Waffle House anticipates operating with limited dine-in service for “some time” as some U.S. states lift restrictions on businesses, CEO Walt Ehmer told CNBC on Tuesday.
“I think we’ll gradually start welcoming more and more customers back,” Ehmer said on “The Exchange.”
Waffle House on Monday began to offer limited dine-in capacity at 330 of its restaurants in Georgia and around 70 in Tennessee, following the relaxation of some coronavirus-related restrictions in those states.
The locations that now have partial dine-in service had remained open for carryout during the Covid-19 crisis, Ehmer said. He said those that were temporarily shuttered due to a lack of sales will, for the time being, remain closed.
Ehmer said the company is excited to give customers who were already going to the restaurants to place a to-go order the opportunity “to just sit at a distance and eat” instead of returning to their cars or trucks to do so.
“We’ve seen … a lot of picnics in our parking lots lately,” he said.
Waffle House has instituted a variety of new operating procedures in order to keep customers and employees safe, according to Njeri Boss, director of public relations for the company.
Customers sit for breakfast at a Waffle House in Atlanta as the US state of Georgia relaxed restrictions on April 27, 2020 on restaurants to allow for limited dine-in service during the coronavirus pandemic.
Michael Mathes | AFP | Getty Images
The changes include reduced seating capacity and the removal of condiments and menus from tables, Boss told CNBC. Customers can now get disposable paper menus or scan a QR code to view the menu on their phone, she added.
Employees are wearing face coverings, she said, and there are floor markings to help customers maintain social distancing. Enhanced sanitation is also in place at all of the operational restaurants, she said.
Most of Waffle House’s open locations are operating with limited hours, Boss said, although a few have been able to continue offering the 24-hour service for which the restaurant is known.
Waffle House, which is based in Norcross, Georgia, has closed about 700 of its restaurants due to the coronavirus pandemic, Boss said. The company has nearly 2,000 locations.
Ehmer said Waffle House will look to the locations it has open “to help gauge when and where it would be appropriate to add more restaurants back online.”
“We’re very much driven by having our restaurants open and available for people 24 hours a day,” he said. “We’re just not there yet.”
Ehmer said return to normal service would happen quicker if there were a vaccine or effective treatment for Covid-19, “but it doesn’t seem to be headed that direction.”
“The role we’re trying to play right now is to help the country and help ourselves figure out how to deal with the virus being with us for some time and how to get our businesses prepared to provide jobs and opportunities for our people,” he said.