Potential power outages make local restaurants sweat

If you turned up your air conditioning a few degrees on Monday or halted your Bitcoin mining operation from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., local restaurants will thank you.

Texas restaurateurs breathed a sigh of relief Monday night as they turned off their lights at the end of a nervous and hot day. On Sunday, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) urged Texans to conserve electricity and issued an official watch on potential power capacity shortages, which could have led to blackouts. Record demand caused by a continuous heat wave which reduced production.

ERCOT focused on the economy from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. and, above all, the network manager called on large electricity consumers to reduce their consumption during the day. The Texas Rangers even adjusted the thermostat at Globe Life Field to 75 degrees instead of 72.

And almost every industrial-scale bitcoin miner in Texas has shut down operations, but don’t say, “Aw, bless their hearts.” Fortune explains that they were in fact paid by ERCOT.

As the lights stayed on, the coolers hummed and the beers stayed cold, and Dallas restaurants and bars lacked a close one.

Fork in the Road is a small, family-run restaurant in Arlington that lost coolers of food, days of work, and had to repair broken pipes during the February 2021 winter storm power outage. More recently, they posted on Facebook that they were potentially nearing the end of the road for their restaurant due to slow business and high costs. Then last week their energy bill went up dramatically after their previous contract expired.

“Our electric bill now equals our rent,” said chef and owner Josh Hopkins.

That’s not to say that turning off the electricity during a power outage would help anything.

“If we lose electricity, I no longer have an extractor hood, which sucks all the heat, so I can’t cook. We have two small walk-ins so these will start to heat up within 15 minutes causing all of our products to enter a hazardous area. Then we don’t have an old-fashioned register, so if I lose power, we can’t take orders,” says Hopkins.

“It’s horrible!” Brent Reaves, co-owner of Smokey John’s Barbecue in Dallas, responded by text message when asked how a power outage could affect restaurants. “You will lose all your money in a power outage. All your systems are down. This means cash only. Once they [customers] know your power is out, they stop and turn to leave. Within hours, you could lose three to five thousand dollars, depending on the day.

In February, the National Restaurant Association released a report on the state of the service industry. They found that while the industry overall continues to grow, more than half of the restaurateurs who took part in their study said it would take a year or more before business conditions return to normal. “Food, labor and occupancy costs are expected to remain high and continue to impact profit margins in 2022,” the report said.

“It’s chance that hurts us because we can’t prepare for it,” Cosmo owner and chef Jackson Tran said. “It all depends on what time of day or night we know how badly it affects us.” As for preparing for potential outages, Tran says it depends on when. If they’re at the restaurant, they can glaze meats and produce them or even move them to another location.

Power outages will also affect workers in the service sector. Chris Beardon of SBBC Hospitium, the company behind Barcadia, Dahlia and the Tipsy Alchemist, points out that staff are losing shifts and there is a potential loss of perishable inventory. “It could certainly put significant cost pressure on an already tight-margin business,” Beardon said.

Charlotte Tate of the Londoner Pub and Grill points out that if the restaurant heats up, it will take at least until the following evening to cool down. The keg coolers would also heat up, which means the beer would be foamy. A hot restaurant and a hot, frothy beer certainly won’t help business.

“Restaurants continue to face supply chain issues, labor shortages and unpredictable business levels. The last thing we need is to worry about the power grid again” , says Tate.

Gladys T. Hensley