To open or not to open. That is the question. While children and civilians do a snow dance to conjure up closings, industry operators face a different beast. Shutting down means a loss of revenue. And at the end of the day, there’s a roster of people and bills that don’t care if Snowmageddon is happening. They want to get paid.
According to an NBC report from 2014, U.S. businesses lost an estimated $15+ billion during last winter’s string of storms. And while some businesses can recoup their losses after the bad weather’s over, the same can’t be said for restaurants. In the NBC report, Evan Gold of Planalystic, a business weather intelligence company says, “You don’t go out and buy three dinners next time you go to a restaurant.”
So what to do? As any good F&B operator knows, dealing with the unexpected is part of the game. Whether it’s a dishwasher showing up drunk, a grease trap getting clogged or Mother Nature having snowball fights with their livelihood, the ability to react in stride makes all the difference. So different types of operations have different ways to combat Old Man Winter.
Jeff Benjamin, chief operating officer of the Vetri Family says there is no one metric on deciding what to do, especially when there are multiple locations involved. The Vetri Family operates multiple restaurants in the Philadelphia area, and Benjamin says he consults with each general manager before making a decision. As long as it’s safe for the guests and the staff, they take the stance of being open.
“It’s a team effort. We can make almost anything happen,” explains Benjamin. However, even on snow days where they might operate with a skeleton crew, the restaurants’ high standards must be kept. Benjamin adds, “We can’t just (assume) the guests will give us a pass for less service or less food quality because it’s bad weather. No, they won’t. They’re actually looking for an oasis. It’s more important than ever to meet expectations.”
And in the restaurant world, it’s all about community. “We usually do well,” says Joe Cicala, chef and owner of Le Virtù and Brigantessa in Philly. “Snow is good drinking weather,” he adds. “We also romanticize it a bit. There’s the brick oven grill and a fire going. Sit by the window and watch the snow fall.” Since most of their staff live in the neighborhood and can walk to work, “it’s not really a problem to rally the troops to open,” he says. Normally, Cicala’s restaurants are dinner service only, but when there’s bad weather, he opens for lunch and features happy hour specials. “We’re open because we want to give the neighborhood an option. There’s only so much milk and eggs you can buy.”
For Marti Lieberman’s Philadelphia food truck enterprise, Mac Mart Cart, the cost/benefit analysis is pretty easy to calculate. “The factors of determining whether we go out on the streets or not are safety,” says Lieberman, “whether or not we can get to our truck to prep for service safely, and if our customers will be out and about. If we feel like most people won’t be venturing out for the day, it’s not worth the time and money to set up and waste product.”
When the white stuff starts to fall from the sky, it’s actually not that big of a deal for Mac Mart. (Now, hurricane season is a different story.) Winter is naturally a slow season for Lieberman’s crew, when they can rest and regroup for the warmer months. In the food truck world, it’s essentially a six-month long service rush.
For food deliveries, it’s a whole different ball game. The hindrance of heading out for food is exactly why services like these exist. “When the weather is bad, it’s all hands on deck,” says Steve Harrell, general manager at Caviar, the premium delivery service in Philly. With a team of couriers out on the ground, they’re able to assess the situation in real time and coordinate with their partner restaurants to determine what’s the best course of action. “Once we’ve considered all of these factors, we make the call on whether to continue service as usual, or close until conditions are safe.”
Let’s face it, bad weather makes people want to eat and drink all of the things. But when the weather outside is frightful, there’s nothing really delightful for the good people in the food and beverage industry who supply them. So remember, whether you decide to venture out to your favorite neighborhood spot or have brave souls bring you that box of doughnuts you simply can’t live without, tip often and tip well.