Making a connection
Waffles do not seem like a top friendship-starter, but Waffle House is a reason we stay in touch with Coach, my husband’s former co-worker. Whenever we take our frequent road trips cross-country to visit my family in the South, we send Coach a selfie of us visiting a Waffle House.
Coach is from Louisiana, and we struck up a bond with him at a work party lamenting the fact that California doesn’t have any Waffle Houses. Waffle House franchises only make it as far West as Arizona. How does a breakfast chain become a focal point for party conversation? Waffle House offers something that is becoming more elusive in our society. Strangers and locals can mix at a Waffle House and find old-fashioned human connection.
I took the restaurant chain for granted growing up because Waffle Houses are everywhere along the Southern interstates. Our frequent road trips have helped me to understand that Waffle Houses offer an oasis of comfort to weary travelers at each location. At breakfast time a local Waffle House fills with regulars. Anyone can experience local society and a grill full of signature breakfast food like scattered, smattered, smothered, and covered hash browns, eggs in well-oiled fry pans and sizzling bacon.
Waffle House is more than comfort food. The company garners a cult following because its focus is the customer experience. The customer is a key component to the company’s mission and how they have built their brand. If you haven’t had a chance to visit a Waffle House, I want to share a personal example of how Waffle House provided me with an authentic experience that went beyond food.
My customer testimonial
On our summer trip to visit my family this year, we texted Coach a selfie from a Waffle House on the way over to our destination. Coach responded by saying he wished he had snuck in the trunk to join us.
On our trip back home, my husband and I were ready for breakfast and one more Waffle House stop. As we pulled up to a Waffle House we found in Alabama, I worried we stuck out in the wrong way. I was more anxious this year than in past trips because I saw more signs of red and blue divisiveness as we drove between states. I felt our license plate and rooftop tent marked us as outsiders.
When we walked into the restaurant, a hostess led us to a table at a booth. We walked pass two older gentlemen at the breakfast bar. One man had on a cowboy hat, bandana, and big belt buckle. His dining partner was well-weathered, dressed in blue work clothes and steel-toed boots.
As we sat down, I kept noticing the glances of the two men. I was thinking that they know we don’t belong and sensing this would be my first unwelcoming Waffle House experience.
My fears abated some by the server who took our order. Our server was warm and friendly. As I waited for my blueberry waffle, the hostess started selecting music from the jukebox. All Waffle Houses have jukeboxes. Staff sometimes play songs to lend atmosphere to breakfast, lunch or late, late night dining experiences. During our last Waffle House visit Garth Brooks was the selection.
I was gazing across at my husband, when, to my surprise and disbelief, the first guitar licks of Prince’s Purple Rain began to play. Prince is one of my favorite artists. I became overwhelmed as the smell of bacon, eggs and the haunting sound of Prince’s guitar playing enveloped me.
As I looked over my husband's shoulder, the weather-worn regular, who I thought was judging us as we walked in, started singing along with Prince as the first verse began: “I never meant to cause you any sorrow... I never meant to cause you any pain.”
The stranger and I both liked Prince. I felt a rare moment of complete happiness. I had been uncomfortable but seeing the man singing Purple Rain made my discomfort disappear. I felt I belonged even though I was passing through and over a thousand miles from home
Waffle House is a place where red and blue can mix to make purple.
Abide by the mission
According to their mission statement, Waffle House aims to provide a "unique experience" to their customers by delivering “great food, friendly, attentive service, excellent price and a welcoming presence.” My memorable breakfast experience was a realization of the Waffle House mission statement.
It’s important for a company to have a mission statement because a mission statement provides a blueprint for a company’s identity. A good mission statement identifies the audience, product or service and unique reason for a company to exist. The mission statement offers everyone involved in a company a touchpoint to build from when creating the brand.
Having a mission statement is only the first step. The hardest part in growing a brand is to abide by a mission or staying authentic to its purpose.
Authentic brands are transparent and consistent
My Waffle House experience is an example of what makes an authentic brand:
Authentic brands are credible and deliver what they say they will deliver.
Authentic brands provide continuity with messaging, look, and feel.
Authentic brands cater to their customers wants and needs.
Authentic brands are motivated by and stay true to their mission
If a company is transparent and consistent with its company mission, customers become inspired to share stories and create designs that capture the emotion they feel interacting with their brand.
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Julia Fletcher founded JEFS Storytelling Arts to use her unique research skills and artistic talents to create custom visual stories that help clients' increase engagement and promote the education of their audience.