Disaster Plan For Restaurant Communities

Disaster Plan For Restaurant Communities

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by Jonathan Beitler, Phaedra Cook, Lauren Ferrante, Richard Knight, Cat Nguyen, Kristofer Shelton, Dutch Small, Claudia Solis, Will Van Horn, and Matthew Wettergreen

Update, 9/10/2017: Please note that this document is still a work-in-progress and we are continuing to make edits and additions. We wanted to get this distributed to the general public as soon as possible in advance of Hurricane Irma.


The following is a framework for setting up a system that members of the hospitality industry in any city can activate themselves during pre- and post-disaster situations. It was developed by Midtown Kitchen Collectivea group of Houston restaurant industry-related individuals that came together during Hurricane Harvey recovery. This guide allows chefs, purveyors, coordinators, and other volunteers to quickly and effectively prepare meals for individuals in the surrounding affected areas. Utilizing this system, Midtown Kitchen Collective successfully coordinated the distribution of 200,000+ meals in a five-day period following Hurricane Harvey.

Pre-Disaster Planning

Community Outreach

Identify a 501(c)3 Non-profit Organization: Prior to any disaster, identify one or more non-profit 501(c)3 organizations willing to serve as financial sponsors. Encourage all of your members to keep records of any expenditures. The ideal organization is one who is nimbly able to spend the donated money as soon as it is donated.

Secure Kitchens For Post-Disaster Use: A team of professionals well-known and respected in the restaurant community should contact owners of predominant restaurants to find out who is willing to let have their kitchen set up as a volunteer meal preparation center. Depending on how the situation evolves—and once structural integrity, power and water is assessed at each individual establishment—the central kitchen will be chosen and satellites set up. The main kitchen includes the “city pantry” where food can be delivered, stored, processed and held for the use of all. Don’t ignore the many well-appointed commercial kitchens throughout your city from caterers, hotels, churches, event centers and other entities.

A note on human factors: it is ideal that the heads of rescue kitchens be congenial, community-focused people who get along with each other. There is, and should be, a lot of resource-shuffling of donated items to help “fill in the blanks” of what kitchens have vs what each needs. Those who do not want to participate in a community-wide effort should simply be left to their own work. Some are fully capable and have the resources to run a stand-alone operation. The point is to do good and feed people—and there are many ways to accomplish that. This is simply one process—the one used by the Midtown Kitchen Collective and their volunteer partners in Houston.

Make sure that all participants have each other’s contact information and premise locations on file.

Contact City Officials: It’s important to contact your city officials to determine needs and alert them to your activity. Acquiring contact information for officials in charge of first responders, EMS, etc. will also be useful. If you cannot get cell phone numbers, FB messenger can be an efficient tool. Use any means of communication to check in with points of contact daily, assessing their needs.

Line Up Purveyors Of Ingredients & Kitchen Goods: Have a list of purveyor contacts, starting with the wholesalers willing to donate in large quantities. Small local purveyors and farmers are very generous and often first to step forward. They may not have big, bulk quantities but can sometimes be a vital lifeline in the short term. We found that larger companies will donate what they can but are often slower to move as many of them will donate funds on a national level.

Bakeries can get back up and running very quickly with a limited number of ingredients and equipment. Sandwiches are a quick meal to prepare in great quantities, and easy hold at a safe temperature when in transit. Produce and dairy companies are usually willing to donate products quickly, as these are highly perishable. We would suggest taking the time before the disaster to reach out to an individual contact person, exchange information and talk about scenarios and ways that they might be able to help you if they are able.


Recruit Volunteers: It’s not too soon to secure commitments from people to volunteer! Also consider how to manage shifts and schedules. As an example, the Midtown Kitchen Collective Group established shifts that ran from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m for volunteers. As soon as possible, identify internal leaders.  Midtown Kitchen Collective had eight, including:

  • Kitchen (head chef)
  • Product and supply sourcing (donations)
  • Incoming/Outgoing Requests (in-town)
  • Incoming/Outgoing Requests (out-of-town/outlying affected areas)
  • Transportation dispatch
  • Volunteer management
  • Technology (website/form maintenance)
  • Additional logistics (box trucks/reefer sourcing, partnerships, etc.)

Individuals whose schedules are more flexible than most should be recruited for these positions, as the work takes a lot of time and energy in ways not compatible with normal job responsibilities. This especially is an issue as recovery starts and employers start demanding that their employees get back to work.

