It’s irresistible, isn’t it? The thought of an officially sanctioned day of playing hooky, all safe and warm with your kids and your dogs, snuggled up at home with a full pantry, three hundred cable channels and a bottle of wine for later. The oven’s cranking a pot roast and dough’s rising underneath a gingham tea towel in a ceramic bowl on the counter. It’s like a Norman Rockwell painting up in here!
As I write this, it’s Tuesday afternoon of last week (the day after the big snow), and I’m finally able to see a thin stripe of pavement on the street in front of my house. I’m worried. I’m worried there won’t be enough dessert where I work to feed the Fat Tuesday crowd tonight. Actually, in a way, I’m hoping we have enough business that we run out of dessert … because we had to be closed yesterday.
Yesterday morning, the day of the Snowpocalypse, we set out at 5:40 a.m. John and I share a car, so the idea was to get him to work way out Preston south of the Gene Snyder, then I’d go all the way back around town to St. Matthews, allowing enough extra time for traffic delays and problems for me still to get to the spot with plenty of time to work my pastry magic before the line cooks arrived and took over the range tops. What followed was five hours of sheer hell, nearly sliding off roadways dozens of times, getting part of the way to St. Matthews, finding out we had to close the restaurant for the day, turning back the other way, and going all the way back south in white-out conditions to pick John up because his company also called it off.
We didn’t even make it to the grocery. We did manage to make it to the liquor store (!), and thankfully I’d put bean soup in the crock pot before we left, which was lovely to come home to, after all that stress.
But what happens to a restaurant, and to its owners and employees, when they have to shut down for weather?
First, understand that weather affects restaurants all the time. Gorgeous sunshine? You might see a dip in patronage because people are having picnics and barbecues. Super gloomy torrents of rain? Some folks just don’t like to come out if they’re going to get wet getting in and out of the car. But in either of those cases at least some patrons — and hopefully many — will end up inside your joint anyway. Snow day shutdown? Not so much. Actually, not at all.
So, as an owner, you’re sitting on all this perishable product. A snow day shutdown takes a day of shelf life off everything in the walk-in. Perhaps you had food products scheduled to be delivered today. Maybe the truck arrived, and nobody was there to take it in. Maybe the truck didn’t get there, and the supplier will have double delivery schedule tomorrow when you might be able to open, so it’ll come at a weird time (during service) when employees are least available to put it away.
Then there’s the nightmare scenario where your business loses power due to the storm. Yes, many restaurants have insurance which covers loss of product in case of a loss of electricity. But often it has to reach a certain level of lost product before it’ll pay out. So while you are forced to hope you lost enough to get the insurance money, if it reaches that level, you’re stuck with clearing out a walk-in directly into a dumpster and replacing everything. More manpower, more waiting for supplies.
Now, how about the employees? They’re not on salary, for the most part. That prep cook will miss those 12 hours of wages when it comes time to pay the rent two weeks from now. That server is basically SOL for 25 percent of his usual weekly take in tips. That pregnant bartender was counting on that day’s money to put towards the bassinet she has on layaway.
Go out, go out, people! After the snow, always go out. Support your local eateries — which in turn support a lot of your favorite chefs and servers. Restaurant owners and employees don’t have paid personal leave to fall back on. It’s no day for a snow day. Remember us!
By the way — this is my 84th column. That’s seven years of Industry Standard! Thank you for reading.
Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, and Café Lou Lou.