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Waffle House Never Closes, But It’s Shutting Down Locations at a Historic Rate Due to Coronavirus

Waffle House Never Closes, But It’s Shutting Down Locations at a Historic Rate Due to Coronavirus article feature image

Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

In 2004, FEMA Director Craig Fugate came up with a smart way to monitor how operational cities were in the path of a hurricane.

Enter The Waffle House Index.

Since its founding, Waffle House had prided itself on staying open and serving customers in the toughest of times. That means 24 hours a day, 365 days a year … for every location. So if a Waffle House closed or had to make a limited menu, Fugate understood how serious things were.

Back in 2004, FEMA then plotted that status of Waffle Houses on a map. Those that were open would get a green pin. Waffle Houses that had a limited menu because they needed an emergency generator to stay open, got a yellow pin. And those that completely shutdown were in dire conditions and got a red pin.

“The Waffle House Index just doesn’t tell us how quickly a business might rebound, it also tells how the largest community is faring,” Fugate told USA Today in 2017.

The coronavirus obviously isn’t a natural disaster so it has a much wider path than a hurricane, but the number of closings of Waffle Houses over the past week has been historic.

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 saw the temporary closing of 100 Waffle Houses. Seven others were destroyed.

Hurricane Irene in 2011 took down 22 restaurants.

Hurricane Irma in 2017 had 82 Waffle Houses in red at one time.

And Hurricane Harvey that same year had 40 Waffle Houses temporarily closed.

Today, Waffle House has about 1,950 restaurants in 25 states. The coronavirus led to the shut down of 420 stores (22%) on Friday.

There is no yellow because no one is out of power.

There are 1,327 restaurants (68%) that are serving take-out only, which could count as fully in service green on Fugate’s Index and another set of 185 restaurants (10%) that are serving a limited menu, but are open using social distancing protocols.

“Hour by hour, Waffle House’s reality is changing,” the company said in a statement provided to The Action Network. “We continue to adapt as different restrictions are imposed on how businesses can operate. This week, with stricter restrictions being implemented, our system sales have declined by about 70% below normal levels. So we’ve made some painful decisions.”

Waffle House said in the statement that “so few customers are visiting our restaurants, we are rapidly losing the ability to offer enough work hours for our associates to earn money needed to live their lives.”

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