Find Sources Of Donated Box Trucks and Helicopters and Small Planes: No, we’re not kidding. In the early flood stages, helicopters might be the only way to get supplies to particular locations. In less severe areas, box trucks are tall enough to get where consumer vehicles cannot. Contact furniture stores with delivery services and distributors that you may have connections with to find box trucks.

Find Sources Of Reefers, Deep Freezers, and Refrigerated Trucks: Extra cold storage will be crucial when you are sourcing or creating meals for multiple kitchens at a time. Stock up on proteins that are easy to freeze,thaw and cook in large quantities. Ground beef, chicken breast, and bulk “frozen dinners”. Places like breweries have giant walk in rooms, which would be ideal for some purposes, even if just temporarily; they also have vans and box trucks used for deliveries which might be very valuable.

Shelters: In advance, create or find a document that lists local shelter locations. This document should include the following (but not limited to): addresses, occupancy and primary contacts—especially those empowered to make decisions. Local news organizations usually post lists of shelters online, but are often not very inclusive. Don’t forget about neighborhood schools, churches and libraries. Reach out to active members of the community in different areas of the city. Each will have their own network and vital information on smaller shelters in his or her area.

Find A Partner Organization Collecting Water & Dry Goods: It’s important to keep the kitchen mission streamlined. The job is producing meals. Find organizations collecting other categories of needed items, like baby products, cleaning supplies, pet food and the like, as well as companies that can supply huge quantities of bottled water. Plan to coordinate with those organizations so that meals might be able to be dropped off on some of their outgoing runs.

Find Volunteers (Or Ideally A Transportation Partner) For Meal Delivery: Compile a list of individuals with transportation who can be on call to make deliveries or pickups. Also, be sure to include the type of vehicles they have. Finding companies and other sources with fleets of box trucks is crucial for large deliveries. In the case of Midtown Kitchen Collective, rideshare company Lyft offered its drivers for deliveries free of charge. Contacting a company like them can make a huge difference in handling these logistics.

Set up Social Media Groups: One of the best ways to initially rally the troops and disseminate information about specific needs within the community is by setting up a Facebook group. This group can be a place for anyone in the industry to post and see what the status of everyone's operations are before, during, and after the disaster. Include farmers, produce connections, and people willing to donate kitchen supplies. It’s a way to keep everyone on the same page and direct efforts.

Post-disaster we recommend group chat texts like GroupMe, Slack, or Zello.

Acquire Ingredients and Supplies: Here is a list of what to stock up on before the disaster arrives. Select the most storm-proof, flood-proof, centralized location possible. If the disaster is storm-related, navigating flooded streets will be a key issue.

Perishable Food To Stock  

  • Bread, sliced sandwich is preferable. We went through roughly 250 loaves a day with 50 volunteers producing 2,500 sandwiches.
  • Sandwich materials-Deli meat, Sliced cheese, Mayo, Mustard. To put things in perspective, 25 lbs of ham will feed 100 people at 4 oz per serving.
  • Staple proteins for bulk production such as ground beef and chicken breast is fantastic for family style food. We would serve pasta and meat sauce or chicken and vegetables over a bed of rice in full steam pans. Each steam pan will serve 20-25 people. 10 lbs of protein will feed 32 people at 5 oz per serving.
  • Pre-made frozen meals like lasagnas and casseroles are easy to throw in the oven if your kitchen is low on man power. Each half pan will serve 10-12 people.
  • Marinated or precooked meats are handy especially if you have little kitchen space and your main method of cooking is a grill. Pre mixed mashed potatoes and canned beans can be heated in aluminum on the grill. 10 lbs of protein will feed 32 people at 5 oz per serving. Each half pan will serve 10-12 people.
  • Fresh hand fruit like apples, oranges, and bananas are easily distributed in large quantities. Try to stick with fruits that have longer shelf life at room temperature.

