food. It will also help you monitor how long the food has been exposed to those temperatures.
- Keep freezer or insulated containers and ice on hand.
- Have tickets from your POS on standby, so you can still cash out guests.
- Have an old fashioned credit card swiper or flatbed imprinter on hand as a backup to run cards.
- Ask your chef to create a menu that you can refer to in case of emergency. A list of dishes that you can make quickly without appliances, but with ingredients usually present in your kitchen.
Ongoing Power Outage:
- Ensure the safety of your employees and customers. This should be your top priority.
- Call your utility company and find out their estimate as to when the power will be restored.
- Take note of what time the power outage started. You can use this as a basis as to how long your stocks in the cooler or freezer are without proper refrigeration.
- Immediately throw out any food, especially meat, that is in the process of cooking, but hasn’t reached its safe cooking temperature at the time of the power disruption.
- It is critical to always have proper ventilation in your restaurant, so if your exhaust system has stopped due to the power being out, have your kitchen staff turn off all cooking equipment right away when possible.
- Have someone check on the guests, if this is included in your prep plan, remind that person to do his role. Check to reassure them of the situation, ask if they are okay, offer them a water bottle, ask if they need anything. If customers need to use the restroom, staff should be on hand with a ready flashlight to assist and light the path. If customers need to leave the establishment, have a staff use a flashlight to escort them out of the facility safely. Communicate with your guests consistently throughout the issue. If any patrons wish to leave, make sure they get out safely and apologize for the inconvenience.
- If there is no hot water or any water at all, or no lighting and if food cannot be kept at safe temperatures – stop the food preparation!
- However, if your backup generator is working fine, you may use your emergency menu as options for guests already waiting in the restaurant and are still wanting to dine.
- Keep all refrigerators and freezer doors closed. Limit opening them unless truly necessary. This simple step will help maintain a safe temperature for your food and could potentially prevent having to throw some ingredients out. Refrigeration units must be below 5°Celsius and freezers below -18° Celsius. In general, if full freezers are kept with doors closed, they can keep food cold for about 48 hours (only 24 hours if half full), refrigerators can safely keep food cold for about 4 hours.
- Call your guests who placed reservations and inform them of the situation. Make the most of social media to let people know and tell them once power has resumed.
After the Outage
- Take note of the time when power resumes and calculate the duration of the outage. This will help you determine if you can still salvage your stock.
- For refrigerated food, follow the “2 Hour – 4 Hour Rule”. This rule means that you can refrigerate or consume the food if the power was out for less than 2 hours. If there was no power for 2 to 4 hours, the food can still be consumed, but must not be returned in the refrigerator. Just make sure to use it as quickly as possible. Finally, discard the food if there was not there was no power for more than 4 hours. For added safety, take extra care to check raw meat for signs of going bad such as foul odour, if slimy to the touch, etc. When in doubt, it’s better to throw it out. If it’s been more than four hours, only use food if it’s at 4 degrees or lower.
- Check items for signs of freezer burn from being defrosted and then refrozen. These should be tossed out for quality.
- If food spoilage occurred during the power outage, discard them and sanitize your cooling units before placing new food. You can use baking soda and vinegar to clean your units safely. When in doubt, throw them out.
- Ensure your equipment is working correctly.
- Reset your circuit breakers.
- Check availability of hot water. This is so you can adequately clean and sanitize in the kitchen.
- Review your plan and check if there is any room for improvement in the event of another power outage or emergency. Get feedback from your staff. Determine what part of the plan was confusing or was difficult to do and what unforeseen hazards have they encountered. Consider all those inputs in the plan revision. Retrain chefs and staff if needed.
If your health department has closed your establishment after the outage, wait for their permission to reopen. This way you will not be penalized for violations.
I understand the need to limit any wastes but remember to not sacrifice quality and safety for profit. If you are checking for food spoilage, use your senses except for the sense of taste. It could be potentially dangerous when ingesting spoiled food. When in doubt, throw out. It is better to be safe than sorry. Just serve to your customer what you would eat.
Always remember, your top priorities are the safety of your guests and your staff, so make sure that actions and procedures that involve safety are highlighted. Emphasize to your staff, from your chefs to your dining team, that during stressful situations like this, it is best to keep a calm and level head so that everyone can clearly think on their toes. Everyone will be able to react quickly and undue stress will be minimised.
Power outages are never fun, but with a proper emergency plan, you will be able to handle the situation and recover with minimal downtime and costs.
Ciao for now,