I was a Waffle House waitress

In case you are not from the South, if you are not close to the South, you have never been to the South, or you do not know a single Southerner, this is a Waffle House:

These little restaurants pepper the region, and they serve this kind of food:

Which is not particularly healthy fare, but hey, we’re in the South.  And even if you’re diet conscious, sometimes a girl needs some eggs and grits.  It’s allowed.

The weekend after I turned sixteen, I rode to work with my step-mother at the Waffle House she managed.  I wore my new uniform top, the little orange number on the right:

Oh, yes.  And it was polyester.

And I, mousey little Joyce, got an education in my first occupation as a hostess.

I had to learn how to talk to people.  People who were not my teenaged friends and to whom I was not related.  This part was the most painful.  I had to try to banter with seasoned employees, and I had to communicate with customers – some friendly, some not.

I had to work really, really hard, and I had to work fast.  When I was not seating customers, I was washing dishes.  When I was not washing dishes, I was taking out the trash, or making coffee, or making gallons of orange juice, or filling ice bins or cleaning bathrooms.

I worked weekends and summers at the Waffle House until I finished high school, worked a different job during my first year of college, and then found myself back at the Waffle House, waitressing on the third shift.

I look back on those last few years with great fondness.  I became great friends with some of my co-workers – in fact one is still one my best friends.  I worked incredibly hard for ten hours every night, through the drunken bar rush and then the morning breakfast rush.  I became friendly with police officers, gay bar patrons, business owners, and local personalities.  I waited on Evander Holyfield and the three girls who made up the group TLC.  I scraped grits from plates, reset the jukebox, and gave drunken customers grief just as well as I took it.

I recently saw a FEMA report naming Waffle House as one of the top businesses in terms of disaster preparedness.  If FEMA comes into a town following a disaster and finds the Waffle House closed, then they know things are bad.  I absolutely believe that.  Reading that news item immediately transported me back to waiting tables to dim lighting, a limited menu, and only one of our four air conditioning units powered, following Hurricanes Erin and Opal.

Such hard, sweaty work that was, and I never realized that those were some of the best times of my life.  I couldn’t see it then, all I knew was that I was tired, spending week after week going to school and then cramming 30-40 hours of work into 3-4 nights a week.  I don’t know how I did it.

But now I am proud that I worked so hard.  There is honor in hard work.  To this day, that work that built my character serves me well.  I see that character in my friends who worked there too.  I’ll always be grateful for Waffle House for shoving me out of the nest and exposing me to such a range of types and personalities. Waffle House was something like a boot camp, the skills you learn there can prepare you for just about anything.

And now, I have made myself hungry for a waffle.  Bon appetite, y’all.

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About Joyce

40-year-old university advisor, 10-years married with two small children, trying to do it all and have it all and still manage the occasional social interaction through the wonderful world of blogging.
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15 Responses to I was a Waffle House waitress

  1. I’m sure you have some great memories working at the Waffle House. I wish there was one of those in my town when I growing up…

    – K.

    • Joyce says:

      It’s a good company to work for. After I worked there for six months I was awarded stock, got a vacation check every six months whether I took a vacation or not, and a Christmas bonus. And health insurance of course. The only thing I don’t miss is the work part, and it’s a company that recognizes that the work is grueling and takes care of its employees accordingly. And I was working with my two best friends, and for a time we all three were living together. Those were fun times.

  2. Funny thought about FEMA – man must have his waffles.
    Btw, I was a bus boy and dishwasher at an IHOP. It wasn’t always pretty. Sunday mornings were hell. It was packed for hours and you had to work fast and hard. Exhausting. I am not sure if I have ever worked that hard since.

  3. Oh my gosh, Waffle House has brought me some of my best laughs! We go to them whenever we travel through the south! Not once have I been there and there has not been a memorable character either working or patronizing the place!! I can’t believe you got to wait on Left Eye (or is it Right Eye?) whatever and the rest of the TLC crew!!!

    • Joyce says:

      Oh, I worked with many memorable characters, just some really good people.

      I sure did wait on the TLC girls, including “Left Eye”…they were tiny, petite little girls. I don’t think any of them topped 5 feet.

  4. Lu says:

    Those first part-time jobs were the real “character-building” days. I worked a summer vac job at the local hospital – as a domestic cleaner in the geriatric ward. Cleaning those bathrooms – now THAT was not pretty…

  5. Real Mom Dee says:

    Never saw a Waffle House until we moved here and love them. My daughter calls them the Haffle Wouse and we especially love the late night hours and the fact that every waitress we’ve met in one of these is the personification of Southern charm…just really nice people.

  6. Pingback: From the sidelines, and into the fight « Relax and Float Downstream

  7. Neat story! I want a waffle now, too.

    • Joyce says:

      Would you believe this has been my most viewed blog? Every week I have several views! Good times, I tell you. Although you couldn’t have convinced me of it then.

  8. Danielle Taylor says:

    Seeing that uniform brought back so many memories. Thanks for sharing!

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