by David Gracey

wafflehouseEvery south eastern college kid knows how good a hot breakfast from the Waffle House can taste on a weekend morning.  But few people know how seriously the Waffle House Company takes its disaster preparedness.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Craig Fugate relies on what he calls the “Waffle House Index” to determine how bad a storm is.  He has a map of all 1,600 Waffle House locations with color indicators: green means the restaurant is serving a full menu, yellow means a limited menu and red indicates the restaurant is closed.  “If you get there and the Waffle House is closed?  That’s really bad.  That’s where (FEMA) goes to work.” says Mr. Fugate.

Hurricane Irene recently knocked power out in 22 Waffle House restaurants throughout the Mid-Atlantic States.  Within 24 hours all but one of the locations was back in business.  When thinking of natural disasters in this country, the companies that come to mind are Home Depot, Lowes and Crystal Springs water.  But Waffle House is considered to be among the top companies in dealing with natural disasters.  They have a dedicated Emergency Response Team, a DR supply chain complete with frozen sausage, and a playbook explaining how to open a restaurant if there is gas but no electricity or a generator but no ice.

Primarily relying on the hard work of its dedicated employees, the Waffle House has a plan for just about anything.  No lights?  They have a plan.  Ice but no power?  They can still serve a limited menu.  And pricing doesn’t change during the outages.

The main driver behind the Waffle House’s DR plan is not profits but rather the goodwill generated by being open and providing a hot meal to weary customers.  The additional revenue earned during the disaster periods is easily offset by the additional costs for the mobile command center (named after Bill Murray’s urban-assault vehicle in “Stripes”), leased equipment and additional inventory of frozen food.  Folks tend to remember those who took care of them in a time of need.  Matthew Ray Booth, a 69-year-old resident of the area affected by hurricane Irene had spent two days drinking soda and eating canned pork and beans.  He ordered bacon, scrambled eggs with cheese, hash browns “scattered, smothered and covered,” and a glass of iced tea.  “We didn’t have no air, and no place to cook no food at the house,” he said.

Now THAT’s customer service, 24 hours a day.

Here is a link to the full Wall Street Journal article on the subject.

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