Waffle House

imageNow as much as I enjoyed my Friday night out at Burrito Bandito, when I woke up this morning I thought I would try something more local for breakfast. What I quickly realized was that Saturday morning is brunch time on route 72 and that means trucks lined 10-15 deep at Mickey D’s. It also means it’s time to get out your Sunday best and take in some southern eats, or whatever it is they serve, at Waffle House.

I had learned a thing or two about Waffle House the previous morning from the radio show I listen to on my way to work. The station is technically a classic rock station, which in this neck of the woods means a whole lot of Lynyrd Skynyrd and any driving rock with references to “bama” and the bayou. However, in the morning it’s taken over by John Boy and Billie. These guys describe their show as radio “for bald guys who work in crawl spaces.” It’s basically Click and Clack for red necks with a bit of music and a lot of joking around with southern comics or other wack jobs who make a living poking fun at life very far south of the Mason Dixon. The guy they brought in yesterday clearly had a history with Waffle House although he said he admitted he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been there sober. He described its trademark sign as looking like something you might see on a ransom note and its general ambiance such that it made IHOP actually seem international.

Waffle House is largely a southern institution with roots in Georgia and no franchises that I could find north of Harrisburg Pennsylvania. The fact that the restaurant was crowded was a good sign. Less promising was the lack of any staff doing anything other than food prep. Food prep is generally a good thing but a problem if it leaves vacant some key services—like someone to sit you down, take your order, ring you out, and clean up after you. It wasn’t a pretty sight. With no one directing me where to sit I went to the counter, which, as it turned out meant I got front row seat at the professional torment of the Alabaman working class.

For better or worse, this was an equal opportunity violator of the basic norms of sound restaurant management—blacks and whites toiled side by side. And I had no problems with any one of them—only the management that had inflicted this unregulated mayhem on the good people of Huntsville.

I wasn’t quite sure what the problem was. There were at least four waitresses and two cooks but somehow the formula for quickly processing customers—ironed out in countless other chains—just wasn’t working here. And then there was the problem of basic sanitation and food safety, which was enough to make your even the most jaded restaurant inspector’s blood curdle.

I ignored all the waffle mixings that had fallen onto the floor as a result of the morning’s business. It was disgusting but no one was eating it. Instead I paid close attention to the guy cooking the bacon and the pork chops. His job mostly involved taking the raw bacon out of the fridge and frying it up, making sure there was always some ready for the breakfast orders. Food safety 101 says those swine flu hands shouldn’t be going anywhere near my or anyone else’s order. But after 20 minutes had passed and my Fast Food combo was ready for its final touchings it was the pig man doing the touching. He had any number of utensils to carry out this task but he thought he would give mine a more personal touch. I threw the dice and let it slide. Death by Waffle House.

The fact that it about 15 minutes passed between the time that I finished my breakfast and paid my bill was a fitting conclusion to my meal. When I walked out I noticed that they had a help wanted sign on their window. It’s good to know that in these uncertain economic times there are opportunities in Huntsville.

On a more positive note I have no complaints about my hotel. I have a king-sized bed, couch, Internet access, and a decent tv. A good night’s sleep and I can show up for work and say, I’m not really a rocket scientist but I did sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Posted by patrickj on 04/01 at 08:58 AM
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