Most businesses will stay closed in the wake of a local disaster to assess damage and ensure employees can safely make it to work. Waffle House, which is famous for being open 365 days a year (24 hours a day), is not your average business. Staying open is the ultimate goal, so Waffle House has a plan to stay open in extreme scenarios that would close others’ doors. How do they do it? With a storm playbook!
What’s in their disaster playbook?
Waffle House has more than a thousand locations in the disaster-prone South, and they run most of them through the corporate headquarters (rather than through franchisees). This means HQ has a lot of control. If there are problems, they can move employees and supplies between stores fairly smoothly. Step one of doing the most during a disaster appears to be making sure everyone is on the same page… but that’s old news to you if you’ve already started your disaster plans.
WH HQ knows that disasters are likely at a few Waffle House locations each year, so their playbook even includes a pre-season prep list to make sure they’re in tip-top shape before any storms make landfall. Now that’s some good seasonal maintenance.
When the storm is on the radar, more prep tasks go into effect, with management making arrangements for additional employees and supplies to travel to the affected areas, limiting the amount of time Waffle House locations might remain closed. They’ve got the “We Plan to Open” signs at the ready!
The action plan continues after the storm, with instructions to operate without electricity… and even without running water. Natural gas is the hero of the day, with locations relying fully on gas grills to keep the eggs and coffee moving if all other utilities (and generators) have failed. You’ve got to hand it to them: they are great planners.
Power outages happen all the time, but a natural gas shutoff is almost unheard of. If you’re shopping for a new home, appliances that run on natural gas (heating, range, etc) might give you more options during a major disaster.
Their top-notch disaster playbook means Waffle House really does stay open when others close. The Waffle House Index even helps emergency responders determine how severe damage from a storm has been. If Waffle Houses are open and serving a full menu (Green), damage is likely limited. If they’re open and serving a limited menu (Yellow), recovery will likely take significant effort. If they’re fully closed (Red), it’s a dire situation. And, yes, those are FEMA-approved ratings.
“If you get there and the Waffle House is closed? That’s really bad…”Craig Fugate, Former Head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency
Because they’re often the only business open in the aftermath of a storm, Waffle House can be something of safe haven, especially for households that don’t have their own comprehensive disaster plans in place. Despite all the violent Waffle House stories we’ve heard, the other side of the coin is that it can be a source of much-needed nourishment, warmth, and community in the event of a disaster.
Here’s a peek at the storm menu options from their disaster playbook:
But what about the workers?
Unfortunately, it’s not all wine and roses. In 2023, Waffle House employees began protesting their working conditions, demanding higher wages and increased security. Knowing the effort they put into continually slinging the hash in less than ideal circumstances (running the gamut from terrible tippers to 3am brawls to life-threatening storms), we hope they’ll win the day!
Corporate could certainly take the financial hit: they’re making between $200k and $300k in revenue per employee. Very few Waffle House employees make $200k a year, with the notable exception of Chairman Joe Rogers Jr. He is a billionaire, as I’m sure you already assumed. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone inside a Waffle House location making even $100k a year. The average wages are much more likely to put workers below the poverty line. But at least they’re rewarding their most valuable employees with shirts.
In sum, eat the rich and then learn from their exceptional disaster prep skills, which were likely developed in their maniacal quest for profit. Get your own Disaster Playbook and beat them at their own game. Stay frosty, peppers!