Road kill and rodents running rampant make the headlines, but the reality is that most restaurants aren't closed down because of shocking kitchen nightmares. Bad food, prices, service or atmosphere are far more common reasons. Successful restaurateurs pay strict attention to these components. They prevent internal problems, and create a great reputation, by complying with health and safety regulations. And their accounting records are as spotless as the shelves in the walk-in cooler.
District, county, state and federal health regulations vary, but in general they are grouped into critical and non-critical components. Critical violations that can shut you down include hand-washing infractions, food from unapproved sources, not keeping hot and cold food at the required temperatures, insect or vermin infestations and the wrong concentration of sanitation chemicals in your commercial dishwasher.
Health inspections are a matter of public record. Some regional health departments list online findings or require restaurants to post the latest results on the front door. Many news outlets broadcast the ratings. Make this publicity work in your favor by passing inspections with flying colors or immediately correcting any problems cited. In all but the most heinous cases, you’re given a chance to fix whatever is wrong. The health inspector’s goal isn’t to shut you down; it’s to keep the public safe.
Fire hazards abound in restaurants. Prevent grease build-up with ongoing cleaning. A fire-suppression system is a necessary expenditure. A courtesy inspection from the local fire department is helpful. Ask about aisle spacing as well as occupancy rules. Make sure staff knows how to use fire extinguishers and review the emergency exit plan. Gas leaks, structural damage and failure to meet electrical, plumbing, ventilation or construction codes can also shut you down. Examine your space from rooftop to foundation at least once monthly. Look behind, under and between equipment and furnishings.
The Internal Revenue Service won’t hesitate to lock your doors if you fail to pay taxes. Keep a firm handle on finances, including accounts payable – rent or mortgage, other loans, utilities, vendors and payroll – as well as accounts receivable. If numbers aren’t your forte, hire a competent expert to do the books. Ask a trusted banker or colleague for a referral.
Restaurants caught serving minors alcohol face fines, penalties and temporary or permanent loss of the liquor license. Repeat offenders in some states may be punished by temporary or permanent shutdown. If your restaurant serves a patron too much alcohol and he gets behind the wheel, the restaurant and the bartender could face criminal charges for any damages, along with other fines and penalties. Enforce smart serving procedures; there are many online and state liquor control commission or restaurant/bar industry courses available free or for a nominal fee.
Never allow criminal activity on your premises. Set a strict code of conduct for employees related to drug use, possession of firearms or other weapons and the consequences of violent behavior in the workplace. If you're located in a vulnerable area, beef up security and surveillance equipment and get to know area law enforcement officers. A response plan for armed robberies can prevent the worst closing of all: yellow police tape protecting a crime scene.
Your restaurant might close to the public on select nights to host large, profitable private functions – or for personal reasons, such as a morale-boosting staff Christmas party. During dangerous or messy phases of major renovations or repairs it might also be necessary to close.
Post information on your marquee, website, the front door, the phone-answering system and in other appropriate outlets to let your customers know why you're closed and when you're re-opening.