Talk about a brand identity. FEMA has what they call the "Waffle House Index" to gauge how severely an area has been impacted by a natural disaster:
Green means the restaurant is serving a full menu, a signal that damage in an area is limited and the lights are on. Yellow means a limited menu, indicating power from a generator, at best, and low food supplies. Red means the restaurant is closed, a sign of severe damage in the area or unsafe conditions.
"If you get there and the Waffle House is closed?" FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate has said. "That's really bad. That's where you go to work."
Waffle House Inc. has 1,600 restaurants stretching from the mid-Atlantic to Florida and across the Gulf Coast, leaving it particularly vulnerable to hurricanes. Other businesses, of course, strive to reopen as quickly as possible after disasters. But the Waffle House, which spends almost nothing on advertising, has built a marketing strategy around the goodwill gained from being open when customers are most desperate…
In a recent academic paper, Panos Kouvelis, a business-school professor at Washington University in St. Louis, pegged Waffle House as one of the top four companies for disaster response, with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Home Depot Inc. and Lowe's Cos.
I definitely recommend reading the full article. Great look at the power of planning and adaptation.
Today offered another one of those lessons you learn early but need to be reminded of often: leaping to conclusions usually lands you in the wrong place. I was at lunch and the person I was sitting next to, someone whom I trust, started talking about the ongoing situation here in the Piedmont Triad between Waffle House Inc. and its (now former) local franchisee. Long story short the local franchisee got out of the business and in the process some employees were issued paychecks that bounced. Fingers were pointed, but early on the local franchisee looked like the bad guy.
Now it's important to provide some context here. People in the Triad who pay attention to these kinds of things are likely predisposed to believing the worst in any story about employees being given rubber checks, because another local company recently went out of business, and in the process the owner really did screw his employees out of pay and health benefits.
At lunch I was hearing from a trusted source that the Waffle House franchisee was one of the most honorable and ethical business people she had ever met. Knowing what I know about the source, and knowing the number of people she knows in the business community, my angle on the story instantly shifted 180 degrees. After reading the initial coverage of the story I'd just assumed that the franchisee had gotten in too deep and had done what lots of companies do in that situation: tried to hold on and pray for a miracle while telling the employees nothing of the problems and then eventually bouncing paychecks. I also assumed that stories of delinquent payroll taxes would soon follow. A one minute conversation at lunch changed my assumptions, and I began to think that there's probably a whole lot more to the story and I probably needed to reserve judgment until the situation was fully aired.
Now don't get me wrong, I don't think the media did any faulty reporting. The stories I read simply stated the facts: employees' paychecks bounced, the state's labor department was investigating and if they found any wrongdoing they were going to go after the franchisee for the employees' pay. I did the rest of the work myself, leaping to conclusions and letting my own biases take me to an early, and potentially faulty, conclusion. Luckily I was saved from myself today.
After lunch I got back to my desk and found this story waiting in my alert box. It seems that my source at lunch was right and it's the folks at Waffle House Inc. who haven't been behaving too well in this case, at least to this point. And that's where I need to remember another lesson: there's usually more to a story than meets the eye, and it will probably be a while before we have the full story here. Stay tuned.