How Waffle House Started a Movement
Since at least 2010, people on Twitter have been tagging their Waffle House adventures with #wafflehome, but it was in January that the concept truly picked up steam. The tweet that started it off was retweeted more than 32,000 times and received almost 120,000 likes, with many responses adding the #wafflehome tag that was absent in the original tweet.
From there, the hashtag grew to include everything from stories of servers providing trays to be used as impromptu sleds during ice storms, to tales of dogs being invited in from the elements. What has been consistent among all the tweets is the effusive praise that Waffle House patrons have heaped upon the chain, which is concentrated in the southeastern part of the United States.
“Our founder, Joe Rogers Sr., always told us that we are not in the restaurant business—we are in the people business,” says Pat Warner, Director of Public Relations. “Ever since we opened our first restaurant in 1955, we’ve tried to create a great experience for all of our customers.”
That commitment to customers and creating relationships is integral to the physical design of Waffle House buildings: the open kitchen, which places the grill in the center of the restaurant, is intended to make guests feel as though they’re eating in someone’s house, Warner says. And as the kitchen is often where the majority of socializing takes place, when people visit a Waffle House, they truly do feel at home.
“Our customers have a feeling that it is really their restaurant and not ours. And we are okay with that,” Warner says. “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.”
And integral to any home is communication and conversation. With roughly 80,000 followers (whom the brand lovingly refers to as “Waffle House Nation”) on Twitter, Waffle House is smaller than contemporaries like IHOP and Cracker Barrel but appears to have a much more dedicated, loyal following. Part of the reason for that, Warner says, is how the brand approaches social media: “A big part of the Waffle House experience is folks coming together inside the restaurant to talk, share stories and have genuine conversations. So, when it comes to social media, we try to emulate that welcoming atmosphere.”
That means trying to engage with the idea of #wafflehome in an authentic way, rather than necessarily leveraging it for commercial gain.
“So many times, like we do in the restaurants, we allow those social conversations to go their natural course. Sometimes we may interject and interact with the Waffle House Nation, but many times we watch them go. In a sense, these social conversations are from our customers talking about their Waffle House.”
This laissez-faire approach to trending topics is one that other brands might learn to harness; more than one has seen their attempts at keeping up with “the kids” fall flat. But for Waffle House, it’s part of their philosophy. “In the case of #wafflehome, we did participate a little in the social conversation with a couple of posts. However, we didn’t want to dominate it or take it over,” Warren says.
And as for the customers? If Twitter is anything to go by, it seems like they have found a place where they can go home again.