If you’re in the South, particularly in Atlanta, why not buck the norm and take your beloved to Waffle House for a nontraditional romantic evening tomorrow?
A Southern staple since its 1955 inception in a white Atlanta suburb, the cultural icon now has more than 2,000 locations in 25 states. And since 2008, Waffle House has been taking reservations for a candle-lit Valentine’s Day dinner at more than 140 locations.
Waffle House, or Wa-Ho as some endearingly call it, has also staked a spot in popular culture. The restaurant has popped up in films, songs, WWE wrestler insults, stand-up comedy settings, and countless Internet memes. The 24-hour diner has a loyal following, largely because it is always open in times of crisis–like resentful break-ups, all-night study sessions before finals, and that moment when you realize that tomorrow is Valentine’s Day and you haven’t made any reservations yet.
According to a Washington University business professor, Waffle House is also one of the top four companies with a strong disaster response plan for real crises, and the head of FEMA uses what he calls the “Waffle House Index” to estimate the level of damage after severe weather.
In The Larder, a collection of academic essays on foodways, Katie Rawson explores the cultural and corporate narratives of Waffle House’s self-proclaimed identity as “America’s Place to Work, America’s Place to Eat.” As we study popular culture this year for our 2015 Symposia, Waffle House constitutes quite a case study for mass consumption and cult followings. Rawson writes, “The chain is popularly presented as having a southern and working-class identity, but these traits are alternately rarified, criticized, camped, and simply experienced.”