“As Americans,” he said later, “we have go to find ways to move forward.”
Some public health officials have warned that more COVID-19 deaths are likely if government restrictions are eased too soon.
In March, Ehmer's boss, Waffle House Chairman Joe Rogers Jr., had urged state officials not to enact a ban on in-restaurant dining, arguing the economic damage to businesses and workers would be out of proportion to the public health benefits. Rogers suggested that government leaders should instead require restaurants to enforce social distancing and safety measures.
By then, though, many restaurants had already closed or were contemplating doing so as anxious customers stayed home. Other restaurants were forced to shut after county and city governments enacted restrictions. Gov. Brian Kemp eventually ordered a statewide in-dining ban.
Ultimately, dine-in service ended across all 25 states where Waffle House has nearly 2,000 corporate and franchise restaurants. Already cratering sales fell even more, pushing hundreds of the chain’s locations to shut temporarily. Only 1,200 Waffle Houses are currently open, including 330 of the 400 scattered around Georgia.
Now, with the ban lifted in Georgia and parts of Tennessee, some of the small sales increase Waffle House has seen is simply from more people ordering takeout, Ehmer said.