In a striking move likely to resonate across the restaurant industry, Waffle House has announced a series of pay increases for its U.S. workers after a prolonged push from labor advocates. This development marks a significant shift for the iconic Southern diner chain, which has long been a symbol of American resilience and tradition.

In a video message to employees last month, Waffle House CEO Joe Rogers III outlined a phased pay increase plan. Base pay for employees will rise to at least $3 per hour starting this June, with a gradual increase to a minimum of $5.25 per hour by June 2026. Notably, this base pay does not include workers’ tips, which often constitute a significant portion of their income. The actual base pay will vary in states with different minimum wage laws.

Rogers explained that these wage hikes will be funded by increased menu prices, a decision that may have ripple effects on the restaurant’s loyal customer base. Additionally, wage increases will progress at different rates in rural markets compared to urban ones, acknowledging the economic disparities between these areas. The company is also introducing tenure bonuses and shift premiums for those working late hours.

Despite attempts to confirm the wage increases, Waffle House declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press. Instead, the information was shared by the Union of Southern Service Workers, a labor group affiliated with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which provided the AP with a link to Rogers’ video announcement.

Over the past year, the Union of Southern Service Workers has been vocal in its demands for better pay and working conditions at Waffle House locations. The union has staged strikes demanding higher wages, 24-hour security at restaurants, and an end to the controversial practice of deducting $3.15 per day from workers’ paychecks for meals, regardless of whether they eat while on the job. The group has also requested the Department of Labor to review these meal deductions.

“The raises show that the company is feeling the heat,” said Katie Giede, a Waffle House server in Atlanta who advocates for a $25 per hour wage. “We’re going to keep organizing and keep fighting until we win.”

Waffle House operates 2,000 restaurants across the U.S., primarily in the South and Midwest, with its corporate headquarters in Norcross, Georgia. The chain is known for its 24/7 service and hearty, no-frills meals, making it a staple for many Americans, particularly truckers, night-shift workers, and road-trippers.

This move by Waffle House, prompted by persistent union pressure, underscores a broader trend in the service industry where workers are increasingly demanding—and winning—better wages and working conditions. However, the decision to raise menu prices to cover wage increases could test customer loyalty, especially in a time of economic uncertainty.

As Waffle House navigates these changes, it will be essential to balance the financial viability of wage increases with maintaining its appeal to customers who have made it a beloved American institution. The unfolding story at Waffle House serves as a microcosm of the broader national debate on wage fairness, corporate responsibility, and the evolving American workplace.