Non-Perishable Food To Stock in Bulk Packs

  • Rice
  • Dried Pasta
  • Canned or jarred “ instant” sauces - marinara, alfredo, bbq
  • Peanut butter and jelly
  • Canned goods, like vegetables, corn, diced tomatoes and tomato paste, instant mashed potatoes.
  • Canned beans, such as black, pinto and refried
  • Seasonings, including salt, pepper, cayenne and garlic salt
  • Chips and snacks

Kitchen Supplies To Stock

  • A number of decent can openers !
  • Disposable Aluminum Pans (with lids) +++
  • To-go boxes
  • Aluminum foil (heavy duty)
  • Plastic wrap
  • Wax paper
  • Cambros and ice chests
  • Serving utensils, including ladles, scoops and tongs
  • Disposable gloves

General Supplies To Stock

  • Folding Tables
  • Carts and dollies
  • White boards
  • Post-Its, pens and markers
  • Tape (masking and duct)
  • Prepaid gas cards, which lessen financial burden on drivers
  • Splitter boxes, surge protectors and charging stations
  • Extra cell phone battery chargers
  • First aid kit (kitchen burns and cuts can and do happen)

Mental/Physical/Food Health and Safety: Everyone involved will be stressed and likely traumatized from landfall of the disaster. Advocate for self-care by always appointing a second in command should the first need to step out. If a volunteer or team member is getting tired or sick, they need to talk to supervisor to assess the situation . Kitchen crew and volunteers should wear gloves and head coverings at all times. Do not cook questionably raw product, make sure cold food is COLD and hot food is HOT in all aspects of the food chain. Make sure you are cooling and reheating to the appropriate temperatures. Have first aid kits on hand. Do not overlook cleaning supplies for establishment like bleach, sanitizer, dish soap, trash bags, hand sanitizer and paper towels.


Post-Disaster Activation

Phase 0: During the Disaster

Up to 48 hours before the disaster event until immediate safety concerns have passed

  • Stay safe and shelter in place
  • Follow all emergency instructions by national and professional organizations
  • Do not emerge until immediate danger has passed, regardless of how long that is

Phase 1: Immediately After The Disaster

The first 24 hours following the disaster event

  • Engage Facebook Industry Group
  • Identify Kitchens (Dry And With Power) that have:
  • Walk-in space for storage
  • Functioning kitchens and sufficient room for several volunteers
  • Ample parking for volunteers AND flat beds, box trucks, rescue vehicles? These types of large vehicles will be coming and going.

  • Find interactive maps showing shelter needs and locations
  • The programming/developer community has likely made these types of maps and made these available online.
  • Once locations and groups with possible needs have been identified, the biggest challenge, aside from logistics, is CONFIRMING needs. Remember that your group is not the only one trying to help and it is important to avoid redundancy or waste of resources, i.e. tons of meals all ending up at the same place at the same time.

  • Identify the headquarters for meal production, drop-offs and distribution. This needs to have:
  • A large open area to set up as a “grocery store” for chefs to source donated produce, protein, and kitchen supplies.
  • Ample space for volunteers to set up tables of sandwich- or taco-making assembly lines
  • Ample parking
  • A large commercial kitchen
  • Security. There may be people in the area who will see food coming in and out and who unfortunately may cause issues. Choose a space that has few points of entry.
  • Clear signage so volunteers can find the entry.  

Phase 2: Mass Feeding Production

Starts as soon as Phase 1 tasks are complete

  • Sourcing goods for “Grocery Store/Commissary” centralized location for kitchens to source from:
  • Large open area with tables set up for staging produce, product, and supplies
  • Organize produce first in/first out just like a grocery store.
  • Keep in mind the essentials and staples. Keep a higher par on those items (you are the pantry for multiple kitchens)
  • Reach out to local farmers markets, grocery stores, food distributors.
  • Farmers markets will bring their leftover goods
  • Grocery stores can send slightly bruised fruit or “tired” produce
  • Food distributors love having new chefs try their product
  • Reach out to community via social media for donations via venmo or paypal to purchase items that you can’t get donated
  • Maintain a Request list for “Request IN” and “Request OUT” - request in is anything that you want blasted on social media that you need donated (trust your community they will bring the goods) request out is anything that you are long on and you can reach out to the chefs in your network to see if they can use the product.
  • Partner up with local bakers or other companies for consistent supply and donations on bread/tortillas
  • Chain of Command

Positions for key crew members must be established as soon as possible. Department leaders must be consulted on any decision within their realm. They should not be making decisions outside of their jurisdiction.

  • Coordinating With Other Restaurant and Rescue Kitchens

Individual restaurant kitchens that are operational can make prepared dishes to send to the rescue kitchen headquarters for distribution. This helps support the overall operation and supplements the efforts of volunteers at the headquarters. A volunteer, either at the source or destination, will have to transport these prepared dishes. Communication to the chef and “ ground control” team at the RKHQ is imperative so they know what is coming and going and which food can be allocated throughout the day.

