Thursday, January 9, 2014

Worst Week Ever!
The Effects of the Polar Vortex

Our weekly newsletter is not only a means to promote our business. We also try to make it fun and worthwhile by sharing some of our experiences in this industry. I have often talked with customers that find it interesting to learn about what happens "behind the scenes" or how we approach our ways of doing business in the restaurant world. It is a lot different than many other industries out there. 

From a business standpoint, the first weeks of January are always a slow period for us. Families just spent their money on Christmas; everyone partied late on New Years; resolutions begin; NFL Playoffs make for a comfortable afternoon in front of the TV.  We all look for excuses to stay home, and now you can add snow and extreme cold to the mix.

This week we all experienced the "polar vortex" of cold air that came along with the snow. The entire Midwest basically shut down for 3-4 days, and trust me, I too did not want to go out in the mess.  This weather phenomenon only added to the "perfect storm" which affected our industry. 

For us financially, it was the worst week ever.  Some days this week we served 15 people all day, and some we ran a 219% labor cost.  It may seem foolish to stay open given those stats, and one might ask, "Why not just close up shop?"

The decision to close is not an easy one.  There are a lot of pros and cons to doing so. One thing that makes our industry different is that business lost is lost forever. If you are a dentist, accountant, retailer or even a salon... those missed appointments and purchases will be made up most of the time at a later occasion. If that was the case for us, we would shut down also. 

There are several other issues we take into consideration before making our decisions.

First and foremost is the safety of our staff. In making these decisions, we need to make sure our staff can make it in as well. When calling off staff, we try and always call off those that live the furthest away. No sense taking chances for those that live in Ottawa, Marseilles or Princeton. Keep those in town that may sometimes only live a few blocks away. 

Also, the restaurant industry is not all about part-time workers. There are several full-time employees who need to get their hours each week. For servers, a lot of times they want to make some money anyway. As everyone knows, losing a 7 or 8 hour shift really hurts the paycheck at the end of the week. We want to provide for our employees as well. 

And after all things are considered, we want to be open and available to anyone willing to get out of the house. No matter what the weather is out there, there will always be a few brave souls that will trek out in it. We want to be available for these people and let everyone know we will be here. You can count on us 363 days out of the year being open. Some people make the most out of it and spend extra time visiting with family or friends over a meal or enjoying an extra drink knowing that their work is closed the next day.

During the last few days, Ray shared his experiences with us while he owned the "Kickapoo Klub" out at the Starved Rock marina. Being that far out of town, there were days in the winter where you could serve 200 people and others where you would serve 20. Here, business is more consistent and therefore a lot easier to manage staff, prep and ordering.

We get to experience maybe a few days a year with bad weather. You have to change your whole mindset in how you go about your day. This industry deals with a ton of perishable items. We work with food people consume, and we need to make adjustments in our daily preparations. It is difficult going from a busy December of trying to keep up to a frigid January where we're knocking lists way down to watch what we make. You really have to stay on top of going through every cooler and checking product quality. Orders need to be scaled back as well. 

In the end, the only time we closed this past week  was on Monday night for our company Christmas party. Yet this week was still an experience we will not forget. For most of us, this was the first experience of not just the cold, but all of the things we need to adjust for situations like this. I can definitely say it was a learning experience for me.

As the temperature rise, hopefully we will all start to get back to our normal lives. We look forward to seeing everyone out and about again!

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