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.
- Waffle House Waitress Wins Lotto Jackpot, Loses A Million To The Tax Man (businessinsider.com)
- For Some Reason, Waffle House Is Asking Customers Their Thoughts On Whitney … – Mediaite (mediaite.com)
- Valentine’s At Waffle House (youngsblog.com)
- Take me to Waffle House (cassiehoffman.wordpress.com)
- What happened, Waffle House? (lulzyreviews.wordpress.com)
- Hot, Steamy, and Slightly Sinful Waffles Being Offered At Waffle House (thefranchiseking.com)
- a max and a waffle house (katiespencilbox.com)
- Waffle House Hosts Special Menu for Valentine’s Day (newsy.com)