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The importance of winterizing your restaurant

By Kathryn Casna

minute read


    There were 97,000 restaurants, bars, and caterers in Canada in 2021. In 2019, the industry generated $79 billion in annual sales — or 1.5% of the nation’s GDP — and Restaurants Canada forecasts that in 2022, commercial foodservice sales will reach $76.3 billion (PDF).

    Recently, however, 76% (PDF) of restaurant operators struggled to pay rent because they saw far less dine-in traffic. To get diners back, many invested in outdoor dining spaces that thrived during warm weather and when patrons needed additional space.

    When temperatures drop for the winter, these outdoor areas are more susceptible to the elements, and so are your guests and staff. Keeping your diners, your workers, and your business safe and warm is critical to your success. Take the time now to start preparing for less hospitable weather and freezing temperatures.


    Infographic illustrating how Canada’s restaurant scene is thriving


    Across the country, Canada had more than 97,000 restaurants, bars, and caterers in 2021

    In 2019, the industry generated $79 billion in annual sales, which amounts to 1.5% of the nation’s GDP.

    Restaurants Canada forecasts that in 2022, commercial foodservice sales will reach $76.3 billion.

    This boost comes after two difficult years.

    To capitalize on the increase in patronage, owners can winterize their restaurants to boost their competitive edge, feed more people, and continue their success.




    Try to start winterizing your restaurant now

    Winterization is critical for Canadian restaurants that rely on outdoor dining spaces, but any restaurant can benefit from winterization. Even if you have a seasonal summer business or offer only take-out in the winter, protecting your building from storms and low temperatures can help prevent damage.

    Unfortunately, the weather is getting more extreme and harder to predict each year. While it’s tempting to put off winterizing your restaurant, an unseasonal storm or early freeze could catch unprepared businesses off guard.

    Even postponing until the fall can mean long wait times for vital plumbing, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) as well as carpentry services while other homes and businesses get winter-ready amid labour shortages. A recent report showed that construction job vacancies increased 158% in the fourth quarter of 2021 — even higher than food and beverage server vacancies (145%) — and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

    Start making your winterization checklist now to keep your restaurant running smoothly all winter.



    When temperatures plummet, uninsulated pipes can freeze. At best, a restaurant won’t have water until temperatures come back up. At worst, pipes could burst, causing thousands of dollars in damage. Before winter arrives, tend to pipes that:

    • Don’t have an existing insulation system
    • Are attached to outer walls
    • Are located outdoors

    If you’re not sure or are confused about whether you have these types of pipes, a professional can evaluate your winterizing needs.


    Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC)

    Keeping your restaurant cozy can make it an attractive winter locale, while proper ventilation maximizes health, safety, and comfort. For indoor spaces, that means getting your heating, air conditioning, and ventilation systems, known as HVAC, serviced. For outdoor spaces, that means ensuring space heaters are maintained and that fans and openings provide proper airflow.

    Start checking your equipment early by turning it on and running it for a few hours. If you notice that it takes a long time to heat up, your energy bill seems abnormally high, or it’s been a while since a professional has serviced it, your HVAC system might not be running optimally. Save energy and avoid diner discomfort by getting it serviced.


    Infographic illustrating things to consider when winterizing your restaurant



    The building:

    • Plumbing
    • Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC)
    • Power sources
    • Windows, doors, and insulation

    Avoids slips and falls.

    Make the indoor space comfortable, too.

    • Offer a coat and umbrella check or rack to keep wet items confined and keep the floors as dry as possible.
    • Add winter-friendly menu options, such as soups, seasonal vegetable items, and hot teas.
    • Stick with your restaurant’s ambiance, but try to add coziness and warmth where you can.


    Power sources

    Canadians are no strangers to power outages. As recently as May 2022, a severe storm left 900,000 homes in Ontario and Quebec without power, and many restaurants went dark along with them. You can be a haven for your community, continue accepting payments, and stay in business during an outage if you have a backup power plan. In other words, consider getting a generator.

    First, know what your restaurant’s power needs are. For example:

    • Can you cook or light your restaurant from alternate power sources, such as gas grills and candles?
    • Your payment processing system needs to stay online in order to avoid complicated manual credit card processing (PDF) and data storage.

    Finding the right place for a generator is critical. It should be somewhere with plenty of ventilation and protection from the worst of the elements, but not too close to your customers, as the noise could disturb their dining experience.

    Additionally, you may want to consider a backup internet service. Whereas a major power outage would knock your primary router offline, a mobile data provider can allow you to accept payments via hotspot. With a mobile internet plan, you can also get online and communicate to customers. Using social media or an email/newsletter, you can promptly inform folks that you're still open and accepting customers during an outage, or let them know when you’ll be reopening.


    Windows, doors, and insulation

    Keeping cold air out and warm air in can help ensure your diners and staff are comfortable and possibly save you money on your energy bill. Walk the space to feel for any drafts and try to track them to their source. Sitting near each of your windows and simply listening for street noises could also help you identify areas that need a better seal. Finally, check windowsills and framing for issues or debris buildup and clear it out so windows get a better seal when shut.

