Emergency Planning for Restaurants & Bars

It’s 2:00 a.m. The alarm company just called with a power failure at your restaurant. What you do next depends on your emergency plan. Business emergencies can take many forms such as fires, tornadoes, robberies, etc. Having an emergency plan in place will allow your business to react quickly to minimize the impact of the emergency.  This in turn will save you time, money, and possibly even save lives.

Building an Emergency Plan

To build an emergency plan, you should focus on the four phases of emergency management which are mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. An Emergency Plan should have laid out instructions that can be developed and implemented for emergency situations. One of the biggest risks for businesses is the potential loss of day-to-day operations and loss of income.


Mitigation is the beginning of the emergency planning process. It is the phase where you identify your organization’s greatest vulnerabilities, both internally and externally. Fires, tornadoes and floods (depending on your location) are vulnerabilities common to most businesses.

Next, identify ways to prevent an emergency from happening or to reduce the amount of damage if a disaster does happen. For example, having fire or flood insurance is a mitigation strategy to protect your business financially. It is important to have the right coverages and policy limits in place.


The next phase is preparedness. This is when preparations are made to save lives, protect property and to help response and rescue personnel. Preparedness activities take place before an emergency occurs, once you have identified where the potential vulnerabilities are. Below are some preparedness steps to think about while developing your plan:

  1. Do you have emergency lighting in the building to help customers and employees exit if the power fails?
  2. Is there a plan to prevent food spoilage?
      • Is there a backup generator to maintain power to coolers and freezers during a power outage?
      • Is there a food company that could drop off a refrigerated trailer to move food into temporarily so it doesn’t spoil?
      • Is there another refrigerated location where the food can be moved to temporarily?
  3. Are computer files routinely backed up?
  4. Are critically important computer files backed up off-site? Some examples of computer files or hard copy files that might be important to protect could be:
      • Payroll records
      • Bank records
      • Financial statements
      • Copies of contracts
      • Leases
      • Legal correspondences
      • Insurance policies
      • Architectural or engineered drawings
  5. Is there a burglar alarm for all doors and windows with a panic feature at cash registers? (All alarms should be linked to a 24 hour service.)
  6. Are employees trained to always cooperate during a robbery and never fight or argue with the robber?
  7. Are you meeting with your insurance agent at least annually to review coverages and values?
  8. Is a video surveillance system installed?
  9. Do you have a safe that is adequately sized, fireproof, and bolted to the floor?
  10. Have you identified a safe place in case of a tornado?

Fires are a leading disaster affecting the restaurant industry and preventing them is of critical importance. You can prevent fires through proper kitchen maintenance.

Are you:

  1. Cleaning your hood and duct at least semi-annually by a professional contractor in accordance with the National Fire Protection Association 96 Standards (NFPA 96)?
  2. Servicing your Automatic Extinguishing System (AES) semi-annually?
  3. Cleaning baffles filters weekly or in accordance with NFPA 96?
  4. Cleaning the interiors and exteriors of deep fryers’ cabinets weekly or in accordance with NFPA 96?
  5. Storing greasy rags in a non-combustible container with a lid to prevent spontaneous combustion?
  6. Do you have an emergency evacuation plan in place for guests and employees in case of a fire?

Part of being prepared is establishing policies, procedures, and checklists to prevent disasters as much as possible.

For more information on fire protection, visit the Society Rick Control Library: Fire Protection for Restaurants & Bars.


The next phase is response, in which actions are taken to save lives and prevent further property damage in an emergency situation. In the event of a disaster, the police and fire departments should be notified (if an alarm company has not already done so).

When your emergency plan is complete, response training for employees is of critical importance. New employees should be introduced to the emergency plan during orientation. Existing employees should review the emergency plan annually. Employee training should include team drills and exercises; this is a great way for employees to familiarize themselves with how to respond during an emergency incident.

A training example may be for employees to practice seeking shelter from a tornado in a pre-planned area.

Specific to kitchen fires, every employee should know where the emergency pull station is for the Automatic Extinguishing System (AES) over the cooking line. They should know to pull this device whenever there is a fire on the cooking line and the AES system hasn’t activated or when evacuating the building. As an employer, it is your choice if you expect employees to use the fire extinguishers in your building to fight an early-stage fire. If you do expect fire extinguishers to be used, then the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) standards require annual employee training on how to properly use a fire extinguisher.


The recovery phase is the final phase of the process. This includes actions taken to return to a normal or safer situation following an emergency. As soon as you are aware of a disaster, notify your insurance company. Secure the site to prevent further damage and consider contacting a disaster recovery contractor. The Society Insurance claims staff can assist you.

Too often businesses impacted by a disaster find out after the disaster that their insurance coverage was inadequate. Society has coverages tailored to the needs of the hospitality industry. Meeting regularly with your local independent Society Insurance agent will help to ensure that you have the correct coverage in place when you need it.

Additional Resources

One of the best ways to protect your business is to develop an emergency plan.

Click here to learn more about developing a Business Continuation Plan (BCP) for your business. A BCP costs almost nothing to produce, but is critical to recovering losses, and customers, after a disaster.

Business of all types can find more information on preparedness planning on the Federal Emergency Planning Agency’s (FEMA) “Ready” website. This website follows the program elements within NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standard 1600 on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs.

-Adam Olijnyk


See what our restaurant customers are saying about Society Insurance https://youtu.be/vccgySuLHgc


Adam obtained his bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater in Occupational, Environmental Health & Safety. He has experience in fire science, emergency medicine and risk control. Prior to joining Society as a risk control representative, Adam worked as a firefighter, emergency medical technician and safety coordinator.

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