Waffle House grace

Waffle House Restaurant. 2516 W. Bell Road, Ph...

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by Madeline Laughs

I have traveled for work for over 30 years. When I first started out traveling I was working in the retail merchandising market. Then I moved into the recruiting market. Finally I became a freelance field researcher. In every job it has always been an interesting study of people and places.

Part of the package of a traveler is a thing called per diem. Per diem means simply; per day. This is a set amount of money the company gives you each day to buy your meals. Sometimes it’s based on the government per diem increment and sometimes it’s just whatever the company decides to give you. I have never gone hungry on the road. The per diem rates have always been more than I would ever spend on food each day so over the years I have banked a lot of my per diem money. 

When I am on the road working, food becomes coincidental. It’s like “Oh, I should probably eat something before I head back to the hotel.” I put in long hours out there. There are days I am in the field before 9am and don’t make it back to the hotel until 9 or 10pm. I stop thinking about food some days when the work is especially stressful.

One thing has remained constant during my career on the road and that one thing is the Waffle House. There is usually a Waffle House restaurant in every little town I’ve worked in across the USA. I look forward to seeing that familiar yellow roof with the windows all around, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. About fifteen years ago I started doing something there that has become a guilty pleasure now. I look forward to visiting this restaurant on every assignment.

I order the same thing every single time I slide into one of the Naugahyde covered booths. It is rare that I deviate from my personal menu choice. I always order the cheese and eggs with the raisin toast. It is my favorite Waffle House meal.

I must confess that I don’t eat there for the food. Even though they make the best cheese and eggs I have ever had and in the more Southern states the grits is made to perfection. My reason for making that stop one time before heading home is a nourishment of sorts, but it is not about the calories at all.

A while back I started noticing the training of the Waffle House employees. If you’ve ever been to one you might remember that they greet you as soon as you walk in the door. All of them work behind the counter there with a couple that come out to the few booths that are positioned on the right side of the restaurant. I love to check out the different head wear of some of them. You can tell which waitresses have been working in the restaurant for many years because they still wear the small triangle of hanky bobby pinned to the back of their hair. These days it seems most of them are sticking to the visor head dress.

Most of the wait staff are women. It is rare that a man will be waiting on you. I have been in some Waffle Houses where the entire staff was women, even the short order cook making my eggs was female. They work hard and most of the time they are cheerful and work well together. I have marveled at the resilience of these women making less than minimum wage, but working all the same, to feed their families back home. I have seen all kinds and listened to their chatter among one another behind the counter about children in school, or at home with the flu, sick relatives and bad boyfriends.

This week as I was checking out, the waitress was talking with her colleague about a woman that had come in at 9pm the night before and didn’t leave the restaurant until 6am that morning. They just knew she was homeless. The thought of asking her to leave never occurred to them. They kept her coffee cup warm and included her in their night shift chatter as one rush after another happened throughout the night. They were all genuinely worried about her after she left and hoped she would come back that evening, if she needed to.

The Waffle House is a slice of Americana that doesn’t get the respect it truly deserves.

What if I get bad service or have a sullen waitress? Do I still follow through with my plan? You bet I do! Those are the best ones! It is a surprise to me when I get bad service there, but it happens. You might get a mother worried about her child or in a fight with her significant other that takes it out on her customers. She could be resenting having to be at work when she’s needed at home. Or she could just resent the fact that you have the money to sit down to a meal cooked and served by someone else. There’s no telling what’s on their minds when they choose to ignore your empty cup or forget how you ordered your eggs.

I stop at the Waffle House restaurant with one thing on my mind and that is the intent of leaving the biggest tip of my trip.When I say big, I mean big.

I never know exactly how much I’ll leave, but I have done it the same way for a very long time. I never leave it on the table. I find my waitress after I pay the check and I slip it right into her hand. I always have a compliment ready too. “Your hair looks nice today.” or “I love the way you treat everyone like a friend.” I am never at a loss for a nice thought to leave with them.

This week my waitresses name was Thelma. She was slammed with customers, had 2 empty coffee pots in the process of brewing, no chocolate milk on her end of the counter station and someone in the booth next to me asking for Decaf coffee and demanding an extra waffle. I waited patiently for her to make her way to me. Every minute or so she would catch my eye from the other end of the counter, she’d smile big and wave saying “I see ya baby! Imma comin’!” I would smile back and nod. I wasn’t in a hurry.

