Are service businesses ‘obligated’ to open during bad weather?

After slipping my way over to a fast-food restaurant Wednesday, I began talking with the owner. He had time to talk with me because the weather had pretty-much killed his business for the day. In fact, one of the questions he asked me was: “When do you think I should close today? I don’t want the employees to drive home in icy weather after dark.”

I thought it was an odd question, coming from a guy who knows the fast-food business inside out, and I told him that. So he told me why he wasn’t sure if he trusted his judgement:

First, he told me how he arrived very early Wednesday (this place is typically open from about 6 a.m.-11 p.m.) to spend three hours personally dumping salt on the parking lot and sidewalk, scraping the slowly melting ice and then dumping more salt and scraping more ice. He also was coordinating employees’ schedules, since not everyone could get to the business from home, and he wasn’t exactly sure how many he would need anyway.

Things were so bad Tuesday, he said, that he didn’t bother to open at all. Employees couldn’t get there, and he couldn’t clear all of the ice — so since the weather was bad and there were lots of safety issues, he just figured staying closed made the most sense.

But this morning, the owner told me that a regular customer stopped by the store and “ripped me a new one” about how he hadn’t opened the store the day before. Seems the regular customer needed a fast-food fix, and he figured if he could get to a store, it had darn well better be open.

The store owner was telling me this with a sense of both embarrassment and annoyance. It annoyed him most that the “regular customer”, someone the owner felt liked the business and typically appreciate his efforts, just laid him out for being closed during one of the city’s worst stretches of weather.

Does a service business have an “obligation” to open, regardless of the weather? If someone wants a hamburger or chicken sandwich, is it a right or a privilege? And is it appropriate to berate a store owner for keeping his own business closed?

It’s something to talk amongst yourselves about while we’re still thawing out.


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  • Rachel Stone

    When I was out walking Tuesday, I noticed the two types of businesses open for sure were mechanics and bakeries. Bakers don’t sleep!

  • Richard

    No, they are not; a sandwhich is not more valuable than a life. They should however, where possible, advertise that they are closed.
    A lot of businesses have websites or a social media presence where they should announce their closure or late opening; some even have mailing list (e.g. dine in restaurants, pool / lawn sevice, schools, etc), which they should all utilize to keep their customers informed.