We Finally Know Why Waffle House Is So Cheap

Affectionately known as Wa Ho, Waffle House is an American institution. Opened by two neighbors way back in 1955, over the years the chain has grown to more than 1,900 locations across 25 states, according to the official Waffle House website. A prominent part of southern culture, the 24/7 diner chain is a firm favorite with a cross-section of the population. Whether it's a bruncher, shift worker, trucker, or a boozed-up teenager in search of a snack after a night out, the cheap and unpretentious diner caters to all. The chain's director of public relations, Pat Warner, explained, "Our customers have a feeling that it is really their restaurant and not ours. And we are okay with that. From the very first day we've had a welcoming presence, and today we feel like our customers are attached to their restaurant because it is theirs" (per FSR Magazine).

Aside from its consistent fare and service, one of Waffle House's biggest drawcards is its affordable menu. In fact, at Waffle House, you can still fill up on greasy goodness for under $10. Here are just a few examples. The chain's waffles go for around $3. Meanwhile, a sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich will set you back just under $4, while a bowl of cheese grits costs just over $2 (via Menu Prices Guide). So, while other chains continue to raise their prices, how does Waffle House keep its food so affordable? Read on to find out.

Waffle House offers a no frills dining experience

"As our regulars know, we don't like to fix what isn't broken," Waffle House proudly proclaims on its website. As such, it's not surprising that not much has changed since Waffle House first opened its doors in the 1950s. From the tell-tale yellow sign with plain black lettering to the laminated menus and the jukebox playing the chain's theme songs, Waffle House delivers absolutely no surprises (via GQ). Even the floor plan is the same at each Waffle House location. Designed for maximum customer contact and efficiency, the restaurant's layout features window booth seating and a counter that faces the open grill to promote interaction between the cooks and guests (via Atlanta magazine).

There's little doubt that the chain's down-to-earth decor and affordability appeal to a certain sense of nostalgia. Rather than chasing trends, Waffle House relies on a dining experience that takes customers back in time. One Waffle House diner summed up the dining experience in a Reddit post, saying, "It doesn't cost a lot to eat there, so people probably form an attachment to it when they are kids because parents don't want to [or] can't spend a lot of money to take a young family out to breakfast."

The chain gets diners in and out fast

While not quite fast food — Waffle House is a house after all, and eating a waffle on the go isn't an easy task — the chain makes its money by serving as many customers as possible. According to 25iq, food orders are expected to be out of the kitchen within eight minutes of being placed and the customers fed and out the door in under 20 minutes. A former Waffle House server went as far as posting the following on Quora: "There is often a sense of wonder at ordering your food, then having it appear less than four minutes later at your table."

So, how does Waffle House manage to get their orders filled so fast? The southern diner icon has an ultra-efficient ordering system. When calling their order to the cooks, servers are expected to stand on a special red tile called the "The Mark." This avoids confusion by ensuring that only one server is able to call in an order at a time (via Mental Floss). And, even if the girdle operator fails to hear the order, there is a backup plan in the form of a visual coding system. Seemingly simple, yet complex to the uninitiated, the system sees servers place condiments, such as mini tubs and butter pats, in a particular position on a plate to communicate a specific order to the kitchen (per Eater).

Waffle House is open 24/7, 365 days a year

A reason Waffle House has been able to achieve such a cult following is that the chain only closes in absolute emergencies — but more on that later. No matter the time of day or night, folks from all walks of life can rest assured knowing that the king of all-night diners will be there to satisfy their culinary cravings. And, according to the restaurant's co-founder, Joe Rogers Sr., it's Waffle House's night business that determines the chain's profitability, per Atlanta magazine.

Luckily for Waffle House, night owls aren't in short supply. "You see a lot of college-aged kids who get drunk and hungry at 3[a.m]. And waffle house is the only thing open," one Waffle House enthusiast explained on Reddit. "The food is cheap and it's breakfast food so ... why not stumble there at 4:30[a.m.] with some friends ... and just chow down then go home and sleep until 2[p.m.] on Saturday."

In fact, since Waffle House locations are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, has gone so far as to develop the "Waffle House Index," which is used to help determine the impact of national disasters. The index consists of three stages: Green indicates a functioning restaurant with a full menu, yellow indicates that the restaurant is open but serving a limited menu, and red means that the restaurant has closed (per Eater).

