Waffle House Restaurant

When thinking through your disaster recovery plan, it’s not always necessary to reinvent the wheel. Many businesses have done much of the planning and heavy lifting for us. One such business is the Waffle House. If you are not familiar with the brand, the chain of diner eateries has thousands of locations across the United States. Many of which are located in communities in the southeast geography of the US. These states sit in prime hurricane territory and each season the folks at Waffle House prepare and plan for Mother Nature to throw her worst tantrums at their business.

Peter Tsai, writer and IT contributor over at the Spiceworks community tells us that “Waffle House has a reputation of being among the best in the business when it comes to being prepared to bounce back from natural disasters in order to serve stranded customers or those without electricity. And that reputation has earned the restaurant a lot of fans and followers, including those in the U.S. government.” Peter explains that Waffle House’s planning is so effective that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has used an informal metric to gauge the severity of a storm or hurricane’s possible destruction based on the status of Waffle House locations in affected areas. The metric is known as the “Waffle House Index” has become a popular measurement for other organizations and businesses that are attempting to position recovery assets in communities where storms may have caused infrastructure damage.

The article explains the “Waffle House Index” in a color code. Green means that the restaurant location is open and capable of serving a full menu in normal conditions. Yellow means the store location is open but may be affected in some manner limiting it’s menu due to electrical or infrastructure problems in the area. A Red status in the index means a store is completely closed due to problems in the area or staff not being able to position themselves to serve customers or prepare food in the restaurant facility.

It is not uncommon to find a Waffle House location open and serving patrons in communities where other competitors or services may not be available. Peter shares, “As Hurricane Katrina ravaged the southern U.S. in 2005, 107 Waffle House restaurants shut down across several states, and seven of those restaurants were completely destroyed. But despite the hit, they were able to get up and running soon after. Following Katrina, 75 percent of the Waffle House locations that closed were open again within three days.”

In a 2015 interview with Georgia Tech, leadership Waffle House laid out the basics of the Waffle House disaster playbook.  Peter’s article in Spiceworks goes on to explain the Waffle House “playbook” as written below.

Before the disaster: Waffle House mitigation and planning best practices

  • The company has a carefully-scripted disaster recovery playbook that contains clearly documented, easy-to-follow steps. 
  • The Waffle House command and control center in Norcross, Georgia monitors incoming storms that might cause trouble. Self-admitted “weather junkies,” the company uses tools such as HURRTRAK software to get up-to-the-minute updates on where a storm might turn and which stores it might impact.
  • Each employee gets issued a key fob with important emergency contact numbers so they can check-in for instructions during a storm.
  • The organization has mobile command centers in custom RVs, which have a satellite phone and internet link that can support stores when communications infrastructure is damaged.
  • Waffle House maintains close relationships with government officials (police, fire, etc.) and suppliers to ensure that provisions can get through and no roadblocks are encountered once disaster strikes and that restaurant locations are kept safe.
  • Every executive in the organization is trained on how to run a restaurant on the front lines so they can be dispatched to help when disaster strikes.

During a disaster: How Waffle House responds to disaster 

  • When a storm is inbound, an all-hands-on-deck alert goes out, disaster response “jump teams” organize, and important resources and manpower are staged so they can be dispatched quickly when needed. 
  • Waffle House ships generators and gas supplies to affected locations to power the stores, to keep food from spoiling and systems running.
  • Crews travel to affected locations to repair any structural damage to restaurants quickly. 
  • Waffle House’s mobile command center vehicles are deployed to support locations that have lost communications.
  • IT pros address hardware issues, securing replacement parts if needed, and assist with restarting computer systems if needed. For example, each location has a broadband connection and a cloud-based point of sale system. Additionally, when we reached out to them, Waffle House representatives told us that they also have other proprietary apps running on Windows PCs.
  • Centralized software systems allow the Waffle House organization to understand where the most immediate needs are across all locations, whether it’s food, supplies, or power, so they can effectively prioritize the next steps. Waffle House representatives informed Spiceworks that this software is called “Storm Maps” and is developed in-house.
  • Managers and employees call each other to make sure everyone is safe, and workers are mobilized to support affected restaurants. If their store is closed, workers are shifted to neighboring locations. 
  • Hotel rooms are secured near restaurants to temporarily house any staff affected and to ensure they have a place to stay if their home is damaged or they can’t make it home due to unsafe conditions.
  • Status of the recovery efforts is continuously monitored at HQ (traffic, weather, news) as well as the status of supplies, staffing levels, and infrastructure, such as power.
  • Responders improvise as needed to get the job done throughout the crisis.

After a disaster: Revise and improve

  • The organization analyzes what worked and what didn’t, then further refines the disaster recovery playbook so they can better respond the next time around.

In closing his article, Peter lays out what he believes are the “Takeaway Points” that business leaders can glean from this kind of preparation. While technology is a portion of the playbook, most of the points relate to processes and systems that can be simplified in a restaurant model. The Waffle House mantra is to “Keep it Simple” so that company assets, people and vendors are capable of responding at a moment’s notice even when things go wrong. The Waffle House representative in the Georgia Tech interview explains,  “Our model is distributed, and we believe in having the stores being able to operate with minimum dependency on technology. The key to our success has been the interaction our Associates have with our customers. Our systems have been built with offline processing at its core.”

In conclusion, Peter reiterates the value of leveraging the experience and knowledge that companies such as Waffle House can offer. What tips or ideas can you pull from the Waffle House playbook he has shared that might improve or simplify your DR plan?

Unlike a community restaurant model attempting to serve warm food in a time of crisis, many of today’s connected businesses do not have the luxury of losing access to their valuable data or IT infrastructure. If your business and revenue stream requires immediate and continuous access to IT infrastructure and data assets give us a call when planning your disaster recovery and business continuity plan. Visit our Business Continuity page and contact RACK59 today and learn how a colocation solution with a workplace recovery space can effectively limit the risk and loss that Mother Nature can throw at your business.