When Disaster Strikes Your Restaurant

Don’t get struck down by disaster … be prepared to strike back! Natural disasters can be devastating. From flooding to snow and ice storms, dangerous tornado-like winds and rain to fire or earthquakes, the most important thing to do when disaster strikes is … Be Prepared!

Motivated by the April 2011 Georgetown waterfront flood that forced the temporary closing of the VSAG managed and operated Farmers & Fishers (F&F) restaurant, we wanted to share some of our lessons learned:

• Assess the Damage. Take stock and assess the damage as soon as possible. Now is the time to be thankful for what you do have, not what you don’t. After we processed the fact that F&F was under at least 4 feet of water, we were most thankful that our employees were safe and sound.

• Make a Plan. Gather all the information you can and start picking up the pieces. The key here is to be prepared for an emergency before it happens. Keep copies of all documents and emergency contact information off-site (i.e. insurance policies, proof of address, birth certificates, medical information, contact numbers for lawyers, electrical/water companies, etc.). Restaurant consultants can help you adjust and refine your natural disaster plan to best protect your assets. It is best to be prepared because what follows a natural disaster is certainly long conversations with lawyers, insurance companies and building managers and having copies of documents available will help to ease the headache.

• Act Fast. Determine as soon as possible what’s salvageable. For F&F that translated into hiring a cleanup crew. A way to keep servers and cooks on staff for a short period of time is to have them assist in the clean up process, taking inventory, making a comprehensive list of all items, tools and décor that can be saved and more.

• Reach out to the Community. The community always rallies during a disaster. If you won’t be re-opening immediately or can’t float your staff’s salaries, consider reaching out to the community to see who is hiring to find your staff a home. The Washington, DC restaurant community was absolutely amazing and helped us find homes for our fantastic staff that we sadly couldn’t keep on.

• Move Forward. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move forward. Put a good team and plan in place, and follow through. At F&F, that meant focusing diligently on re-opening the restaurant.

In the end, what doesn’t knock you down makes you stronger. We believe that the Farmers and VSAG family is stronger for having weathered this storm, and in the aftermath putting systems in place to be prepared for anything that comes our way.