Frazier doesn't waffle on service as she scrambles about work

By Ed Brock

While others were opening presents and drinking eggnog on a Christmas 21 years ago, Tammy Frazier was starting work at the Waffle House.

She started with the company on Dec. 25, 1984, at Unit 55 in McDonough, a unit that is no longer standing.

"They needed a dish washer at that time to wash dishes for Christmas," Frazier said. "I've never seen so many dishes in my life."

She had found out about the job from a friend. She wasn't discouraged by the hard work because she was raised in the area and knew a lot of the customers.

Now more than two decades later it is another day at the Waffle House and Frazier, a unit coach, and her crew are whipping up cheese eggs and, of course, waffles for their regulars.

Two of those regulars, Bill Fuller and Gary Arrington of Morrow, come their every day, three times a day.

"Tammy does good, good with the customers, too," Arrington said.

They're there for the friendly atmosphere, and the food is good, too.

"I like that grilled cheese with grilled onions on Texas Toast," Fuller said.

This year Waffle House is celebrating 50 years of being in business and Frazier, 37, has been working for the company for nearly half that time.

"This is my first job," said Frazier, taking a break from her duties at the Waffle House on Jonesboro Road in Morrow.

Because she has known some of the regulars so long, she said, "Some of them still treat me like I'm 16."

Over the next seven years from that Christmas morning, she worked her way up step by step, from dish washer to sales to grill operator to shift manager.

"I tell everybody that I asked for a raise and they made me a manager," Frazier said.

She came to the Morrow store first in 1997 and worked there for a year, then came back in 2003. The close relationship she has with customers like Fuller and Arrington is no accident.

That's what keeps her on the job, and in Frazier's opinion it's the key to success.

"It's my people, the customers and my people," Frazier said. "Without either one of them I have nothing."

It was Frazier's grandmother, 79-year-old Jane C. Smith, who taught her how to cook and helped her develop the people skills she would need on her job.

"She was the one who always said you never hate somebody, you just dislike their ways," Frazier said.

While Frazier has never considered starting another career, she did study at Griffin Technical College and became a registered emergency medical technician. She did that because she was her grandparents' caregiver.

"It's always best to be educated so you can help them more," Frazier said.

Eight years ago she built her house next door to her grandparents' home in Jackson and she still lives there. Her grandfather died in March but her grandmother still needs her.

Along with spending time with her grandmother, Frazier, who is single, said she keeps active with hobbies like fishing, biking and bowling.

She's not on a bowling team, however.

"I'm not that good," Frazier said.

Back to the Waffle House, Frazier said her years of experience have made it easier for her to get the job done even though her diner is one of the busiest in the area.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to do this," Frazier said.

There are certain tricks to the trade. For example, the servers use a marker system to let the cook know certain things about an order, like putting a piece of cheese with a burger that come with cheese.

But Frazier can't reveal the specifics of that system.

"That's our secret," Frazier said. "That is like Coca Cola giving out their secrets."

Waffle House District Manager Blake Tanner revealed some of the secret, say for example that the placement of a pickle on a plate communicates what kind of sandwich has been ordered. The system is designed to help the cooks remember specifics about the order and if two cooks are working to cut down on the need to talk.

A cook could look down a row of plates and read what food is going on each just like you could read a book.

Their goal is to provide the customer with food within eight minutes, and Frazier said most of their meals take about five minutes to cook. Unlike most restaurants, the servers ask the customers for their food order before the drink order, again with an eye toward expediting the order.

And all the cooking is done right in front of the customer.

"We've got nothing to hide," Frazier said.

Frazier is one of his better managers, Tanner said.

"She's been doing this for a long time," Tanner said.

Frazier's Waffle House has parking for trucks, but she gets plenty of customers from the numerous businesses around the diner as well. Her diner also provides waffles on the go for events like the Southlake Kiwanis Club "Freedom Run" and organizations like Clayton College & State University, Morrow's police and fire departments.

In 1955 neighbors Joe Rogers, Sr. and Tom Forkner started the Waffle House chain. The first Waffle House opened in Avondale Estates, 18 miles away from Jonesboro. With its company headquarters in Norcross, Waffle House now has more than 1,400 restaurants in 25 states and they've served 442,451,500 waffles since their foundation.

Everyday People is a regular feature of the News Daily and runs every Friday. If you know about somebody who you think should be part of this feature, contact Assistant Managing Editor Bob Paslay at (770) 478-5753 ext. 257 or at bpaslay@news-daily.com .