It’s almost stereotypical that Waffle House is everywhere throughout the South, but what if the stereotype is somewhat true?
The Southern chain with its infamous yellow exterior seems to spread like wildfire. I drive 7.5 miles to work every day. Along the way, I’ve counted three Waffle Houses, and those are just the ones I can see when I’m driving. I’m sure I’ve missed a few in between dodging cars. But say I didn’t miss any — that’s a Waffle House every 2.5 miles. Starbucks would be envious of that kind of coverage.
I’ve often wondered what makes Waffle House so appealing. I grew up mostly in Atlanta, but my parents are transplants, so I have no childhood memories of the chain restaurant. The food is OK enough but nothing spectacular, so I’ve come up with a few theories as to why Waffle House, which was founded almost 60 years ago, keeps people coming back.
First of all, it’s cheap and accessible. If I get a waffle and hash browns at Waffle House, it both satisfies my stomach and costs just a few dollars. You can’t get a meal with table service for much less. Plus, it’s open 24/7, making it perfect for cravings anytime. (Take that, Chick-fil-A.)
Second, it’s fun to order when you get to ask for hash browns scattered, smothered, covered, diced, etc. (OK, I’m not so serious about this theory, but I’ve ordered hash browns smothered before just to say it out loud. There’s even an album called Scattered, Smothered and Covered. I’m not alone here.)
But the real sizzle of the bacon may be that Waffle House is a ubiquitous yet intimate tradition. Just about everyone from the South has memories associated with Waffle House, whether it be going with family as a kid or getting a waffle after a night of drinking. Everyone has memories, but they are all different. When people meet at Waffle House, it’s for more than a cheap meal drowned in syrup. It’s to go to a place that has always been the same. Throughout the years and the thousands of locations, the interior remains the same. So does the food, the booths, and the servers. Even some of the customers seem oddly familiar as they partake in the waffles and hash browns and good-natured conversation with servers.
Waffle House is more than a yellow sign; it represents a shared nostalgia that people can return to at anytime, day or night. It provides a breath of simplicity. And there’s one in either direction just a few miles down the road.