8:15am

Thu September 1, 2011
The Two-Way

How Bad Was The Disaster? Check The 'Waffle House Index'

One staple of economics and business reporting is the "odd indicator" story.

Having done a few in our time, we know a good one when we see it.

This morning, The Wall Street Journal offers a look at the "Waffle House Index," which is part economic indicator, part hurricane gauge.

As Craig Fuguate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency explains to the Journal, if you get to a town after a disaster and the Waffle House is closed: "That's really bad. That's where you go to work."

"The Waffle House," according to the Journal, "spends almost nothing on advertising, [and] has built a marketing strategy around the goodwill gained from being open when customers are most desperate."

So if its restaurants aren't open, that means the damage has been pretty bad.

Fugate even has a color-coded system for his index that digs deeper into the what's going on:

"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."

By Wednesday night, the index was looking pretty good in places that were hit hard by Hurricane Irene over the weekend. The Journal says that of the company's "22 restaurants in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware ... all but one in hard-hit coastal Virginia were back in business."

What are some of other "odd indicators?"

Time's Moneyland blog rounded up 10 of them here. We like the "hot waitress" and "men's underwear" indexes.

Another classic is the "lipstick index," which holds that in tough times women spend more on their lips because it's an inexpensive way to feel better about things.

Anyone have a favorite economic or hurricane gauge?

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.