Waffle House says some regulars are slowly beginning to return after the coronavirus forced it to lay off thousands and cut pay for workers still employed

Chris Heithaus wears a mask as he wraps silverware at a Waffle House restaurant in Savannah, Georgia, on Monday, April 27, 2020. Restaurants across Georgia have been allowed to resume dine-in service with restrictions after a month of being limited to takeout orders because of the coronavirus. AP Photo/Russ Bynum
  • A week after Waffle House started letting customers eat inside some restaurants, the company has seen a slight improvement in sales – though most business is still take out.
  • Waffle House director of public relations Njeri Boss said that sales have improved slightly to be down 50% at open restaurants, after dropping more than 70% in late March.
  • 28,000 hourly Waffle House workers lost their jobs during the pandemic, as 700 restaurants closed due to lack of customers.
  • Waffle House implemented pay cuts for remaining workers, from grill cooks making $US1 less per hour to senior executives taking pay cuts of 50% to 60%.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A week after Waffle House began allowing customers to eat inside some restaurants, the chain is seeing early signs of a slow recovery.

Waffle House has been encouraged by a slight growth in sales at restaurants that allowed dining rooms to reopen last week, director of public relations Njeri Boss told Business Insider on Tuesday.

While the bulk of sales are still take out, Boss said that the chain has seen some diners – mostly regulars – eating in restaurants in states where it is legal to do so, though she emphasised there has not been anything close to a flood of returning customers.

“The understanding is that this recovery is going to be slow,” Boss said.

The chain has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Waffle House saw sales drop 70% to 80% at locations that remained open; Boss said that sales have improved slightly to be down 50% at open restaurants over the last week.

For comparison, fast-food chains such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell, KFC, and Burger King reported last week that same-store sales dropped somewhere between 20% and 35% when states announced shelter in place orders in March.

Boss said that customers have been respectful of social distancing requirements in locations that allowed diners to eat in restaurants. The company has implemented a number of new safety measures, including requiring workers to wear face masks, no longer placing condiments on tables, and marking some tables as off-limits for customers.

Thousands of Waffle House workers have lost their jobs, as remaining employees’ face pay cuts

Waffle house coronavirus
Waffle House marks some stools as off limits to customers. AP Photo/Russ Bynum

Waffle House closed roughly 700 locations during the pandemic because sales had dropped so drastically in certain areas. 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.

The company also made significant pay cuts in an attempt to stem losses during the pandemic, Boss confirmed to Business Insider.

Restaurants’ grill cooks took a $US1 per hour pay cut, and servers saw their hours cut as demand dried up. Managers and corporate staff faced significant cuts. Senior managements’ pay was cut from 50% to 60% in an effort to make managers’ cuts less drastic, according to Boss.

Boss said that the company is trying to return to full compensation as soon as possible. However, the end of pay cuts and the reopening of restaurants will be “determined by the success of the restaurants.”

Waffle House has advocated for policies that equally balance the risk of COVID-19 with the economic impact of shutdowns.

“When you lose the Waffle House, you’re losing the local economy,” Waffle House chairman Joe Rogers Jr. recently told Forbes. “If we let this economy keep going the way it’s going, we are leading people to ruin. How many people are you sacrificing to the poorhouse?”