Waffle House shut down 21 of its restaurants in Florida ahead of Hurricane Ian’s landfall Wednesday afternoon in what is being seen as a testament to the Category 4 storm’s forecast strength and severity.
The affected restaurants, from Bradenton to Naples, were all in the direct path of the storm “with a few located in low-lying, flood-prone areas,” Njeri Boss, Waffle House’s vice president of public relations, said in a statement to HuffPost.
“We continue to monitor weather conditions, work closely with local government officials, emergency management teams and our local leadership in the field to make appropriate decisions based on the circumstances in each location,” Boss said.
The closures could come as a surprise to many due to the business’s long-standing reputation for reliability, with the 24-hour diners open seven days a week, during major holidays, and sometimes operating without electricity due to bad weather events, leading to the false belief that “Waffle House doors have no locks.” Waffle House addressed this falsehood in 2018, stating that locks are added to doors but that they are rarely ever used.
FEMA acknowledged the company’s resolve to stay open in 2017 with a blog post that highlighted the so-called “Waffle House Index,” which informally gauges the severity of storm damage depending on whether Waffle House restaurants remain open in the storm affected areas.
“If a Waffle House can serve a full menu, they’ve likely got power (or are running on a generator),” FEMA stated in the blog post. “A limited menu means an area may not have running water or electricity, but there’s gas for the stove to make bacon, eggs, and coffee: exactly what hungry, weary people need.”
Waffle House beefed up its post-disaster business strategy and crisis-management processes after seeing high customer demand at its restaurants located in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, according to a 2011 report in The Wall Street Journal.
Waffle House managers told the Journal that sales volume can double or triple in the aftermath of a storm.
Hurricane Katrina, a Category 5 storm, destroyed seven Waffle House restaurants and temporarily shut down 100 others, but the locations that quickly reopened ― some with limited resources, including no electricity or ice ― were swarmed with customers who could be offered an emergency grill-only menu, the Journal reported.