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Waffle House employee pouring coffeeIf you are going to operate restaurants that never close and you want to be successful at it, planning is a big part of your job. When running a 24/7 restaurant, if you don’t plan well, then every day will be an emergency.

That’s been our philosophy at Waffle House restaurants since we opened our doors on Labor Day 1955 in Avondale Estates, Ga. We plan for staffing. We plan for how much food we need for each 24-hour period. We plan our routine maintenance. Planning is a big part of our culture.

And this culture of planning for everyday activities is well-suited for when an emergency presents itself. In the last year and a half, our company has responded to many emergencies – an ice storm in Atlanta, tornadoes in Alabama and north Georgia, and Hurricane Irene. Apart from the hurricane, when we had more advanced notice, the main part of our plan was to “show up,” determine what was needed to keep the restaurants open.

There is some logistics planning in staging and getting additional supplies and manpower into an affected area right after a storm, however it’s our “show up” that sets us apart from other companies. This means we are flexible and are ready to change depending on what managers see going on in restaurants right after an emergency.

When an ice storm hit Atlanta in January 2011, we never closed a single restaurant. Our associates showed up for their shifts. Our management, from restaurant managers all the way up to our CEO, was in the restaurants. There was no call to action; our associates and managers knew to show up after the storm. It’s a part of our culture that all our associates know. They showed up and kept the doors open when many other businesses didn’t.

The same thing occurs after a hurricane. Our leadership is on the ground right after the storm to make the decisions needed on where to send supplies and manpower. Within 24 hours of Hurricane Irene making land, our CEO, president, two executive vice presidents, a subsidiary president and our CFO were on-site managing the emergency from the front lines.

We had staged some supplies and sent additional manpower into the area. However it was the management on the ground making the decisions on what needed to go where – not someone back in our corporate office in Norcross. This allowed us to quickly respond to what the issues were at our restaurants.

After each emergency, we look at our planning to decide what works well and what needs to be tweaked. But the biggest part of our planning is to show up and decide what is needed to keep the restaurants open.

And that’s the big take-away for other businesses and individuals: You need to plan ahead. Then when the emergency occurs, be ready to be flexible and address the most important issues in front of you. It’s simply a part of our culture.

Dave Rickell is executive vice president of operations for Waffle House, Inc.

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