Waffle House has a lot of locations

As per the Waffle House website, the chain has nearly 2,000 locations across 25 states. It also has around 40,000 employees, or, as the website calls them, "associates." This means that you can hardly go around a street corner without running into a Waffle House outlet — that is, if you happen to be in the right part of the country. While Waffle House might expand in the future, for now, as noted by Atlanta magazine, most of its outposts are located in the southern part of the U.S.

While the chain's original Avondale Estates Waffle House location is now a museum, Waffle House has over 200 outposts in metropolitan Atlanta that serve around 80,000 customers a day (via The Atlanta-Journal Constitution). According to the restaurant's co-founder, Joe Rogers Sr., there's a very good reason why the 24/7 restaurant is so beloved in the south. "People stay up all night in the south. They go to bed early in the north on account of the weather," he said in a 2007 interview with Atlanta magazine. "I've worked in Cleveland, I've worked in Buffalo. The snow comes in, the buses stop running, and you don't do any business."

The iconic breakfast chain serves a lot of food

Whether you want to fill Olympic-size swimming pools or circumnavigate the globe by placing food items side by side, the amount of coffee and food sold by Waffle House has you covered. For more details, look no further than the chain's handy statistic meter. Each year, Waffle House sells 85 million strips of bacon, 153 million hash brown orders, 124 million waffles, 272 million eggs, and 58 million cups of coffee. This translates to astronomical numbers if calculated from the date the chain first opened. For instance, since 1955, Waffle House has sold nearly 4 billion eggs, over 2 billion hash brown orders, and close to 2 billion waffles.

While this might not be obvious, Waffle House is the world's top server of T-bone steak. In fact, when the franchise first opened in Indiana, it was named Waffle and Steak because the name Waffle House was already being used by another outlet (via Companies Jrank). According to the Waffle House website, the franchise has sold nearly 135 million T-Bone steaks since it first opened. Mashed breaks this figure down to more manageable numbers. Every minute, Waffle House serves four steaks. This adds up to 240 steaks an hour, 5,760 steaks per day, and 2.1 million steaks a year.

Waffle House servers do a lot for low wages

While different websites quote different salary ranges for Waffle House servers, it's abundantly clear that the chain's wages leave a lot to be desired. According to Glassdoor, Waffle House servers make an average base pay of $3 and $4 in tips an hour, which comes to a rather unimpressive $7 per hour. Indeed estimates the salary of a Waffle House server to be, as of this writing, slightly higher at $9.30 an hour.

Along with the low wages comes an enormous amount of work. According to a former employee, at the completion of their shifts, servers are responsible for performing housekeeping duties, including washing dishes, sweeping, mopping, and cleaning the bathrooms (via Quora). As such, it's little surprise that many Waffle House employees may lack attention to detail. And, according to some diners, it shows. "I watched as the employee poured endless pots of water through the coffee machine with the same grounds. Result? Brown flavorless water! I [also] found a long black hair in my eggs," one Tripadvisor reviewer wrote.

Waffle House has a limited menu

While a few items have been added to the Waffle House menu over the years, today's laminated placemats aren't that different from the restaurant's original menu. Probably the one most substantial addition to the chain's offerings has been hash browns, which was added to the menu in the 1980s. Today, customers can order numerous variations of the dish, including diced, topped, chunked, peppered, capped, and country (via Hypocrite Reader). And, unlike many other chains, Waffle House has made little effort to introduce healthy items. As it stands, you won't find many low-fat, nutrient-dense dishes on the chain's menu (per Verywell Fit).

And, while at first glance, Waffle House's menu may appear to be huge, this can be deceiving, as Joyce Touche, who worked for the chain for two years, explained on Quora. "The actual number of items on the menu is quite small, but having a hamburger, patty melt, or eggs with beef burger appears to enlarge the menu while using many of the same ingredients," she said.

The chain serves breakfast all day

Waffle House serves its entire menu around the clock. This means that diners can end their day with breakfast (which might actually be beneficial in more ways than one) or indulge in a steak on the way home from the club at 3 a.m. It also means that Waffle House can take advantage of the growing popularity of dining out for breakfast rather than eating the first meal of the day at home (via Eater). The chief marketing officer at Taco Bell, Marisa Thalberg, told USA Today, "There's an emerging behavioral trend with millennials of just wanting the convenience of someone else making [breakfast] for them."

