Four days ago, before the magnitude of Hurricane Matthew became clear, Waffle House corporate confirmed to Eater that locations along the Atlantic coast would remain open and were preparing to weather the storm. But late yesterday Waffle House clarified in an email that locations affected by mandatory evacuations would be closing. Waffle House has expanded these closures to include locations directly in the storm’s path.
This is the first time in several years that more than a few Waffle House locations have closed at one time due to a tropical storm or hurricane. The Georgia-based chain operates hundreds of locations, predominately in the Southern U.S., where it’s known for its 24-hour service. When Eater called locations in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina earlier this week to ask in-store management if their location would close, staffers answered incredulously, “No, why would you even ask that, honey? We’re always open.”
As the WSJ reported a few years ago, Waffle House has become a bellwether for the Federal Emergency Management Agency which, among other measures, relies on a Waffle House Index to determine the severity of a storm. In short, if a Waffle House closes that’s a sign to FEMA (and the rest of us) that the storm is going to be really bad. The full Waffle House index, which is used after a storm passes through:
Green: Waffle House is serving a full menu and electricity is on.
Yellow: Waffle House is serving a limited menu, may be low on food supplies and is likely using an electrical generator.
Red: Waffle House is closed.
According to Kelly Thrasher-Bruner, director of communications for Waffle House, the chain is “doing its best” to keep as many locations open as possible. However, when Florida governor Rick Scott ordered mandatory evacuations, and President Obama declared a State of Emergency in Florida late yesterday, at least a dozen Waffle House locations announced they would close. This morning the closure report expanded to include a total of 25 Waffle Houses in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.
Thrasher-Bruner notes the closures will be as temporary as possible: “We will do our best to get [affected locations] reopened as quickly as possible after the storm hits.” Waffle House is monitoring the storm as it approaches Georgia and South Carolina in case additional closures become necessary. Waffle House has a back-up plan if power goes out: “Once the storm is over, if we are able to open without power we will operate on a limited menu until power resumes or we are able to operate on generator.”
All Waffle House restaurants on 1-95 between Titusville, FL and Fort Pierce, FL are closed. Stay safe Waffle Nation! #HurricaneMatthew— Waffle House (@WaffleHouse) October 6, 2016
All Waffle House locations along Florida’s Interstate 95, between Titusville and Fort Pierce, Fla., are closed in advance of Hurricane Matthew. Additional locations in Georgia and South Carolina have also closed. That’s at about two dozen Waffle Houses, including the ones in Cocoa Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Boca Raton.
Eater Charleston and Eater Miami are tracking independent restaurant shutters in their respective cities. Do you work in a restaurant in Hurricane Matthew’s path? Stay safe. If you get a chance, we want to hear about your experience in weathering a storm.
Update: October 7, 4:28 p.m. ET. Waffle House has announced more closures, totaling 48 restaurants along the Atlantic Coast from Palm Bay, Fla., to Savannah, Ga.