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Waffle House, Known for Remaining Open in Crisis, Closes 418 Restaurants Because of Coronavirus

The Southern diner chain so rarely closes its doors that the federal government uses it as a disaster-relief barometer

Exterior of a Waffle House restaurant, with a Waffle House sign in the background.
The beloved diner chain has nearly 2,000 restaurants across the U.S.
Photo: Jonathan Weiss/Shutterstock

In response to the novel coronavirus crisis, Waffle House has closed 418 restaurants across the U.S., the chain announced across its social media channels on March 25.

The Georgia-based diner icon, beloved for its breakfast food served in abundance across the South and in other states, is known for being open around the clock, even in times of extreme weather and natural disasters. Waffle House locations are so rarely closed that even the federal government takes its cues from the chain as a barometer for disaster recovery. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) uses an informal metric called the “Waffle House Index” to determine the severity of a storm and how much disaster relief will be required.

“If you get there and the Waffle House is closed? That’s really bad,” Craig Fugate, the former head of FEMA, has said in the past, according to the Wall Street Journal. “That’s where you go to work.”

The Waffle House Index has three levels, as Whitney Filloon wrote for Eater in 2017:

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. (Oh shit, time to panic.)

While 1,574 of Waffle House’s locations are still open — with many shifting to takeout — the increasing number of closures (a.k.a. code red) indicates the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak that has already shuttered restaurants and businesses across the country.