• Waffle House reopened dining rooms at restaurants in Georgia this week, with new safety precautions such as limited seating and face masks for employees. 
  • The chain’s director of public relations Njeri Boss told Business Insider that America needs to equally balance the economic risks of shutdowns with the risk of COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • Waffle House sales plummeted by 70% during the pandemic, with 700 restaurants closing and 28,000 hourly workers losing their jobs. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

As states reopen, Waffle House is calling for America to equally balance the economic risks of shutdowns with the risk of COVID-19 pandemic. 

Waffle House is opening dining areas for hundreds of locations that had previously only served take-out orders in Georgia and Tennessee. Workers wear face masks, condiments are no longer placed on tables, and certain tables will be marked as off-limits for customers. Restaurants have plastic bags over stools, to keep people seating at the counter from sitting too close to each other. 

Waffle House’s director of public relations Njeri Boss told Business Insider on Tuesday that the chain has been working for the past six weeks to develop guidelines to reopen dining rooms during the pandemic. Boss emphasized that the changes only apply to restaurants that were already open for take-out business. 

Waffle House sales plummeted by 70% across the chain during the pandemic, with some locations seeing even greater losses, according to Boss. Waffle House closed up roughly 700 locations, Boss said, “simply because the restaurant traffic dried up in those areas.”

“It was almost like flipping the light switch,” Boss said of the sudden drop in sales as states announced shelter-in-place orders. “It was almost overnight.”

As sales plummeted, 28,000 hourly Waffle House workers lost their jobs, with the chain going from 40,000 workers in 25 states pre-COVID-19 to roughly 12,000 today.

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Waffle House says the coronavirus pandemic and the economic crisis need to carry equal weight

waffle house coronavirus

Corey Brooks, right, orders food at a Waffle House restaurant in Savannah, Georgia.

AP Photo/Russ Bynum

Boss says that the coronavirus pandemic and its related economic crisis need to carry equal weight, with 26.5 million people filing for unemployment in recent weeks. Without workers “this country is going to be insignificant trouble,” Boss said.

“Everyone does not have the ability to work from home,” she continued. “Because there are jobs in this country that require you to be at the job to do the job.”

Boss says bickering and arguments over if health or economics should take priority need to end, as states begin to reopen businesses. As it becomes clear that the coronavirus will not disappear until there is a vaccine or successful treatment, governments and businesses need to find new solutions that equally weigh both financial and public health crises. 

Waffle House is expecting a slow recovery. As expected, restaurants that reopened dining rooms did not see a flood of customers, as many potential diners continued to stay home this week. Shuttered Waffle House restaurants are not opening at this point, for take out or dining room service. 

“It’s a little too early and too soon to know when we may be able to open those closed stores,” Boss said, anticipating a “very graduated, gradual, and slow process.” 

“It’s going to take time,” she added. “The customer controls the timing.” 

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