Turns out Waffle House won't just rescue you from a hangover — the 24-hour restaurant chain helps the government cope with natural disasters via the Waffle House Index.
USA Today reports that Waffle House Storm Center — yes, Waffle House has a Storm Center — announced yesterday that it's open and monitoring Hurricane Florence.
The Storm Center provides the Federal Emergency Management Agency with information it uses to create the Waffle House Index, a color-coded list of which restaurants are open, which are offering a limited menu, and which are closed.
It's no viral-marketing stunt. Waffle Houses often stay open to feed and give refuge to first responders. And the location of open restaurants helps FEMA assess weather damage and how well communities are recovering. "The Waffle House test just doesn't tell us how quickly a business might rebound — it also tells how the larger community is faring," a FEMA blog post explains. "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 that community."
The Waffle House Index was created by a member of FEMA in 2004, and the company has embraced it. "We take these things very seriously and we put a lot of work into them," said Waffle House CEO Walt Ehmer in a CNBC interview Thursday, noting that fewer than 10 stores in the Florence-affected region were closed. “We try to stay open as long as we can because we try to serve the communities and try to serve the first responders, but we certainly get out of harm's way before anything bad happens."
“We’re the only things open, and especially after the storms when there’s devastation, the community really does respond to having some sense of normalcy," he added. "Oftentimes, we’re the first hot meal that people eat in days. So that does kind of bind us pretty close with our customers, and it’s one thing we feel we can do for the community. A lot of people do a lot of things, the first responders are amazing. But the one thing we feel like we can do is be there to provide some normalcy, and a friendly smile, and a good meal, and help people realize that everything’s gonna be back to normal pretty soon.”