The Waffle House Index Is Officially Red As COVID-19 Forces Hundreds of Locations to Close

If the Waffle House is closed, things are bad. If hundreds of Waffle Houses are closed, things are really really bad.

Waffle House is famously one of the most resilient institutions in the country. Every single one of the breakfast restaurant’s nearly 2,000 locations is open 24-7-365. It’s so loathed to close a single location that a Waffle House that isn’t putting out hashbrowns, pancakes, and eggs is cause for alarm.

Craig Fugate was in charge of FEMA during the response to the 2011 tornado that devastated Joplin, Missouri. The two Waffle House locations in town remained open the entire time, and Fugate summed it up thusly: “If you get there and the Waffle House is closed? That’s really bad.”

Well, folks, things are really bad.

As of today, 418 Waffle House locations — about 20 percent of all locations across the country — are closed. That’s 53 more than were closed yesterday, and it’s quite likely that more and more state and local governments force more WaHos, as they are nicknamed, to close in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

And as opposed to, say, a hurricane, where the closures are confined to a particular part of the country, the fight against the coronavirus has shuttered locations throughout the South, Midwest, and mid-Atlantic regions. If there was a Waffle House Index color worse than red — blinking red? black? — we would be at that level now.

And while it’s certainly a drag for people to lose a reliable, cheap dining option, it’s really the servers, cooks, and managers of the shuttered locations who are hurt by these closures. So while there’s a certain tongue-in-cheek quality to assessing a situation based on whether or not drunk college kids can get pancakes at three in the morning, you have to hope for their sake that the index goes back to green and the tips start rolling in soon.