Should You Open During Inclement Weather?

There’s a legend in the worlds of both restaurants and crisis management: The Waffle House Index. It’s an informal metric for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and bases the severity of a disaster and the response needed on how local Waffle Houses handle it.

There are three levels of status to The Waffle House Index:

  • “Green” indicates that Waffle Houses are open and serving a regular menu. This indicates that all staff can get to work, machinery can run correctly (gas and electricity are running), and there’s no major inventory problems.
  • “Yellow” indicates that there’s not a full menu. This could be from limited inventory (unable to replenish), limited or even no power, and that they may even just be using generators.
  • “Red” indicates one thing: the restaurant is closed. At this point, it is a severe disaster, and FEMA knows what it needs to do.

Your restaurant may experience inclement weather from time to time, especially if you operate in certain areas. Much of America has been dancing with the “polar vortex” and “snowpocalypses” this year, so restaurants have had to handle the decision: should you open for business?

Staff Capabilities

First and foremost, the safety of your staff is paramount. Never ask your staff to do something you wouldn’t if you don’t think you could get out to the restaurant and open it, it’s not worth it. If you can make it and your staff can , you may want to consider opening, if only for limited hours. If only one of your chefs can get there (but you normally have two over the course of the day), you may want to run for a half-day. If you can’t have any waitstaff show up, you might find yourself filling in for that position. During disasters, your staff may be forced to be flexible, taking upon tasks they’re not used to. Once the disaster is done, you may want to reward their flexibility with paid vacation time (especially if they need to take care of damage at home) or other treats. They took risks getting to work, you need to reward.

Inventory Capabilities

If anything, you can’t run a restaurant without food: that’s common knowledge. If you’ve had a delivery truck not arrive, you may be limited in your food supplies, and might need to go down your menu and see what you can and can’t make. Can’t exactly make chicken noodle soup without carrots and chicken. When you have customers show up, just be honest with them. In most cases, they’ll understand the limited menu.

Customer Safety

Even if your staff can get to the restaurant and you have full inventory, you may not want to open for the simple fact that nobody would show up. Given how bad disasters are, people may be stuck at home, leaving the area for the safety that family and friends offer, or just in a mindset to save money for repairs that’ll need to be made. If nearby restaurants are closed, you can take a gamble and open up to be the one place that makes money, or play it safe and give everyone a day off.

In all situations, safety comes first. Don’t go in if it’s too dangerous. If you can, take all factors into account; you might just find yourself in a very profitable situation.