If you’ve ever worked a service job in the hospitality industry, you know that things can go from empty to overwhelming in the blink of an eye.
Luckily, teams of people are trained to take on rushes and get everyone the service they require without compromising quality. Of course, that’s if you have a team. When one Waffle House employee found himself all alone on the overnight shift, some kindhearted customers stepped in to lend a helping hand.
The incident took place in Birmingham, Alabama. Ethan Crispo walked into the restaurant after getting hungry on his way home at 12:30 a.m. on November 3.
He was surprised to see over 30 people inside, according to an email account he shared with AL.com. Despite his concerns he’d be stuck there awhile, he took a seat. He watched as Ben, the lone employee in the establishment, moved feverishly. He went from place to place, trying to get everyone served. Then Ethan watched as a man talked to Ben before joining him behind the counter.
Ethan Crispo walked into a Waffle House at 12:30 a.m. on November 3, hoping to grab a quick bite on the way home. He had no idea that he would be walking into chaos. There was one lone employee serving over 30 customers.
“I’ve just sat down at my table and it’s becoming clear I’ll be going home with an empty stomach,” Ethan wrote in an email account shared with AL.com. The rush was clearly made worse by the place being understaffed.
Suddenly, Ethan watched as a customer approached the waiter, Ben, and offered some help. “From the blue, a man from the bar stands up. Asks Ben for an apron, and begins to work behind the counter. It was a transition so smooth I initially assumed it was a staff member returning to their shift,” he wrote.
“It wasn’t. It was a kind stranger. A man who answered the call. Bussed tables, did dishes, stacked plates,” he continued. With that bit of help, waiter Ben was finally able to make it to Ethan’s table to take his order.
“The first thing I said to Ben was, ‘Hey, man, before we begin, I’ve just got two questions for you.’ He said, ‘Sure.’” Ethan recalled. “And I said, ‘One, where’s your help?’ And he says, ‘They’re gone.’ And then the next thing was, ‘Who’s that guy? Does he work here?’ ‘No.’ ‘Does he work at any Waffle House?’ ‘Nope.’”
The understaffing was a result of a mix-up in the schedule, according to Pat Warner, Waffle House director of PR and external affairs. “We really appreciate their efforts … though we do prefer our associates to be behind the counter,” he said. “The key to our concept is, we’re there to serve you, not the other way around.”
As Ethan sat there over the next hour, he watched as two other customers stepped up to lend a hand. “She’s in heels and a tight dress, she’d been to an event. And she’s walking around behind the counter, and I could tell she certainly didn’t come from food service,” Ethan wrote.
“It was almost comical, here’s this pretty woman in heels and a dress … just trying to help, and the next thing you know she’s stacking cups and running orders and bussing tables,” he continued. “It was the most fascinating thing.”
The rest of the customers in the restaurant didn’t take issue with the few who had jumped in, and so the night went. By the time Ethan left the restaurant, the situation was still ongoing, but everyone seemed a little more at ease about it.
It may have been pretty unusual, but for Ethan, it was a sign that there’s a bit of hope for humanity. “It was just one of the most wild instances of really, really cool people just coming together,” he noted.
While Pat and the Waffle House corporate office don’t seem too thrilled that this story has received the attention it has, the story did remind him of an incident a few years back in Atlanta. An ice storm left some drivers stranded, hunkering down in a Waffle House.
The treacherous travel made it difficult for employees to come in. The customers, having no choice but to stay there, decided to step in and help out for everyone who couldn’t get there for their shift.
“That’s the great thing we have with our customers, the sense of community,” Pat noted. He also said that the man who first stepped in to help in Birmingham has a job if he wants it. “If he’s looking for a side hustle, I hope he comes in and fills out an application,” he said.
Everyone in that situation could have behaved differently. The customers could have continued being annoyed. The kind strangers didn’t have to step in. Ben himself could have thrown in the towel. Instead, they all came together, and it was awesome.