Waffle House Closes Over 400 Restaurants Due to Coronavirus
Craig Fugate, the former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been credited with developing "The Waffle House Index," an unofficial method that can help to determine the severity of natural disasters based on how many of the 24/7 restaurants are open, and whether or not they're able to serve their full smothered, covered, and scattered menu.
"If the Waffle House is open, everything's good," Fugate told NPR in 2016. "If a Waffle House is closed because a disaster is bad, we call it red. If they're open but have a limited menu, that's yellow [...] because they've lost power." A fully operational Waffle House is green.
Last Wednesday, Fugate tweeted an updated version of his Index, redefining those colors to explain how the restaurant chain is coping with coronavirus. A green Waffle House is still open ("Wash your hands, no handshakes,") while yellow locations are only serving takeout meals, and red ones have been closed.
"All Waffle House restaurants are open right now, at least for to-go orders. Our Associates are the true heroes during this time and appreciate any order you are able place with them," Waffle House tweeted that same afternoon.
But less than a week later, that situation has changed significantly. On Tuesday, Waffle House announced that 365 of its restaurants had gone red, closing completely. According to a map that the company posted on its social media account, 1,627 locations remain open. By comparison, Hurricane Irma, a Category 4 storm "set the Waffle House record" for restaurant closures in 2017 with 157 red locations, while Hurricane Katrina caused 107 restaurants to temporarily close in 2005.
Joe Rogers, Jr., the chairman of Waffle House, previously slammed restaurant closures or takeout-only restrictions as "totally out of proportion," although he did acknowledge that state and national leaders were trying to do what's right.
"American leaders have to lead people through ruinous times, but leaders don’t lead people to ruin,” the 73-year-old told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “If you go further than that and shut businesses down, you are going to wreck this economy. And the people who pay for it the most are the people who are the ones who are most vulnerable in our society, and that’s a shame."
As of this writing, the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center reports that there are 55,238 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States. 1,097 of those cases are in Georgia, where Waffle House is headquartered.
Update March 26, 2020: As of Thursday, Waffle House reported 429 locations had been closed.