If the restaurant is willing to prepare the same kind and scale of dishes for a period of time on a consistent schedule (like, pans of chicken and rice or pasta that will be ready every day at 11 a.m.), try to match what they are making with a consistent need (such as a small police station that needs lunch for 50 delivered every day). Therefor the food can be picked up and taken straight to the need rather than come back to RKHQ and back out again.

  • Transportation Department
  • The head of transportation should be a HIGHLY competent person. This is the most crucial person on the team. They should be able to confidently communicate with the Chef and kitchen and consider where food is going in what quantity and what production rate of kitchen and volunteers is.
  • Drivers should be advised of safety concerns - dangerous neighborhoods and highwater.
  • Drivers should be provided with contact name, phone number, location name, address and drop-off instructions.

  • Setting Up Stations
  • Clearly identify each staging station. Move prepared food into the correct stations immediately. Label food containers or pans with destination, location and how many meals to be included.
  • Station 1, “Claimed Food”: This is food that is already has a destination.
  • Station 2, “Unclaimed Food”: This is food that is still “up for grabs”. Label pans/containers with types of foods (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, for example)

  • Communication

Communication between departments is essential. The kitchen crew must be made aware of what the current needs are. The logistics crew must know what the kitchen’s production capacity is. A liason between each department is also a good idea. Volunteers who are making tacos for example, will need cooked rice, meat and other ingredients from the kitchen. The Volunteer Coordinator and the Chef should be in regular communication on these essential needs.

  • An Online Tool For Connecting Food Needs With Rescue Kitchens

We built a website called IhavefoodIneedfood.com to connect those in need of large quantities of food (batches of 50 to 3,000 meals) with commercial kitchens capable of producing these quantities. It’s an incredibly effective way to handle and organize numerous requests that would otherwise be routed through phones, text messages, posts on social media, and verbal requests. These requests can be redirected to the website.

Note that the website is designed for getting meals to organized concerns like shelters, communities and organizations, not individuals or single families.

The ihavefoodineedfood.com website made an enormous difference in streamlining Houston volunteer efforts and enabled the Midtown Kitchen Collective to vastly increase meal production.

The website simply has two forms: one for those that have food (like restaurants that want to provide meals from a commercial kitchen) and one for those that need food (like shelters). For those in need, site visitors enter the type of food requested (hot meals or cold; family-style or individually packaged), number of people to be fed, primary contact phone number and other relevant information.

Those who have food to donate enter information such as available quantities, when it will be ready and the pickup address.

Links to the forms are below so that other aid centers can use the surveys as models.



  • Volunteer System To Run Online Component

Depending on need, two to six full-time volunteers are necessary to staff this online food matching system. These should be tech-savvy volunteers with the ability to multi-task and an expert level of comfort with Excel or Google Sheets, and group texting. They should be organized and detail oriented.

The way that the food matching system works is:

  1. A form is filled out on the NEED side describing type of food, quantity, where and when the food is needed, and whether they can pick it up or need the food to be delivered.
  2. A form is filled out on the HAVE side describing the type of food, quantity, where the food is located, when the food was prepared, and whether they can deliver or need a pickup.
  3. A ticket is filled out for either form and placed on a board for the HAVES or the NEEDS.
  4. The dispatcher attempts to match the two, calling each group to verify the need and order information. The dispatcher also coordinates with the delivery driver.
  5. At the beginning and end of each day, food HAVES/NEEDS for the following day are recorded and re-confirmed for future delivery.

Tools needed to run this system:

  • One computer per user
  • One printer
  • Post-It notes
  • Sharpies and pens
  • Dry erase board and markers if possible

Phase 3: Continuing Feeding With A Shift To Clean-Up

Video of the grocery, volunteer area and kitchen: https://youtu.be/Pi8f-cG3kVE

Example of board used in kitchen to communicate outgoing meals/needs and incoming donated meals.

Example of board used by logistics coordinators and transportation department to communicate status of fulfilling needs


Example of necessity of dollies/carts.

”Grocery Store” set up with organized aisles, incoming and outgoing at the front.

Example of volunteer taco assembly line.

Example of “Stations” - these are all labeled, claimed and going to one location.


Example of necessity of trailers and produce sponsors. Goya donated a truck full of canned goods that was used very quickly.


With love from the Midtown Kitchen Collective in Houston.


End of document. Additions are continuing to be made.

Rev 1.0, September 7, 2017

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.