The havoc wreaked by Mother Nature this summer in the form of hurricanes still has many restaurant brands in affected states reeling. With rebuilding and repairing significant damages ahead, recovering the significant costs associated with lost business and reconstruction will continue.
That's certainly been the case for Atlanta-based Krystal. Although the 85-year-old chain was not able to provide exact numbers of stores damaged, it said dozens of the brand's locations were directly in the path of Hurricane Irma in early and mid-September. That second hurricane — which struck just days after Hurricane Harvey in the mid-south — slammed into Florida Sept. 10 and continued to South Carolina the next day, before weakening to a still-significant tropical storm across Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi days later.
Those are all states where Krystal has dozens of stores, but Krystal CMO Jason Ablekop said the company was prepared for the worst. During a Q and A interview with QSRweb, Ablekop explained how planning ahead helped the brand to quickly recover its footing and begin rebuilding.
"I want to commend the entire industry for stepping up — first by the overwhelming support brands have provided to their own in recovery efforts and second by how we have all worked side by side to serve communities and first responders. There really is no better industry. " -Krystal CMO Jason Ablekop
Q: What would you say is absolute priority No. 1 immediately after a disaster like Hurricane Irma happens?
A: First and foremost, account for team members to make sure they are okay. Second, we need to assess the damage of our locations and mobilize teams to open when it is safe to do. Serving our guests, particularly when they are without power, is a critical public service.
Q: Do you have pre-established crisis response plans that layout a time- or progress-line for clean-up, rebuilding and reopening after these kinds of natural disasters?
A: Yes. We have developed very detailed plans and regularly review our emergency response initiatives with our field teams.
In the event of a possible hurricane, we require our restaurants to conduct readiness activation steps at each alert escalation. A field and corporate response team is formed and we conduct calls daily.
The first priority is for the safety of our crew members, followed by getting our restaurants reopened as soon as possible so as to serve people who really need a hot meal.
Q: How does that kind of pre-planning help in a disaster like Irma, since naturally no plan can anticipate everything that might occur?
A: People need to know what is expected of them, particularly during a crisis period. By having a known plan and then working through that plan, we can prevent small issues from becoming big ones. And, most importantly, we can effectively and efficiently ready our restaurants, so our managers and crew members can be home with their families when a storm is imminent and not scrambling to board up a restaurant.
Q: What's the cost incurred by Irma on the chain and how much do you expect it to affect your overall financials?
A: We cannot disclose financial information.
Q: Do other franchise groups in your system and the corporate arm of the brand contribute to recovery after this kind of destruction and business loss?
A: Our franchisees care just as much as we do about crew members and guests. They, too, follow developed protocols because they know that the better prepared we all are, the faster everyone can get back to work. As for assisting our community, we were pleased and proud to be able to offer first responders a free meal as a small thank you for all they do.
Q: Does that kind of assistance have any ripple effects for the business as a whole?
A: Of course! Everyone wants to work for a brand that shows its employees and its guests that it cares.
Q: So now that we're weeks out from the storm, what is priority No. 1 at this time for the brand?
A: We need to assess what worked and what did not. How can we improve our plans? How do we prepare for multiple back-to-back weather disasters? As this year has taught us, Mother Nature can be very unpredictable and we all need to be ready.
Q: What impressed you most about the brand and the restaurant industry in the days following these storms?
A:I want to commend the entire industry for stepping up — first by the overwhelming support brands have provided to their own in recovery efforts and second by how we have all worked side by side to serve communities and first responders. There really is no better industry.
Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Communications, Customer Service / Experience, Financing and capital improvements, Insurance / Risk Management, Loss Prevention, Marketing / Branding / Promotion, Operations Management, Policy / Legislation, Safety, Staffing & Training
Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of Pizzamarketplace.com and QSRweb.com after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.