Serving At Waffle House
Her name was Amanda. She was our server at Waffle House a few days ago. When I asked what kind of day she was having, she said with a big smile “I’m having a great day. I don’t work at district anymore; just serving tables here and happy as I can be!”
When Amanda mentioned being happy about serving, I couldn’t resist picking up on that, and when she came back to warm my coffee, I asked, “Do you know why you’re so happy serving?” She said, “Cause I’m not so stressed I guess.”
Waffle House is the last place I expected to get into a conversation about serving, but there we were amidst the frequent hollering of orders to the cook who is close enough to hear a whisper, but Waffle House servers are bound by tradition. “Pull 2 eggs sunny side up, sausage and hashbrowns smothered and covered,” said one server. “Pull scrambled, bacon and grits and waffle!” said another. What made me think I could have a serious conversation with one of these bellicose servers in the din of Waffle House banter?!
Little known fact: Waffle House serves enough sausage daily to stack up to a height of 4 times the height of the Empire State Building! They serve enough bacon annually to wrap entirely around the earth—25,000 miles of bacon! The restaurant chain serves 145 waffles per minute. That’s a lot of hollering!
I said to Amanda who probably wondered who this is talking to her, a veteran Waffle House server, about serving, “Well, that [not being stressed], but there are other reasons. I happen to be an expert on serving. [First time I remember saying that out loud]. I’ve written a book about serving, and I’ve learned we are hard-wired to serve.” Amanda smiled and gave an expression that said “You don’t say!” “There are hormones actually released in the human brain that make us feel good when we serve others. Furthermore, the hormone that causes us to feel stressed—cortisol—is reduced. You’ve heard of ‘runner’s high.’ Well, there is a helper’s high, and they are similar.” When you let it out that you’ve written a book, it’s wise to talk like someone who can make his subject and verb agree.
Amanda was busy, too busy to stand there and listen to all I wanted to tell her about why she feels good when she serves others. But I was undaunted. I drank my coffee faster so when she came back with the pot, I said, “I’ve even got a story about a Waffle House server in my book” and proceeded to give her an abbreviated version. Amanda was politely attentive . . . but I could tell her attention was on the smothered hashbrowns she’d called out.
More trivia about Waffle House: Did you know Waffle House has its own recording label? They have recorded dozens of songs like There Are Raisins in My Toast.
I asked what Amanda meant when she said she used to work at district. Is that a regional office for Waffle House? She said, “No, I was at restaurants all the time, and I had to fill in whenever a server was out, so I got called at all hours of the day and night to come in and work. I got very little sleep and had health problems from it. Now I’m off my blood pressure medication and feel a lot better.” And off she went to take care of other customers.
In the book Compassionaries, I distinguish serving tables from serving people in need, but I am willing to admit here that the two have similarities. In either case, a person can become burned out due to an unsustainable level of serving. Amanda knows that now which is why she has returned to her first love—serving the hungry customers who frequent the one Waffle House where she works.
More Waffle House trivia: Did you know FEMA has a “Waffle House Index” to gauge the seriousness of a natural disaster? The restaurant is serious about always being open . . . no matter what. So, when a hurricane or tornado occurs, FEMA checks with the local Waffle House. If they are open and serving as usual, FEMA knows the disaster is manageable. If they are open but serving a limited menu, it means the disaster has affected power and supplies. If Waffle House is closed, they know the disaster is crippling, and they need to get help to that community ASAP.
I enjoyed my conversation with Amanda. I hope she did, too, although I’m pretty sure she has never had one like it. Even so, she gave me permission to use her name in this blog. Her story is another example of the power of serving others. Perhaps Amanda had never thought about why serving gives her a feeling of satisfaction and joy prior to my showing up at her table. It just goes to show lessons about serving are everywhere . . . if we are attentive to them. What if conversations like the one I had with Amanda were multiplied millions of times? Do you think they would make a difference in this crazy world?
One last tidbit about Waffle House: About 150 Waffle House restaurants offer a Valentine’s Day special—lights dimmed, candle on the table, and the special of the day is a heart-shaped waffle and a T-bone steak! With Valentine’s Day coming up, maybe one of those restaurants is in your community. What a change of pace that would be!!!
If you like this blog, let me know. Share an unexpected engagement about serving you have had in the past.