Waffle House Closes 418 Locations Due To Spread Of COVID-19

The breakfast chain that prides itself on staying open continuously could be an indicator of the virus's increasing spread.

A Waffle House open after a tropical storm in Bayou La Batre, Alabama.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images

The breakfast chain that prides itself on staying open continuously could be an indicator of the virus's increasing spread.

On Tuesday, March 24, Waffle House announced a “Waffle House Index Red” and the chain closed 375 locations due to the novel coronavirus. By Wednesday, an additional 43 locations were closed, bringing the total to 418 Waffle House restaurants, according to NBC News. The locations that were closed are not concentrated in one state or region but are spread throughout the states in which Waffle House is present.

With roughly 2,000 locations, bringing operations to a standstill at 418 locations is a significant cut. Waffle House might be best known for its menu of cheap and greasy dishes like hash browns, eggs and waffles, but the chain actually holds more significance than most know with regard to emergencies. According to a former Federal Emergency Management Agency official, the “Waffle House Index” is sometimes used to determine the severity of some weather events or emergencies and can help the agency focus response efforts.

Essentially, the stoplight-like system is gauged by three colors. Green is good for regular operations, yellow signifies a reduced menu due to low power or limited food, and red indicates the location is completely closed.

Dan Stoneking, the external affairs director of FEMA, also explained that the “Waffle House Index” can show how communities are faring. In this case, it seems most are being battered by the novel coronavirus as the pandemic spreads in the United States.

Waffle House is proud of and has been praised for its emergency response preparedness, according to ABC News. For the chain to close just short of a quarter of all locations indicates the degree to which the novel coronavirus is spreading and posing a threat. It’s very rare for the “Waffle House Index” to encounter a red-level event. The restaurants are even known for staying open all day, every day of the year — even to serve food to victims of natural disasters.

When the first case of novel coronavirus infected a Waffle House employee at a location in Canton, Georgia, on March 1, the restaurant only closed for one day to thoroughly clean, Fox 5 Atlanta reported.

The chain is determined to keep its 45,000 employees working through tough times and measures to clean and sanitizer locations have increased. Some locations even shifted to serving to-go orders as of March 18.

As the number of cases each day and the number of deaths related to the novel coronavirus exponentially increase, the chain has officially scaled back. It is a good idea to call ahead to ensure a particular location is open prior to venturing out.