    Consider working with a professional to replace any sub-optimal insulation, weather stripping, or sealing now while temperatures are more comfortable. Properly sealing your windows, weather-stripping your doors, and improving overall insulation can also help keep your restaurant better air-conditioned in the summer, too.


    Prevent slips and falls

    In 2020, more than 250,000 (PDF) employees missed work due to an on-the-job injury, and wet, snowy weather can increase safety challenges for restaurant operators. With a few indoor and outdoor precautions, however, you can help keep your employees and customers safe this winter season.

    • Keep an inventory of kitty litter, calcium chloride, and other supplies that melt sidewalk ice.
    • Find out if your restaurant needs to shovel snow or if the city takes care of it.
    • Keep non-slip mats in high-traffic areas, especially in kitchens and at doorways.
    • Examine your exterior and consider how an awning may shelter walkways from icy conditions or improve the customer experience.
    • Consider providing a coat rack and umbrella stand or a coat check service near the entrance so wet items stay out of walkways.

    To ensure that your business is welcoming to the 6 million+ Canadians with disabilities, you should also be well versed on Canada’s national accessibility standards. Your business should be barrier-free for disabled Canadians, and that may mean incorporating structures like wheelchair ramps, or offering individually tailored options like braille menus. When in doubt, consult with disabilities experts and those living with disabilities to ensure your space is as inclusive as possible.


    Winterize outdoor spaces

    When summer disappears from the horizon, outdoor dining can become a challenge. To keep customers safe and comfortable, make sure your outdoor structure can stand up to elements like wind, snow, ice, and hail.

    Reinforce weight-bearing structures and weatherproof the roof. If the structure has permanently open windows or fewer than four walls, have a way to close everything up while keeping air flowing, such as roll-down wall panels and window coverings. Add fans or a dedicated ventilation system if professionals deem them necessary.


    Indoor safety and preparation

    If you don’t have outdoor space or your customers prefer to dine indoors this winter, there may be ways to accommodate more guests inside. One of the best ways to do that is to streamline your cleaning procedures between table turnover. A commonly overlooked area for improvement for restaurants is the cleansers you use because many products need to rest on surfaces for five minutes (PDF) to optimize their germ-killing power. Some products need less time, allowing your staff to flip tables faster and seat the next diners.

    Other indoor safety measures include keeping tables adequately spaced out and having hand sanitizer available for staff and customers.


    Infographic illustrating how to avoid downtime that could affect the dining experience and your bottom line



    Maintaining the plumbing, HVAC, and power helps ensure your restaurant stays open and comfortable for both diners and employees.

    When foul weather strikes, many restaurants have a contingency plan in case something happens.

    • This plan needs to include what to do if the restaurant loses power.
    • After all, as recently as May 2022, a severe storm left 900,000 homes in Ontario and Quebec without power, and many restaurants went dark along with them.
    • A generator or another method of keeping the power on is essential.
      • It allows cooks and others in the kitchen to keep working.
      • It keeps food safe and edible.
      • It ensures you can keep your payment processing system up and running so you can continue accepting credit and debit cards without interruption or difficulties.




    Winterize for the senses

    Winterizing your restaurant is important for the safety and comfort of your guests, but don’t forget about all the special touches that can entice diners through your doors. Comfort and safety aren’t just physical considerations, but states of mind. The right atmosphere and a well-timed smile can help make your restaurant a warm, inviting haven.


    Create an inviting atmosphere

    Long Canadian winters can inspire locals and tourists to crave a hot meal and a cozy environment. Create that for your guests with the right winter décor. Lighting a hearth fire and providing clean, fluffy blankets can help. Choose between charming, elegant, or fun winter décor — whatever aligns with your restaurant’s ambiance.

    Of course, your menu can be winterized, too. Some restaurants offer seasonal menus already, but if yours doesn’t, find a few items to add this winter. Think warm, tea-based cocktails, hearty soups and stews, and seasonal root vegetables. Rotating dessert options are also a great way to keep your menu feeling fresh and festive.


    Take care of your staff

    Your employees have the power to create a friendly atmosphere the moment diners walk through your door. Help your staff stay energized and at their best by keeping them just as safe, healthy, and appreciated as your customers.

    Half (PDF) of Canada’s food service employees are worried about health and safety while working with the public, while 29% have the same concerns about working alongside their colleagues, so while you’re implementing front-of-house cleaning protocols, look at your back-of-house areas, too.

    Don’t hold back when it comes to showing appreciation for your staff, especially amid a tight labour market. Compensation and perks can help employees feel appreciated. And don't forget: A simple “thank you” also goes a long way when they work hard for you.


    The benefits of winterizing your space

    Winterizing your restaurant can keep you in business year-round, especially if you rely on outdoor dining. Properly preparing your restaurant for winter before temperatures drop can save you money, prevent closures and service interruptions, and help you stay a step ahead.

    Finally, don’t be afraid to lean into the season. Restaurants with a warm, welcoming environment for both diners and staff keep both coming back through snow, sleet, and ice. Be a beacon of warmth and taste by winterizing your restaurant long before the first flakes of snow fall.