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Many restaurants brace for hurricane, loss of sales while Waffle House data to help FEMA track storm severity

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 13, 2018, 5:19 p.m.

This undated photo released by Waffle House on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2006, shows a Waffle House restaurant in Atlanta. (Waffle House)
This undated photo released by Waffle House on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2006, shows a Waffle House restaurant in Atlanta. (Waffle House)

Hurricane Florence may have an outsize impact on sales at fried-chicken chain Bojangles’ Inc., while other southern chains like Waffle House are so popular, the Federal Emergency Management Agency uses its sales as a gauge in natural disasters.

About 69 percent of Bojangles’ 766 restaurants are in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, according to an analysis by Bloomberg Intelligence. Zaxby’s and Bloomin’ Brands Inc. also have a significant presence in the states where the hurricane was expected to make landfall.

Restaurants typically see a drop in demand leading up to big storms as consumers stock pantries and buy supplies to secure their homes. But some eateries, especially pizza chains, see a sales bump after the bad weather passes, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Jennifer Bartashus.

“You usually see a decline ahead and a little bit of a pick up after,” she said. “The bigger question is how long restaurants may be closed and how much damage that may occur if they’re in the direct path of the storm.”

FEMA even uses restaurant sales bumps as an indicator in monitoring severe weather, more specifically through the Waffle House Storm Center.

That’s because the 24-hour restaurant chain is known for more than a fast breakfast, USA Today reported – it often remains open during natural disasters, providing food and resources to first responders.

FEMA keeps watch of a “Waffle House Index,” a color-coded indicator of what restaurants are open, closed or offering a limited menu, to gauge how well an area will recover from a hurricane, tornado or other hazard, according to USA Today.

“The Waffle House test just doesn’t tell us how quickly a business might rebound – it also tells how the larger community is faring,” a FEMA blog post from 2011 states.

Waffle House told USA Today its Storm Center was monitoring Florence, and the team also asked people to “plan ahead and be safe.”


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