If you drive down the road of the south-eastern part of America, you will see at least one — but probably more — Waffle House signboards glowing black and yellow. These signboards illuminate the roadside 24/7, 365 days of the year, including days with natural disasters, power outages, and other emergencies.
This Georgia-based chain, known for its mouth-watering hash browns, always has its lights on. This restaurant chain has been carrying the exclusive reputation of being able to run its business during and after any kind of disaster. It keeps this reputation so faithfully, that even the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) greatly depends on its index to determine the severity of a natural disaster — which they call the famous Waffle House index. In the month of March, when FEMA used the index to gauge the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, the index showed red.
Former FEMA director W. Craig Fugate was the creator of the term “Waffle House Index”. He was the same person who managed the 81-disaster declaration in 2010 and another record of 87 in 2011, all while managing FEMA during the Obama administration. Based on how quickly the branches of Waffle House can resume its operations, Fugate made the index.
The color index is actually simple — if the house is serving their full menu, then the color is green. If the restaurant is open but is serving from a limited menu, the color is yellow. Lastly, if the restaurant is closed, the color is red. According to Fugate, this is clearly a bad sign. This pandemic is the first time the index has been used for a non-weather-related emergency in the nation.
Njeri Boss, Waffle House director of public relations published a statement saying, “During the natural disaster-like hurricane, Waffle House always used a well-planned and systematic approach so that it could help the communities recover and get back to the work as soon as possible. Out of that particular working approach, the specific criteria called Waffle Index came into existence. This index has always been used to gauge the severity of the natural disaster and the level of the impact faced by the community. The Waffle Index was never used for measuring the non-weather-related matter until the month of March this year.
“The ‘Code Red’ refers to the tremendous impact felt by many of our associates and their families. With a small number of customers visiting, the restaurant is rapidly losing the ability to maintain the same formal working hour for its associates to earn money and support their families. The restaurants in the Midwest along with the parts of the gulf coasts are worst-hit.”
During the peak time of the coronavirus pandemic in March, more than 400 of the chain’s 2,100 restaurants were closed, which was really bad news.
According to Panos Kouvelis, a professor at Olin Business School, the Waffle House chain has good risk management plans in place. They know which stores are going to be affected, and they immediately call the employees of that store to know who can come and who can’t. They have a temporary warehouse where they store food, and most importantly is that they know that they can keep the restaurant running even without serving the full menu.
Dan Stoneking, the Director of External Affairs at FEMA, said that the sooner banks, groceries, corner stores, and restaurants reopen, the sooner the local economy will recover. On March 18, Waffle House posted that all of their restaurants are open, and that the associates are the real heroes during the challenging time of the coronavirus pandemic.