Selling breakfast is highly profitable for restaurants, so serving it all day makes a lot of sense. And the profitability isn't surprising considering that breakfast is made from some of the cheapest ingredients around. Case in point: eggs, a very popular item at Waffle House. Interestingly, in 2015, McDonald's took advantage of the increasing popularity of breakfast menu items by introducing all-day breakfast, a move that helped the fast food chain turn around a two-year sales decline (per USA Today).

Waffle House sells merchandise online

For Waffle House, selling merchandise isn't only a great way to generate extra cash, it's also an amazing marketing strategy. From apparel, such as jackets and t-shirts to drink tumblers — all with logos of the chain — getting "scattered, smothered, and covered in the latest Waffle House gear" is just a few clicks away. And it's a win-win. While e-commerce has enabled Waffle House fans to shop from the comfort of their homes, it has also improved the chain's brand visibility (via Go Cheetah).

Waffle House also sells food items, such as Waffle House Waffle Mix and Waffle House Coffee. One Waffle House enthusiast who tried the restaurant's waffle mix at home during the pandemic proclaimed that his homemade waffles turned out better than the version served at the restaurant. "It's the same mix, but I think that by having these waffles made in the Belgian-style iron, you get more waffle, and the dough expands to a light pillowy texture. The result is a melt-in-the-mouth effect that you don't get from the waffles in the restaurant" (via The Couch Sessions).

Waffle House offers catering

Waffle House has taken its menu on the road. More specifically, the chain offers a food truck catering service that can elevate any event with the finger-licking goodness of waffles, hash browns, and Texas melts. Whether it's a birthday party, a corporate gathering, or even a wedding, Waffle House Catering offers delivery or on-site service stations. While the Waffle House truck mostly serves the Atlanta area, those outside Georgia with a hankering for a waffle or two needn't despair: The truck can be hired nationally by those prepared to pay extra and cover the lodging costs of the chain's employees (via Wide Open Eats).

It's a well-known fact that each Valentine's Day, Waffle House serves romantic candle-lit dinners. However, few are aware that the roadside staple also caters weddings. And, while it may be too low-brow for some, overall, the service seems to be met with a positive response. "My husband and I were off taking pictures when the food truck rolled up, but we knew it got there because we heard our guests cheering!" one satisfied reviewer posted on WeddingWire.

The popular southern chain doesn't spend much on traditional advertising

Since Waffle House can be found on pretty much every street corner in the south, the chain doesn't have to spend a lot on marketing. Instead, the franchise relies on its iconic status, word of mouth, and location-based marketing that advertises special offers (via 25iq). John T. Edge explains in his book, "The Larder," that when people see the distinct yellow and black Waffle House sign, they don't have to ask themselves, "What kind of food does that Waffle House serve?" or "Will they shave truffles on my waffle?" They already know.

Waffle House is a hit on social media, which provides the chain with free exposure. The restaurant has a loyal Twitter following, with waffle-lovers using the #wafflehome tag to document their culinary adventures. Pat Warner, the chain's director of public relations, explained the strategy to FSR Magazine. "A big part of the Waffle House experience is folks coming together inside the restaurant to talk, share stories and have genuine conversations," explained the PR head honcho. "So, when it comes to social media, we try to emulate that welcoming atmosphere."

Waffle House may be using dehydrated potatoes in their hash browns

Next to waffles, the undisputed star of the Waffle House menu is the hash brown. And many wonder how the restaurant manages to make the snack so delicious. According to Idaho Potatoes, this may not be fresh potatoes and a bit of magic, but, rather, dehydrated potatoes and butter-style oil. And you would be forgiven for thinking that Waffle House uses fresh spuds in its hash brown creations since that's what the chain's website clearly implies through the following statement: "It takes highly-skilled grill operators in your Waffle House restaurant to turn the spuds into [hash browns]."

In reality, it's very likely that Waffle House's hash browns are made from dehydrated potatoes. A server who worked at the chain for two years revealed the harsh reality on Quora, saying, "Waffle House hash browns come in a megastore-sized box with freeze-dried bits of potato shreds in them, and hours before a new batch will be needed, the box is opened and filled with water." As such, it's not surprising that Waffle House is now selling its hash brown mix online.