Coronavirus shuts hundreds of Waffle Houses, the restaurant that ‘never closes’

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A US chain that prides itself on never, ever closing, has been forced by the coronavirus pandemic to shut hundreds of its restaurants.
Waffle House prides itself on staying open throughout the worst natural disasters.
And at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, officials ask one question to determine how bad a natural disaster has been – is the Waffle House open?
Waffle House restaurants are designed to open quickly after a natural disaster.
Waffle House restaurants are designed to open quickly after a natural disaster. (AAP)
FEMA has developed a term for it: The Waffle House Index.
The term stemmed from former FEMA director Craig Fugate’s observation in 2004.
“If you get there and the Waffle House is closed? That’s really bad,” he told the Wall Street Journal.
“That’s where you go to work.”

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But today the chain announced it would be closing 365 locations across the United States.
Waffle House is prepared to stay open even when they don’t have electricity or running water, all to keep customers fed and their staff working.
But today’s unprecedented disaster is different. The coronavirus pandemic means that customers and staff are potentially a danger to each other.
Most of the 365 closures are in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and the Gulf Coast.
Waffle House has a reputation for staying open during natural disasters.
Waffle House has a reputation for staying open during natural disasters. (AP)
More than 1600 restaurants in the chain remain open.
The discrepancy in what restaurants are closed and which are open does not appear to be related to disease numbers.
Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio do not appear to have more cases than Georgia, Florida or Louisiana, where most of their restaurants remain open.
Two weeks ago an employee at a Waffle House in Georgia tested positive to the disease.
Other staff were placed into self-isolation, but as of today, that Waffle House is open.
A technician prepares COVID-19 coronavirus patient samples. (AP/AAP)

The Waffle House Index

Waffle House is a chain of diners dotting the US south, serving steaks, hamburgers, eggs and waffles at all hours.
The restaurant is known for being open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There’s a legend that the keys to each Waffle House are buried in the cement footpath out front, because they are never needed. It’s not true, but it might as well be.
“We don’t close,” Waffle House’s public relations director Pat Warner told 9News last year.
There are nearly 2000 Waffle Houses in the United States.
There are nearly 2000 Waffle Houses in the United States. (AAP)
But being centred around the southeast US, many Waffle House restaurants find themselves in the path of hurricanes, tornadoes and floods.
And Waffle House has made it company policy to stay open.

Why is Waffle House always open?

“It’s part of our company culture to get back to normal as quickly as possible,” Mr Warner said.
“We have a lot of resources we will send into an area to get the restaurant up and running.”
A storm manual guides employees through customised menus tailored to particular challenges.
“There’s a no-power menu,” Mr Warner said.
“We have one we can go on with a water disruption.
“We look at our menus and walk through different scenarios.
“Our goal is to get to the full menu as quickly as possible.”
Being the only restaurant open may seem like a lucrative proposition, but it’s not about the bottom line for Waffle House.
“We will be busy, but when you factor in the resources that we’re deploying, it’s not a business decision,” Mr Warner said.
“In big storms we may lose money because of the resources we put in place.”
Customers at Waffle House are “used to us always being open,” Mr Warner said.
“For us it’s more about the people. If we’re open the community feels that they’re getting back to normal.
“For our employees as well. If our restaurants are not open, they’re not making money.”