It’s been a tough hurricane season, not to mention the wildfires and other natural disasters that have struck this year. When disaster strikes, the essentials (food, water, shelter) become critical. Restaurants and other food service companies can be integral partners in the recovery efforts of their communities. Food is relief, and a hot meal does wonders for the soul in the face of crisis.
Even the federal government looks to the Waffle House restaurant chain, famous for being open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in times of disaster. The breakfast chain has a superior disaster preparedness plan and strives to stay open even under the worst conditions. FEMA’s informal “Waffle House Index” tracks Waffle House restaurants in affected areas to see if they are switching to a limited menu (a bad sign) or if the restaurants are closed (even worse!). Waffle House’s commitment to service helps their community, and, indirectly, federal emergency management.
In the wake of a disaster, the focus of your business should shift from profits to philanthropy. These are the people who have supported your business. Now is the time to lend a helping hand. A restaurant should ask itself: How can we help? What can we do to assist our community?
Help your community and your employees
If your restaurant has power and limited damage, try to become operational as soon as possible, in order to serve as a haven for food and water to those seeking a warm meal. Some of your own staff may be impacted by the disaster. If you are part of a franchise, reach out to your fellow franchisees for help and emergency staffing so your employees can take care of their families too.
Donate food, water, money and time. All of these resources are important. Food and water fill the immediate needs of victims, relief workers, and first responders during a crisis. Money donated to food banks and charitable organizations dedicated to disaster relief is essential to long-term recovery efforts. Time is critical for both short- and long-term recovery efforts, and this manifests itself in many ways, including distributing food and water.
Do what you do best
As a restaurant, the best thing you can do is the thing you do every day. Use your skills to provide food, water, and service to those in need. Outside of the disaster area, use your restaurant and the generosity of your customers to raise funds for relief efforts.
As the world watched oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon explosion – the worst oil spill in U.S. history – Abita Beer, a client in the People Who Think family, sought a way to help with the rescue and restoration of the environment. They did what they do best, and created a charitable brew that ultimately raised half a million dollars.
Here are a few ideas—
Take your restaurant on the road
Whether you’re a single food truck or a national restaurant chain, consider heading to the disaster site to provide meals for victims and first responders. This is especially important if the area’s restaurants are also in recovery mode.
Pivot to water
Anheuser-Busch is known for distributing cans of water during times of disaster relief. Water is essential during a crisis, and even if your company doesn’t have the ability to produce its own water, you can pack up an 18-wheeler with H20 and head to the relief zone.
Create something special
Create a limited time offer or a special menu item and dedicate the proceeds of that item to the disaster relief efforts.
Team up with your customers
Host a day or night in which a portion of the profits are dedicated to the relief efforts—those dollars can add up fast. For an added benefit, match the dollar amount your customers raise.
When disaster strikes, most people run in the other direction. But children’s television host Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gave some good advice on dealing with times of disaster. “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.”
Be a helper.
Andrew Alexander, PR & Content Specialist