There have been dozens of visits to the Waffle House when I’m walking to the register to pay my bill I could look down at the tables recently vacated before me that were waiting to be bussed and I have seen the quarter tips left by the last customer. Quarters?! What in the world was that diner thinking?

I can tell you that I do not do this for the waitress. I don’t do it so they will look at me and think I’m a saint. I don’t do it because I think I’m better than anyone there. I’m not smug or arrogant or judgmental. I am not seeking praise or thanks or gratitude.

I truly do this for myself and for no other reason.

The feeling of grace that settles over me when I leave that restaurant and sit in my car is one that is pure and gentle. It is a feeling like no other and it is one I wish I could give back to myself everyday. The fact that I reserve giving myself this privilege on occasion is probably what has kept it so special all these years.

I found Thelma cleaning my table after I paid my check. She looked up and smiled as I reached for her hand. I slipped her folded up tip in her hand and told her “Thelma, you were a true pleasure this morning! Enjoy your day off tomorrow!” She thanked me for coming in and I turned to go. I didn’t stick around to see the look on her face. I have never stayed to see that.

I sat in my car and closed my eyes and allowed the grace to wash over me for just a second. Then I turned the key in the ignition and went back to work.

I have done this deed quietly for over 15 years. I am sharing it with you today because I want you to find something in your own life that gives this same grace and joy back to you. Perhaps you already have something like that, or maybe you’re still trying to figure that out. Whatever you decide, I know it will be a good thing.

The Waffle House restaurant has served me well over the years. I look forward to my next dish of cheese and eggs with raisin toast. It is the best meal I’ve ever had the pleasure of being served.

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About Madeline Scribes

A writer with a sense of humor. If anyone can laugh at life, it's me.
This entry was posted in All kinds of Advice and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Waffle House grace

  1. Pingback: FLASH: Waffle House grace | Spread Information « Worldwide News

  2. OK Madeline…are you following me or have I been following you!!! I do exactly the same thing,…well, except that I order a pecan waffle with a side of crispy bacon. In our part of the country we don’t have any Waffle Houses, so I have to wait until our yearly pilgramages to the south land of this country for this particular adventure. And you are right, it is the BEST feeling in the world. I have only seen their “faces” one time…as I was driving out of the parking lot and watched our wait person waving her money and everyone else was cheering her. I wanted to go back and give them all extra too!!!

    We didn’t have one available a few days ago, so had to settle on a Denny’s. I found the perfect person…NOT our wait person (who should have taken lessons from Connie) Connie was the an over-worked mom, who took the time to visit almost every table. I needed to take a pill and our person had disappeared. I stopped Connie and asked if I could trouble her for a glass of water, even though she was not assigned to us. “No problem sweetie…no ice, right?” I just wanted to hug her….

    I always ask if they get the keep their own tips or have to share them. Management let me know they realize how valuable Connie is….but I wanted to remind them one more time.

    Again…thanks for sharing your story. It makes me appreciate all the overworked, unrecognized wait staff in this country…and reminds us how we can make a small difference.

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    • I can honestly tell you that I have not been following you around, but it is nice to know that you have recognized the good in others and want to give something back to them, purely out of love.

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  3. Hyouten says:

    I enjoyed reading your story a lot. Definitely took me back to my first time at Waffle House. I was with my stepfather and we decided to do a little pit stop and eat some 3 AM breakfast (he’s a truck driver). That was at Murfreesboro, TN right by the I-75 exit. Everybody was so friendly. I’ve been hooked since then. In fact, Waffle House was a part of one of my most important days (I can’t quite say in public what it is yet).

    I do feel quite bad that my only Waffle House review so far is one that highlighted a bad experience (thanks, by the way, for including it in your related articles list). I can’t wait to go back to another location and be reminded how awesome Waffle House is. I just wish there was more of them in Indianapolis.

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  4. whine-wine-whatever says:

    Great piece, Madeline!

