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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE Pedestrians walk Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016, past a Waffle House restaurant on West Dickson Street in Fayetteville.

There exists in emergency response industry circles something called the "Waffle House Index." It's a measurement of how the breakfast chain is faring in an emergency situation, usually a weather disaster. If the local Waffle House is open and serving a full menu, the index is green; open with a limited menu: yellow; closed: red.

And the Waffle House Index almost never hits red.

Now it has. More than 400 of the company's 1,992 locations are closed because of the novel coronavirus. Public-health orders forbidding gatherings of more than 10 people in some jurisdictions have made it next to impossible for restaurants to operate. Sales are down 70% nationwide, Waffle House said in a statement to The Washington Post.

"Hour by hour, Waffle House's reality is changing," the company said.

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For the first time, the index is being used to measure the effect of a non-weather-related event.

"This week, we posted information on the number of Waffle House closures related to covid-19. We referred to the index as a way to help people understand how big of an impact this virus has had on the restaurant industry," Waffle House's statement continued.

"The reference to 'code red' also highlights the tremendous impacts that are being felt by many of our associates and their families. With so few customers visiting our restaurants, we are rapidly losing the ability to offer enough work hours for our associates to earn money needed to live their lives and pay their bills," it said.

That means things must really be bad because Waffle House is one of the companies disaster-response officials look to as a success story.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency considers Waffle House a business with a model risk-management plan. Supply chains are shored up. Workers are ready to go. Home Depot and Walmart have similar reputations.

"They know immediately which stores are going to be affected, and they call their employees to know who can show up and who cannot," Panos Kouvelis, director of the Boeing Center for Supply Chain Innovation at Washington University in St. Louis, told occupational health and safety magazine EHS Today in 2011. "They have temporary warehouses where they can store food and most importantly, they know they can operate without a full menu. This is a great example of a company that has learned from the past and developed an excellent emergency plan."

Business on 03/28/2020


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