(NEXSTAR) – You’ll never look at an upside-down jelly packet the same way again. Regular customers at Waffle House are well-versed in the various phrases and lingo the servers sling back and forth with the kitchen. (Ever order your hash browns smothered, covered, or chunked?) But even the most seasoned Waffle House patrons are likely unfamiliar with the intricacies of the chain’s plate-marking system, used by the grill operators to keep track of your orders.
This not-so-secret system — basically a type of shorthand using plates, condiment packets, utensils, and pieces of food — was recently brought to the attention of TikTok by one of the restaurant’s cooks, eliciting equal parts awe and utter confusion from viewers. But for Waffle House’s long-time grill operators, the marking system is apparently second nature.
“Yes, it’s really a thing, and while it’s secret like the Coca-Cola recipe, we hide it in plain sight,” said Njeri Boss, the director of public relations at Waffle House, in a statement shared with Nexstar.
Njeri further confirmed that all Waffle House grill operators are trained to “mark” plates as soon as the orders are relayed from the servers. This way, they won’t need to rely solely on memory — or a more traditional ticket — when plating the orders.
“There really isn’t a better system than what we do,” Boss told Nexstsar. “It’s fast. It’s quite easy to learn.”
The casual onlooker, however, might not be so quick to agree.
As revealed by numerous employees across social media, Waffle House’s grill operators are instructed to strategically place condiments or ingredients (jelly packets, butter packets, bits of shredded potato, etc.) on each plate as the order is called. The position and orientation of each item indicates what was ordered and how it should be prepared.
For instance, a jelly packet placed vertically at the bottom of a plate means the customer wants scrambled eggs. The same packet, placed at the top of the plate, means the eggs should be cooked sunny-side up. And it only gets more confusing from there.
Some of the other markings, as discussed in a Waffle House training video, are explained as follows. (By no means is this an exhaustive list.)
- A jelly packet on top of a mustard packet means the customer wants an extra egg.
- A jelly packet turned horizontally, and placed near the top of a plate, means the customer wants an omelet with ham.
- Dry toast is indicated (ironically) with a packet of butter underneath a jelly packet. A butter knife on the plate indicates the customer doesn’t want toast at all.
- An upside-down mayo packet placed near a single vertical jelly packet, on the bottom of the plate, means the customer wants runny scrambled eggs. If the packet is faced up, the eggs should be well-cooked.
- An upside-down mayo packet on or near a butter packet — when the butter packet is on the cook’s board, and not a plate — indicates the customer wants light waffle. A right-side up mayo packet means a darker waffle. If the butter packet is upside-down, the customer wants a pecan waffle.
- A napkin, topped with a packet of brown sugar, means the customer wants to sub grits for oatmeal.
- Two pickles, placed at the bottom of a sandwich plate, indicate a breakfast sandwich with bacon. Move those pickles to either the left, right, or top of the plate, and it indicates different meats or no meat at all.
- A horizontal ketchup packet alone in the mid-section of the plate indicates a sirloin. Its position on the plate (nearer the top or nearer the bottom) indicates one of five different steak temperatures.
Boss said the system was first developed by Waffle House’s cooks in the early days of the restaurant, but evolved over the years as the menu grew.
“Back in the day, our gill operators cooked from memory. And over time, a few of them here and there would create their own little [plate markings],” she said. “Now it’s a system that’s taught.”
Back on TikTok, many commenters questioned why the chain didn’t simply use tickets, or why the system is “so complicated.”
“I worked at Waffle House for [three] years and this … was like another language to learn,” wrote one user.
“I would be fired in the [first] hour,” another said. “I’m so confused.”
Others simply expressed amazement that Waffle House’s grill operators could even keep track of the system, especially during the restaurants’ busiest hours.
“They have to fully memorize the periodic table of breakfast,” one user joked.