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This Is Uncomfortable

Grease, griddles and gravy: 24 hours straight as a Waffle House grill operator

Austin Cross and Kai Ryssdal Mar 6, 2015
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Feel like going “all the way” tonight? At diner-chain the Waffle House, that means you ordered something along the lines of poutine made in the South: Hash browns smothered in cheese, jalapeños and oh so much more.

This is just some of the lingo devised by Waffle House staff to keep the restaurant running like a well-oiled — err, greased — machine. Life at the griddle of the Waffle House is far from glamorous, but that didn’t stop Bon Appétit restaurant and drinks editor — and Waffle House aficionado — Andrew Knowlton from trying his hand behind the counter of one in Atlanta, Georgia for 24 hours straight.

His piece, “What It’s Like to Work at the Waffle House for 24 Hours Straight” appears in Bon Appétit.

“It was a steep, steep learning curve,” says Knowlton. “The line cooks never see a ticket — it gets yelled out by the waiters. Then they take various condiments, whether it’s ketchup or grape jelly and where they put it on the plate … immediately identifies what the plate is that the grill operator needs to cook. I fumbled my way through that.”

The Waffle House is an American staple, with over 1,700 restaurants peppered across 25 states. A native Southerner, Knowlton is a bit of a Waffle House new convert; he was 17 years old when he first experienced the magic of the ‘House. Once he tried it, he was hooked. Fast-forward a few years and Knowlton found himself on the other side of the order window serving up nosh for hungry — and sometimes drunk — diners.

At the end of the long shift, Knowlton says he walked away with one lesson: “Being a gentleman and a professional costs you nothing… Smile, have a good time … most of the people coming through are good people … a few bad ones come in, but that’s kinda life anyway, and it’s how you roll with it.”

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