Late-night snack: a look into an overnight shift at Whataburger

By Franklin Ortega

Nicole Dye starts by checking the lobby, throwing trash away, cleaning the tables and moving on back to the counter.

Dye, the overnight manager, is ready for her Friday night shift. She asks Kendrick Washington, who is behind the counter and doesn’t have a customer yet, ”Are we going to have a good night?”

Most people know Whataburger stays open late, but not all Whataburgers keep the lobby open overnight.

However this restaurant, located at the corner of Buckner and I-30 in southeast Dallas, does.

The overnight shift is generally from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., but Dye works longer than that. She normally comes in 30 minutes to an hour earlier and leaves at 9 a.m.

Friday night is pretty busy compared to the weeknights when there are only three to four employees, but this Friday there are five overnight employees.

An assistant manager, crew lead and three regular employees, cover the front register, drive-through and grill.

As customers start to walk in, the grill starts sizzling and the smell of burger patties fills the air.

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A common late-night spread at Whataburger. Photo credit: Instagram

Washington gets flustered when he is taking customer orders; he’s only been working for five months. A young, tall, 18-year-old still in high school is trying his best to get it right, but Washington gets overwhelmed when he has six customers standing in front of him.

The six customers came out of a truck with a trailer hitched to it. They look like they are in a band; some have tattoos, but mostly all of them have gauged earrings. They stand in line waiting their turn to order their burgers.

After they order, one stands at the doorway, holding the door open as he lights his cigarette outside the restaurant, and continues to yell at his friends who have already taken a seat in the back. He stands there for a few minutes puffing with his lower body outside and his upper body hanging inside.

The rest of his friends just laugh at the customer, so he goes outside.

Moments later a stocky man, wearing a navy blue uniform walks in. Washington is in the back helping run the food to the customers.

The man in uniform stops by the counter, grabs a cup, walks over to the soda machine and makes his selection.

On his right he has a gun, the nametag on his shirt reads, “Lt. R. Hawkins” and he is the paid security for this Whataburger during the weekends.

Hawkins comes in only on the weekends to work overnight and has being doing so for the last three months. He notes the biggest problem is “slow orders,” but has seen the crew become more efficient since he has been there.

On most nights it’s pretty calm, and tonight was no different.

Behind the counter everyone is working hard to get orders out; breakfast has already started to be served.

Dye moves from one grill to the next, grilling burgers and scrambling eggs. Washington is in charge of the biscuits, but he gets so flustered trying to take customer orders that he forgets about the biscuits.

One order is ready.

“Number 78, Honey Barbecue,” Dye yells.

No one answers.

She returns to the grill as Washington continues to take orders.

The food is left on the counter.

Fifteen minutes later the young girl who ordered the honey barbecue sandwich comes up asking for the order. Washington looks around, but does not find it. The young girl is patient, but is not sure what is taking so long with her order.

Washington goes to the back and talks to Dye about the order. She has seen it. They both look at the screen and scroll through the previous orders.

They find it.

“Let me see your receipt,” Dye said to the girl.

She confirms the order and lets her know it will be fresh.

The lobby has customers waiting for orders, but the drive-through has about 10 cars waiting.

The kitchen is still hectic trying to put the orders together and hand them to the right customer.

Finally Dye gets a chance to come out and looks at Hawkins.

“What you want!”

“Coffee,” he smiles.

Dye gives him a smirk, walks off and pours coffee in a cup.

One employee passes by her as she is giving Hawkins his coffee.

The lobby of the restaurant has pretty much cleared out. Drive-through is empty.

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A Whataburger meal. Photo credit: Instagram

Only two older women who seem to be homeless are left in the lobby.

Both sit by themselves, but one is laying her head on the table. The other observes people coming in and out.

Another man pops into the restaurant. He is wearing a blue coat because it is chilly outside. His jeans look like they have not been washed for a while. David is homeless, but he has an unofficial title, “Community Security Guard,” or at least that’s what the staff calls him.

He walks outside for a little and then he is gone.

At the register Washington has another customer. He’s taken his order, and has given the customer his change.

“Kendrick count it back,” Dye said.

It is past 2 a.m. and more customers are walking in. Washington puts biscuits in the oven. The drive through is seeing more and more cars come through.

The staff is preoccupied grilling, Dye is in the back, and Washington is still taking orders. The oven begins to beep loud.

Dye yells, “Where are those biscuits!”

Everyone in the lobby looks up. Washington stops from taking a customer order.

“Shoot,” he mumbles.

Hawkins yells, “Get him off biscuits,” from the lobby.

Everyone breaks out in laughter.

“That’s the 10th batch he’s burned,” Dye said laughing.

He burned 11 batches that night.

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