Waffle House operates 2,000 restaurants, mostly in the Southern United States. Their stores are open 24 hours a day all year. Thus, closing a store becomes a big deal to the company.
Waffle House corporate plans carefully, in advance of each hurricane or other storm and collects extensive data throughout the stages of each storm. The restaurant chain has a number of contingency plans and even “jump teams” that involve store managers working shifts for stranded employees. Each restaurant also has a “Waffle House Storm Playbook” which provides play-by-play scenarios of what to do should the electricity or running water go out during a storm. Because of their thoroughness and their decisions to close stores or stay open based on the good data they acquire, FEMA has instituted a “Waffle House Tracking System” that allows them to determine if stores are closing (coded as “red”) or if the stores are limiting their menus, which means they’re running low on supplies (coded as “yellow”) or if stores remain open at full service (coded as “green”). FEMA reports that the Waffle House Test tells them not only how quickly the businesses in the community might rebound, but also how the larger community is faring, stating, “The sooner restaurants grocery and corner stores, or banks can reopen, the sooner local economies will start generating revenue again – signaling a strong recovery for a community.” The corporate spokesman at Waffle House says, “If we can open quickly after a storm, that means the community is coming back and folks are out, we are getting back to that sense of normalcy. After a storm, they’re really looking to us to be there to help them out because they’re used to us being there the rest of the year.” Now that it’s evident that Florence was much less of a storm than originally predicted, it’s “companionable” and comforting to realize how much work goes into the psychology of rebuilding and reorienting a community after a disaster – even a lesser one such as Florence. Perhaps, we should develop similar measures for how other communities are faring during “normal, tough times.” Say, for example, the “Chicago Index.”