Hurricane Matthew has officials in South Carolina and other Southern states preparing for evacuations. But Waffle House is preparing to serve thousands, and plans to stay open during the height of the storm.
“We’re a 24-hour restaurant, so oddly enough shutting down is a big deal for us,” Waffle House’s Vice President of Culture Pat Warner tells FoxNews.com. “When it comes to making the final decision, we let our operations team on the ground, like individual restaurant managers, make the final decision based on local conditions. But our job [as corporate officials] is to give them all the support they need to stay open.”
Many of the chain’s 2,100 locations are in Southern states that could be severely affected by Matthew. Only restaurants in areas with mandatory evacuations in place will be shut down this week.
The popular diner chain renowned for its 24-hour service has an emergency routine that’s so well-regarded, FEMA unofficially uses the restaurants' status as an indicator for the severity of a natural disaster.
When a storm strikes, local officials will put out a call to the nearest Waffle House and find out what’s on the menu. The “Waffle House Index” has three, color-coded levels: green means the restaurant is open and serving a full menu; yellow indicates the menu has been scaled back and there may be water but no power; and red indicates the restaurant is completely shut down—and the area is likely in need of serious assistance.
The company has a fleet of response units, complete with Waffle House-branded trucks and vans, that transport generators, communication technology and other items that will help local stores reboot quickly during most emergency situations.
Warner says in the days leading up to the storm, many restaurants in Florida and the Carolinas have already been stocking up on extra food items and will most likely be serving a limited menu as the storm makes its way through the Southern states and up the coast.
The company’s emergency response plan was set up in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed seven Waffle House restaurants and forced 100 more to close in 2005. Since then, Warner says the company has invested heavily in its emergency response technology and deployment systems. When a major storm is in the forecast, Waffle House vehicles—known as “jump teams” or “go teams”-- are deployed from headquarters to the edge of emergency zones so they can come in as soon as the worst of the storm is over and begin necessary repairs or provide assistance.
Warner says restaurants that remain open will be serving the chain’s most popular items including eggs, waffles, sausage, chicken sandwiches and burgers. Paring down the menu helps busy restaurants serve more customers and gets people in and out faster.
This week, Warner is hoping for the best but says his restaurant teams are prepared for the worst.
“A lot of times, especially after a big storm, we’re the only ones still open because we’ve got generators,” said Warner. “Right after storms, business is brisk. We have a lot of people come in and are only able to get their first hot meal at a Waffle House."
Matthew is projected to make landfall in southeast Florida late Thursday. The Category 4 storm is then expected to make its way north this weekend, bringing powerful winds and heavy rain to the East Coast.