Business

NC curfew poses bigger problem for Waffle House than hurricanes

Posted December 16, 2020 6:27 p.m. EST
Updated December 16, 2020 7:44 p.m. EST

— Known for staying open through hurricanes to serve "good food fast," overnight business at Waffle House has been very slow since North Carolina imposed a nightly curfew last week to curb the spread of coronavirus.

People are allowed to get food during the 10 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew, but Fred Anton, senior vice president of restaurant operations for Waffle House, said he's already seen a drop in business during what usually are some of the 24-hour chain's busiest hours.

"This couldn’t come at a worse time," said Anton, who oversees all Waffle House restaurants in the Carolinas, noting that the holiday season also means big business for the chain.

"The holidays are the Super Bowl for us," he said, adding that "there’s not a lot of room in the building" on Christmas.

"The fewer customers we have, the fewer shifts we have available for our workforce, the fewer tips that are available to our workforce," he said. "That’s everything from rent to Christmas gifts to food on the table."

Waffle House employees aren't the only ones to suffer, Anton said.

"I’m currently in a restaurant that’s getting a food delivery. When sales are negatively impacted through the restrictions, we order less food, so that impacts the produce vendors, the milk vendors, the drivers of the trucks that deliver," he said.

When North Carolina and other states imposed stay-at-home orders in March, during the early weeks of the pandemic, Waffle House sales dropped 70 percent as it shifted to takeout orders only, Anton said. About 700 of the chain's restaurants closed, and 20,000 employees were laid off.

Most of the restaurants have since reopened, but not all are back to offering 24-hour service, he said.

Anton said the chain and its employees are working hard to weather the latest storm.

“We stay open during these periods because we want to be able to serve the first responders, the business travelers, freight haulers, truck drivers," he said.

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