    Alas, I’ve never been to a Waffle House….guess that makes me a Waffle House virgin. But I’ve been to plenty of “greasy spoons” [that is not an insult, just restaurant talk!] in my life to relate. You cannot go wrong at a restaurant like that. In fact, at the ripe age of 14, I worked in our local greasy spoon, a restaurant with a counter and maybe 14 stools, no booths, a bigass grill visible from every stool, and a fountain for beverages, where Coke syrup met with carbonated water and was stirred with an iced tea spoon. The “Grill” was across the street from the train station, where early morning commuters waited for their ride to Chicago, like the gentleman who stopped in for his regular fare and zoomed across the street in less than a minute, after grabbing a chocolate-frosted cake donut and a large coffee, 2 sugars, no cream. “That’ll be 37 cents, sir.” [Hey, it was a LONG time ago!] I had it ready to go about 30 seconds before he walked in, every day, as he was a creature of habit. Most of the morning crowd was. He’d hand me a bill all folded up and whooosh! he was gone and headed across the street. It was a five-dollar bill. Every day. One morning, I said, “Hang on, let me get your change.” He smiled and said, “Oh, that’s for you. You help me get my morning started, and I appreciate that.” “But, but…..” And he was whoooosh! out the door. The lunch crowd was 180 degrees in the other direction. They were primarily local tradesmen working in the area — plumbers, phone company installers, construction guys — people who worked outdoors, who worked with their hands, who took pride in their craft. Most of them were regulars, too, and boy, could they eat! I liked the lunch crowd. There was a camaraderie, a nice slow rhythm to the shift. Perhaps because they weren’t in a rush like the morning shift. Perhaps because my dad worked in the trades and I could talk their “language.”

    It was a fabulous couple of summers for me, a teenager hell-bent on earning my own money for my piano lessons. I learned many things: the value of working hard, being organized, being efficient, dealing with people from every walk of life, how to prioritize, how to wait on 14 stools all at once and wash dishes and make pots of coffee and work the register and handle to-go orders, being pleasant to all customers when you were feeling grumpy, and much, much more. At 16, I was able to pay cash for a car and pay for the insurance and gas.

    I later had jobs in banking, bookkeeping, finance and as Assistant Controller, and magazine editor. My job as a waitress was by far the best job I ever had. So that’s why I, too, love to give enormous tips, especially to those very special wait people. It’s such a lovely feeling.

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  5. ranton2011 says:

    I hope its ok that I reblogged this. Some people HATE that. I just do it for the stuff I REALLY want to share. Great work. If you like I will remove it. But I am on my way to work at the moment. Have a great day!

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  6. Sleepless says:

    Nice piece. I too leave a generous tip when I visit these type of places. I watch to see who busses the tables. If it’s the waitress, I’ll leave the tip on the table. If not, I’ll leave a small table tip and hand the waitress the real tip.

    I was there in my youth. I feel fortunate to have left those worries behind.

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  7. Pingback: Fleeing the Griddle in the Middle of Nowhere « Salut! Food & Wine Adventures

  8. Sheila says:

    WOW as a waffle house waitress this is really cool. Im a 32 yr old mom of 4 wonderful children and Great husband. I started working at W.H when I turned 15. 17 years later, I dont have to do it, as hard as I once had to for so many years, Infact My great Husband spent a few months checking me out before I ever knew he exsisted, often because my life had no room for a man…after all I had sick kids, no babysitter or life just seemed to swallow my life whole.. so no I didn’t get your eggs right or forgot you wanted more coffee.You may not have seen the person before or after you that, I knew(from many years of doing this) needed for someone to spend just a minute listening to how there day has been and tell them that it will all be ok, because just when you think you have it bad take a look around ya I bet, maybe just maybe you know someone that has it alot worse! Doesn’t mean that I didn’t notice you and what or who you are… I learned early on not to be so quick to judge, in god we all trust. Thank you to all of the customers that has stayed faithful to waffle house and those who have never been…IF YOUR IN THE SOUTH Get to a waffle house!

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  9. Sheila says:

    And…. I Do It because I love the Job!

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  10. Heather Golden says:

    Thanks so much for coming by Waffle House unit #1116 Wilmington, NC today. It was truly a pleasure to meet you Ms. Madeline. I’ve shared this on my FB and people are loving it. Wow. How refreshing! It’s nice to know that we’re appreciated. We appreciate you, as well!!!

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