It’s already well established that Waffle House fares well in times of crisis—there’s an actual (informal) FEMA metric called the Waffle House Index that judges the severity of a given disaster by whether Waffle House locations are staying open. In the event of something like an impending hurricane, each Waffle House location is assessed for its likelihood to be impacted, its workforce’s ability to continue showing up, and its current supply of food and other necessities. Even when a Waffle House is forced to close and ride out the storm, it’s usually one of the first businesses in the area to reopen again, thanks to good crisis management.
For the past several weeks, the 2,000-location restaurant chain has been at its most vulnerable, closing a number of locations and offering only takeout and delivery at the ones that remain open. However, this week marked an important shift: the state of Georgia has begun reopening its economy, and Waffle House is learning how to scatter, smother, and cover in the era of social distancing.
As Bloomberg reports, Georgia’s action plan was determined by a 20-person committee, one of whom is the executive vice president of Waffle House, Joe Rogers III. Across the state, gyms, hair salons, and nail salons were allowed to reopen starting April 24, and movie theaters and restaurants were given the go-ahead on April 27. Waffle House’s Georgia locations are opening their dining rooms back up with a signature Waffle House preparedness. Bloomberg describes the scene within one suburban Atlanta location:
The staff placed plastic bags over the backs of four of the six stools at the front counter to keep people apart, while sealing off certain booths with red tape. The traditional place-mat menus with their lists of smothered hashbrowns, eggs and biscuits aren’t on tables anymore, though customers can get paper ones or request the plastic variety. Every location will enforce its own capacity limit that will depend on its layout, with signs posted on the door for customers’ reference... Employees will frequently sanitize common touch points from the tables to jukeboxes and turn away customers who are sick or showing any symptoms of illness.
It’s unclear at this early stage whether locals will embrace the return of their beloved breakfast destination, or whether they’ll continue to exercise caution and stay away for the time being. In either case, officials are once again viewing Waffle House as a test case for how best to weather the storm.