Just going to be honest here: I’m fascinated by Waffle House for a variety of reasons. For example, FEMA’s Waffle House Index, which the agency uses to determine the level of assistance a community needs after a storm.
Or the time on Parts Unknown when Anthony Bourdain said it was a "warm yellow glow, a beacon of hope and salvation, inviting the hungry, the lost, the seriously hammered, all across the South to come inside. A place of safety and nourishment. It never closes. It is always, always faithful, always there for you."
Wow. ... See?
Then, there’s the jukebox that is run by the app TouchTunes. You can pick your music, any hour, any time. The clever can even coordinate walk-in music (which of course should be Cardi B’s “Best Life.”)
And behind the counter, there’s the specific place and way the crew is supposed to call out orders to the grill cook, and a plate marking system to keep track of it all.
That’s all just a small drop of syrup on the waffle.
But from a causal anthropology perspective, there’s no better place to watch the world go by than atop a stool at the counter of a Waffle House. Recently, while having breakfast there (try the raisin bread dipped in grits!), I asked my server if they were open on Christmas.
“Honey, we never close,” the 'never' drawn out into four syllables.
Of course. Silly me.
At 1:30 p.m. on Monday, the crew at Waffle House 206 on South Cooper in Arlington was resupplying, cleaning and catching up after a busy morning. A few of the servers were sitting close by, and I asked them about working on Christmas. The response was a mix of smiles and groans.
Not surprising, no one wants to work on Christmas Day, but they make the most of it. They like the extra money and, well, it’s a community thing.
Kimberly Fleming has worked at Waffle House since 2004, and this year she’ll indeed be behind the counter on Christmas Day. When I asked how many of those 15 years she’s been there on the holiday, Fleming answers with a big smile, maybe veiling a bit of sarcasm, “Every Christmas since 2004.”
“The vibe on Christmas is really good, though,” says Fleming. “If we can’t be with our family, might as well have fun here. We sing and dance. All the customers are happy too, and in a good mood. It’s a fun vibe.”
Usually, Fleming explains, they’re pretty slow early in the morning, until about 9 a.m. They then pick up even more after 10 a.m. and stay busy all day from there on out.
“We see a lot of our regular customers and, honestly, they’re thankful for us being here. Some people don’t have family,” says Fleming, “so they come here to be with us. We’re not here just to serve them, but we communicate with them, too.”
Since its beginning in 1955, Waffle House has always been open on Christmas Day. They like to think of themselves as a refuge for the weary, a safety net in case you burn the turkey or if your holiday plans just fall through.
Like it or not, at Christmas, Waffle House has got you covered and smothered if you’re scattered or scrambled. And if you don't get that reference, you need to go get some hash browns.