Standing Up To Harvey & Irma

September 14th, 2017 | hereschicago


JON Wool Chicago Hospitality

Jon Wool

In the midst of the tragedies and devastation taking place in Houston and in the Caribbean, we are reminded of the vital importance of disaster preparedness for our own businesses.


We are reminded that the security and safety of our companies, our employees, and their families is our foremost responsibility. We must also face the reality that our financial responsibilities do not vanish. We must remain solvent and able to meet ongoing obligations: payroll, taxes, vendor invoices, and the cash flow to whether such storms.  There are certainly exceptions, though.


Our son, Greg, manages the iconic ZoZo’s Restaurant at the Resort at Caneel Bay in St. John Island. The resort has been ravaged and has already announced that it will not open this coming year. In such extreme circumstances, disaster preparation becomes a mute point. In most other incidences, it is not. Please note that, fortunately, Greg made it off island and is safe.


This piece is dedicated to those in Houston and South America and the heroic ways in which they are fighting such horrific catastrophes. My blessings go out to each.


Disaster Strikes

Interview a caterer on the meaning of disaster and you’ll hear tales of broken down trucks with fresh heirloom tomato soup streaming out the back. You’ll hear of staff that never showed, china that wasn’t ordered, or even when the biggest event of the season was somehow marked on an incorrect date. While disastrous unto themselves, most caterers adapt quickly, pull magic out of a hat, and even laugh about it sometime later. We all have a story like that, right?

However, true disasters are of a more consequential nature. These are the type that can bring a business to a screeching halt. These are the disasters that tax a company’s preparedness to survive fire, flood, extreme acts of nature, and more.

The tasks of preparing for an emergency can be daunting under any circumstance, especially given the number of factors that caterers must address. Steps for success may become even more pronounced when a caterer is serving a multitude of parties within a tight time frame. Disasters are completely indifferent to our calendars. There are no optimal times for emergencies to strike so, especially during a business’s prime selling season, the caterer should always be at the ready.

Are You Prepared?

While essentials for disaster preparedness are many, here are the first recommended steps within a multi-tiered process:

  • People and safety come first. Take care of your employees and their families
  • Compose a list of emergency telephone numbers, including the administrative chain-of- command per vendors, purveyors, and venues
    • Maintain a close relationship with your insurance provider, legal advisors, vendors, and municipal emergency services
    • Communicate clearly, confidently, and often with each and rally your team.
    • Create a list of responsibilities and assignments for your staff re: anticipated emergency situations
    • Write a description of training, and drills required during such times
    • Procedures should be as simple as possible so that they are easily understandable to even the newest employee
    • Although time is of the essence, it’s important to resist the tendency to rush or to take shortcuts. If the efficacy of the work becomes compromised then problems will compound.
    • Protect data
    • Regardless of the urgency, never engage a restoration company without verifying the company has bona fide credentials, is fully licensed, insured for maximum coverage, and is able to respond immediately
    • Should a company have to temporarily close its facilities, a well designed back up action plan must be in place. Coordinate alternative locations for administration and operations that are ready with work stations, dedicated telephone lines, computers, printers, fax, and all other basic office equipment. This can take place within a private home, a rental trailer, a temporary rental office, a social hall—whatever works for you
  • Secure licensed kitchen space, contract with a mobile kitchen unit, church, and social hall kitchens, even consider a collaborative relationship with another caterer
  • Not all disasters, particularly natural disasters, can be prevented, but the risk of safety and loss of assets and can be mitigated with careful planning and high execution standards.
  • It is strongly suggested that businesses set aside additional capital and resources specifically for disaster management. While daily and routine planning and event production stand as “the norm,” so too should our response to emergencies.

Onward and Upward

OK, then—just like the fire drills we used to practice when we were young and in school, the alarm has ceased and it’s time to get back to work. Enjoy a safe, flavorful and prosperous season.

Jon Wool is the president and owner of JHW Business and Hospitality Consulting He can be reached at


Jon Wool President 

Jon has enjoyed a long and heralded career in the special events and catering industries. Following his tenure as a Vice President with Wolfgang Puck Catering, he established one of Chicago’s premier catering initiatives, Finesse Cuisine. Throughout years of consulting, coaching, and sales training, he has helped scores of clients throughout North America to grow and prosper.

Contact Jon at or visit



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