Ethan Crispo was hungry after a friend’s birthday party, and he stopped at his local Waffle House restaurant in Birmingham, Ala., to get a midnight snack.
When he walked in around 12:30 a.m. Nov. 3., about 30 customers were inside.
“I sat down at my table and I was like, ‘I’m not getting my waffle,’ ” said Crispo, 24, who observed there was just one employee in the restaurant to cook the food, serve it, and wash the dishes.
“The look on his face was maybe fear, maybe shock, maybe bewilderment,” Crispo said of the worker, whose nametag said “Ben.”
“There was literally no one else working but him,” Crispo said.
Crispo saw the employee talking to a customer in a blue shirt seated at the counter. Then, he said, the employee handed the man an apron, and the customer started doing dishes.
“It was a transition so smooth I initially assumed it was a staff member returning to their shift,” Crispo wrote in an email. “It wasn’t. It was a kind stranger. A man who answered the call. Bused tables, did dishes, stacked plates.”
Crispo initially sent the email to AL.com, the news outlet that first wrote the story. In it, he said the customer and the employee worked “feverishly” to tend to the other patrons.
When the server walked over to Crispo’s table, Crispo asked what was going on and the server told him two other employees had been there to help him, but they left — so diners jumped in to help.
Soon after, Crispo said, a customer in a dress got up, walked behind the counter and started making coffee.
“She figured out how to do the coffee maker. She was in a sequined dress and heels,” Crispo said. “She tried to take an order or two but then she went to busing tables. It was bizarre to see someone doing that in a sequined dress and heels.”
Another customer in a red shirt also pitched in to help for a few minutes, said Crispo, adding he left without getting their names.
Pat Warner, the Waffle House’s director of PR and external affairs, told AL.com there had been a miscommunication in scheduling workers that night at the restaurant on Highway 280. Several employees left when their shift was over, and their replacement workers did not show up, he said.
Warner added that security camera footage showed customers washing dishes and clearing tables while the employee took orders and made food.
“We really appreciate their efforts … though we do prefer our associates to be behind the counter,” Warner told AL.com. “The key to our concept is, we’re there to serve you, not the other way around.”
Crispo, who is from Birmingham and goes to that Waffle House about once a month, said he asked the employee, Ben, why he didn’t just leave. He told Crispo: “It’s not the right thing to do.”
Crispo said he did end up getting his food that night, a double waffle, no syrup.
“It was surprisingly fantastic,” Crispo said. “Ben did an incredible job.”
And, he said, so did the customers who pitched in.