35 Waffle Houses Shockingly Close Across Florida Amid Devastating Hurricane Ian

by Alex Falls
Andy Lyons / Staff / getty

Hurricane Ian made landfall in southwest Florida yesterday and left behind a trail of destruction. The state is still reeling and assessing just how bad the damage is. But one barometer for damage is the Waffle House test. Where you judge how bad a storm was by how operational the local Waffle House is.

The budget-friendly breakfast joint is famous for being open 24/7. They only close their doors in the worst conditions. Right now, 35 separate locations have closed down in Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

“We currently have approximately 35 restaurants closed, but that number will fluctuate quite a bit,” Njeri Boss, vice president of public relations at Waffle House said to People. “We are in the process of reopening restaurants, depending on power availability, safety and staffing, among other issues. And we are working diligently to continue to serve the communities in which we are located.”

Waffle House actually has an official gauge of how to operate depending on the severity of storms passing through. Depending on power and safety factors, the restaurant might limit what they serve.

“If you get there and the Waffle House is closed?” former FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate has said in the past. “That’s really bad. That’s where you go to work. The Waffle House test doesn’t just tell us how quickly a business might rebound – it also tells us how the larger community is faring. The sooner restaurants, grocery and corner stores, or banks can re-open, the sooner local economies will start generating revenue again – signaling a stronger recovery for that community.”

The Waffle House Index

The chain has different designations based on what they’re able to serve and if they have access to water, electricity, and gas. Green means the stores are operational with a full menu. Yellow, they’ll have a limited menu. Red means the store is shut down. Only in the most drastic cases will Waffle House completely.

 “People know about it. People know about it out of the country,” Boss said. “I get calls about it all the time to talk about the Waffle House Index and how it works. And I have to remind people it’s not ours. But hey, we appreciate the name being used. I know that there are lots of other businesses as well that emergency management will look to. But Waffle House is the first.” 

FEMA does pay attention to their closures, as it helps them indicate how many people have evacuated from a town. That knowledge helps FEMA decide what they need to do after the storm. 

On Thursday, President Joe Biden declared the state of Florida a major disaster zone. The damage is still being assessed, but early signs indicate it’s one of the most significant storms to ever hit the state. But one thing is for certain, Waffle House will be one of the first businesses to reopen as soon as they can.