When bad weather hits—whether or not work or classes are canceled—noncommercial diners still must be fed. That means communication needs to happen, operations may have to shift workflows and key employees must report for duty, all of which add up to complex plans being in place before a single snowflake falls. Veterans from two decidedly Northern operations accustomed to snow and ice share their tips for fine-tuning a winter contingency plan.
1. Meet (or email) to make plans
With an eye on forecasts, the FEMA-trained Michigan State University team meets the afternoon before bad weather hits to talk specifics, setting up a conference room command center. “We’re very seasoned to inclement weather,” says Guy Procopio, the East Lansing, Mich., university’s director of dining services. “We will sit down as the weather is turning bad and have an emergency meeting just to make sure we’re on the same page.”
At Boston College, Associate Director of Restaurant Operations Megan O’Neill and Associate Director of Food and Beverage Michael Kann quickly decide by email who will be point person for that particular weather event and let the unit’s managers know. Managers are expected to check in to that person with staffing updates by text four times per day.
2. Consider housing employees
Michigan State’s self-operated campus hotel, the Kellogg Center, puts up employees in need free of charge. And with emergency kits that include air mattresses and sleeping bags in each of the dining locations, Boston College has bunked up to 40 employees in empty lounge and event spaces.
3. Make a priority list
Boston College prioritizes keeping the three main residential dining halls open, as well as a catering operation for student athletes when possible. These priorities allow workers to shift from other operations to where they’re needed. “Our commitment to the university is that if there are students on campus, so is Dining Services,” O’Neill says.
BC also uses an app that delivers notes to employees based on individual communications preferences. Dining locations can send notes to student employees (who are often within walking distance) asking them to come help feed their classmates if available.
5. Enable staff to make it in—safely
While leaders prioritize employee safety, overtime pay helps incentivize making strong efforts to get to work. Michigan State encourages workers to carpool and help each other arrive safely. “There’s a Spartan affinity, and people really want to help out,” Procopio says.