Hurricane Florence wreaked havoc on the east coast. As of September 20th, 2018, the death toll had already climbed to 42 people. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper says it will take billions of dollars for his state to recover. Thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes, and as with any severe weather, resources became extremely limited.
Even so, there were groups of people who continued to work through these dangerous conditions; among them were police officers, firefighters, EMTs, journalists, and Waffle House employees. Yes, you read that right. While the latter may seem like an anomaly, in reality the comfort food staple is known for keeping its lights on as long as it can during extreme weather. Even FEMA uses Waffle House as a barometer to measure how intensely a storm has ravaged an area. They call it the Waffle House Index. According to NPR’s Ari Shapiro, “Waffle House restaurants are open 24/7, so the threshold for them to close is extremely high, making them good measurements of a storm’s severity.”
Like they’ve been in the past, Waffle House was quick to prepare for Hurricane Florence, sending out “jump teams” to respond to areas they felt would be hardest hit by the storm. Waffle House spokesman Pat Warner said the teams descended upon the Carolinas equipped with generators to supply power and set up fuel depots, ensuring that area restaurants would be ready to serve up their classic dishes. CEO Walt Ehmer was in Wilmington, North Carolina, to help out as well.
So what’s the point of putting in so much effort under these circumstances? Why, while all its competition shutters their doors, does Waffle House decide to power through? While the Waffle House Index makes for great publicity, it’s not necessarily the cheapest or easiest process to maintain. So what gives?
What it all seems to boil down to is creating a brand that’s synonymous with reliability. In Waffle House’s case, being available guarantees that customers can rely on their local Waffle House even when other aspects of their lives are out of control. The familiarity of hot grits and griddle hash browns might be exactly what someone needs. Being a safe haven also fosters a sense of community. Spokesman Warner says, “We want to have that place where people can gather and talk about the storm over eggs and bacon and check in on their neighbors.”
While Waffle House’s hurricane response might seem unique, other businesses can take away important lessons of their own. To become more reliable, you don’t need your own jump team. If you want customers to reach out to your company, then create availability through as many channels as possible (Help.com’s platform can help with that). And if you want to excel in customer relationships, you need to see your customers first as people and understand their needs–just like Waffle House does.
In the end, the Waffle House Index is more than just a gimmick. While the name is fun, in reality, the chain’s well-known presence during hurricanes establishes a strong relationship with the communities it serves. It’s the kind of thing that no hurricane can sweep away, no matter how mighty.