It was about 2 p.m. in the afternoon. I was a young Assistant Manager working at a restaurant in Lemay, Missouri just south of St. Louis. The lunch rush was just getting over. The employees were cleaning up the dining room area and I was standing at the front counter next to the cashier greeting the few straggling customers that were trickling in. Suddenly the cashier, a young girl in her early twenties on summer break from college, started screaming and threw her arms around me. At first I thought ‘this is a pleasant, but unexpected surprise.” Then there was what sounded like a huge explosion and the ground literally shook beneath my feet. I thought that a bomb had been set off. As I looked up, I saw what had caused all of the mayhem. There was a huge dump truck inside of the dining room! It looked like some fat, long, black torpedo that had failed to detonate. Several windows had been shattered and there was dust everywhere. A whole side of the building where the truck entered had collapsed, and a section of the roof was sitting on top of the truck. The mysterious thing was, there was no diver in the truck. It looked like the thing had driven itself into the restaurant. I told an employee who was working over by the drive-thru window to call 911. She told me that she had seen the truck drive onto the parking lot and started dialing even before it hit the building. Fortunately, there weren’t many people in the dining room, and no one was hurt, though there was a pregnant lady sitting just a few tables away from where the truck came in that was pretty shook up.
The police and fire department arrived shortly and we closed the dining area of the restaurant because we weren’t really sure whether the roof would collapse or not. We had to make a decision whether to keep the drive-thru open. It would take about three or four days to repair the building so we decided to close the restaurant for safety reasons. Everyone pulled together and we loaded up our cars with all of the perishable items and transported them to other stores. The managers and a few of the employees agreed to stay in the restaurant during the construction, which was going on day and night.
During the recent storms in St. Louis that knocked out power to over a half a million customers and caused a lot of property damage and the ensuing heat wave that had temperatures with heat indices around 116 degrees, a lot of area businesses were faced with the same decisions. Businesses are faced with a number of challenges during and after a disaster. Some area stores stayed open after the storm, even though they didn’t have power. The plus side is that, if you have stable employees, they can help each other during the crisis, and you can build a lot of customer loyalty and support if you are there for them in their time of need. The downside is that you have to make sure that the safety of your employees and your customers isn’t compromised. Dark stores increase the risk of accidents, slips, and falls. Open cash registers and doing orders “the old-fashioned way” with a pencil and a calculator can increase the risk of theft. If the power outage is widespread enough and lasts for a long time, there may even be a danger to the employees and customers from looting and vandalism.
Even if the business is closed for several days there are ways to benefit from the reopening. A lot of owners want to get things up and running as quickly as possible because of the bottom line. But, it’s better to make the reopening part of the community restoration. It’s also a good time not only to get your employees back to work, but also to consider how their families are taken care of.
Unpredictable events can cause a lot of stress, both on the job and at home. It’s important to realize that everyone will be irritable, on edge and unhappy. And remember, providing good customer service is impossible without stable employees.