Plan Ahead for Winter Weather
Autumn is the time to think ahead to winter and start taking precautions to minimize the impact the cold weather will have on your business. The location of your foodservice operation will influence the amount of planning ahead you need to do, but freak winter storms can pop up even in mild climates. All businesses should take some basic precautions to avoid being caught unprepared.
As you begin checking over the interior of your building, remember that the main goal is to keep cold air outside. Inspect around walls, windows, utility vents, gas pipes, and telephone/data cable inlets for any cracks or drafts. Even small openings can let cold air in, making your HVAC system work harder and creating the potential for interior pipes to freeze. Repair any cracks or gaps with caulking or foam tape, and weather-seal doors where possible.1
Your HVAC system will work its hardest during the cold winter months, so autumn is a great time to get it inspected and have any necessary repairs or routine maintenance completed. Inspections and maintenance are usually much cheaper than emergency repairs in the middle of a cold snap.
Prevent burst pipes and flooding by prepping your plumbing now for the winter months. Use foam insulation to cover any exposed pipes, and consider purchasing heat tape for them if your area experiences extreme winter weather. Know where your main water shutoff valve is so that you can prevent as much damage as possible if a pipe does freeze and burst. It is also helpful to leave sink faucets dripping when you know temperatures are going to drop because moving water does not freeze as readily as stationary water.
Invest in multiple door mats to help prevent ice and snow from being tracked inside. Have enough on hand that you will be able to change them out multiple times during the day during heavy snows. If your area experiences heavy snowfall, a boot scraper or brush might be helpful to have outside the door. You may also want to have racks available for customers coming in wearing heavy coats.
After you have weather-proofed the inside of your building, it is time to head outside. First, walk around your property looking down. Look for any potential entry points for pests. Rodents will be looking for ways into warm buildings as the cold air sets in, and they can gain entry through holes as small as the size of a dime.2 Ensure that all vents are covered with mesh and any holes are filled. This is especially important for seasonal restaurants and church kitchens that are only opened once or twice each week, as your time away from the building will give pests time to multiply unchecked.
Next, move out farther from your building into the parking lot. Check for cracks and potholes, and make note of any that need to be patched. Allowing water to get into these cracks and holes, then freeze, will only make the damage worse.3
From here, head back to your building, this time looking up. Look for trees with branches that have grown close to your building or power lines. These will present a danger once the branches are loaded down with ice and snow, so have those branches trimmed back to a safe distance. Check your gutters as well, to ensure that they are clear of leaves and can handle the runoff when snow and ice melt.
If your restaurant has a patio, clean the furniture thoroughly. Store the furniture inside if you have the space to do so. If you do not have the space to store it, it should be covered with commercial patio furniture covers, plastic film, or tarp.4
Having the right supplies on hand can make a world of difference in a winter weather emergency. Choose an ice melter that will work best for you – they are available in liquid and granular formulations, with varying effective temperature ranges – and be sure to have plenty of it on hand. Make sure the brand you choose will not damage shoes or floors when tracked inside. Also keep salt or sand on hand to help prevent slipping when sidewalks are iced over.
In case your area receives more snow than ice melt compound can handle, be sure you have a couple snow shovels and some gloves on hand to clear off your sidewalks. Shovel early and often to prevent build-up, which is harder to remove.
Flashlights, batteries, and propane heaters are also good things to have in stock in case of a power outage. If heavy snowfall and ice storms are common in your area, consider investing in a generator that can keep your freezers and refrigerators running, at the very least. That can save a lot of product from spoilage and, in turn, save you a lot of money. That can also enable your operation to keep running once things start getting back to normal, while everybody else is waiting for food house trucks to make it through the snow and ice.
Make a Plan
Once your property is ready for a winter storm, make sure you and your employees are just as prepared. Write up a plan for inclement weather closing procedures, including who can make the decision to close, who should be contacted, and what needs to be done in the restaurant to keep it safe during the winter weather. Decide how the closing should be announced. Some local news stations announce business closings, so have their contact information if you will use this option. If you have a social media page, that is also a great way to get the word out that you will not be open.
Make sure you have a list of employees with their contact info easily accessible, so you can contact your staff to let them know if you will be closed. You should also have a list of emergency contact numbers, including your vendors, landlord, insurance agent, HVAC contractor, plumber, and electrician. If you have any scheduled deliveries for the time you will be closed, either contact your vendor or arrange for someone to be at the restaurant to accept the delivery.
Something that every foodservice operation can benefit from is creating an account with a vendor other than their main supplier. Even if your area is not frequently impacted by winter storms, if your supplier is unable to reach you due to icy conditions on the delivery route, you can be left without essential supplies. By having an open account and placing an occasional order with an alternate vendor, you ensure that you have a working relationship with another company that you can order supplies from in a pinch.
1. How to Winterize Your Hotel National Hospitality. Accessed October 2015.
2. Winterize Your Restaurants Restaurant Facility Business. Accessed October 2015.
3. Safe From Harm: Taking Steps to Winterize Your Parking Lot Restaurant Facility Management Association. Accessed October 2015.
4. Winterizing Your Patio Furniture Zimmer Rattan. Accessed October 2015.