Waffle House Is Raising Servers’ Pay Across The Country

Waffle House plans to increase pay for servers at its restaurants across the country over the next three years, with some workers likely to see raises of a few dollars an hour.

In a video viewed by HuffPost, CEO Joe Rogers III explained to employees that the pay boosts would “affect every single salesperson at Waffle House,” and would be funded by menu price increases targeted at stores in areas with high costs of living. The raises apply only to servers and will start going into effect this month.

“This is a big deal, a massive additional investment,” Rogers said in the video. “And I don’t see many others in our industry doing things like this.”

Most Waffle House locations are spread across the South, where restaurant workers typically earn a low “tipped minimum wage” supplemented by gratuities. Waffle House workers in Georgia, for instance, can earn less than $3 per hour directly from the company, with tips expected to push them above the standard minimum wage of $7.25.

The pay plan would increase servers’ direct wages from Waffle House, with no changes in the way those workers receive gratuities. “It would be crazy if we went down the road of service charges instead of tips,” Rogers said in the video.

“They’re feeling the pressure. … This is a step in the right direction.”

– Katie Giede, a Waffle House server

Waffle House, which is privately owned and based in Norcross, Georgia, did not respond to requests for comment on the plan. The chain has around 2,000 locations and is iconic in the South as a sit-down diner that stays open through just about anything.

The raises come at a time when some Waffle House workers have been outspoken about their struggles to cover basic expenses on such low pay. Servers from a Conyers, Georgia, store who are members of the Union of Southern Service Workers have gone on strike and delivered petitions to management demanding a living wage and 24-hour security on-site.

One of those workers, Cindy Smith, said in an interview that she was happy to see the announcement and expected a pay bump of $3 per hour or more. After 30 years with the company, she currently earns $2.92 per hour before tips, she said.

But even with the raise, Smith figures she will still eke by and barely cover groceries for herself and her son.

“This is a win. We did this,” said Smith, 50. “It’s good, but it’s still not enough.”

Waffle House workers Katie Giede, left, and Cindy Smith call for higher wages at a rally.
Waffle House workers Katie Giede, left, and Cindy Smith call for higher wages at a rally.

Photo courtesy Union of Southern Service Workers

Rogers said in his video that most workers would fall into one of three categories depending on where they work: those whose base pay would reach $5.25 per hour in two years; $6.25 in two and a half years; or $7.25 in three years. Workers in Florida and Colorado would see their wages climb higher than that due to state minimum wage laws.

The plan includes pay differentials to reward workers with long tenures. Servers would receive a 50-cents-per-hour bonus after three years, and this increases by 10 cents every year thereafter, with a maximum bonus of $3.20 per hour after 30 years. Workers could also get shift premiums of up to $1 per hour for working evenings or overnight.

Diners will see higher prices to offset those pay increases, particularly in urban markets, according to the video. Waffle House assumes that customers in expensive areas like Atlanta and Houston will be more willing to accept price hikes than those in low-cost-of-living markets.

“Our menu prices in a rural town are relative to competitors’ menu prices in that rural town,” Rogers said. “So we may not have as much room to increase prices as we have in a large city.”

Rogers said that the pay raise plan had been brewing for over five years. But Katie Giede, who works at the Conyers location with Smith, said she doesn’t believe the increases would’ve come about without people speaking up, demanding more from the company and making headlines.

“It definitely makes us see that organizing gets things done,” said Giede, 32. “We have been fighting and we have been delivering demand letters and going on strike and working hard to see some changes. And this is a step in the right direction.”

“The raises come at a time when some Waffle House workers have been outspoken about their struggles to cover basic expenses on such low pay.”

Giede and Smith have been urging Waffle House to drop its mandatory meal deductions. The company takes at least $3 out of workers’ pay for on-shift meals whether they eat them or not. The Union of Southern Service Workers, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, recently asked the U.S. Labor Department to investigate the practice, saying many workers don’t have the time or desire to eat meals they are paying for.

Rogers felt compelled to defend the deductions in a separate video, arguing that they provide a good value for the money and that most workers like the policy.

“They’re feeling the pressure; we’re just going to keep applying it,” Giede said.

Many restaurants have had to increase wages just to hang on to workers since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Eating out in general has gotten more expensive for diners following a period of high inflation, though Waffle House is still known as a cheap bite. At the Conyers restaurant, two eggs with toast and hash browns cost $6.25, while a quarter-pound burger (without fries) runs the same.

Rogers warned employees that diners’ expectations will change with higher prices.

“You better believe our customers are going to expect more when they pay more,” he said.

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