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Flippin' for Free Flapjacks: Celebrating National Pancake Day at the local IHOP with one hundred of my closest strangers
March 3, 2011 8:13

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Soccer-mom Subarus and second-hand Corollas fight for spots in the jam-packed parking lot of the IHOP on West Genesse. For a Tuesday night, the place is swamped, but on National Pancake Day and people will do anything for a free short stack of pancakes.

Hungry customers linger in the narrow hallway by the entrance; a tired mother with three kids hanging off her arms, a group of high stoners in tie-dye shirts, a grandfather with his princess granddaughter perched on his knee, and a gawky teen fresh from the barber shop with a Justin Beiber haircut.

I wade through the ocean of people to the host area to put our party’s name in. Mark, a pimply teenager with brown curly hair and dark-framed glasses, greets me with a forced smile. He tucks his shirt neatly into his pants, secured with a belt. “A table for five, please, for Meredith.” Mark misspells my name on a long waiting list and glances back to the bustling tables behind him, assuring me we’ll be seated within 20 minutes.

It seems reasonable enough; I expected to wait over an hour. But 30 minutes later, we’re still standing. I wander up to Mindy, now the keeper of the list, and she informs me that it’ll only be 15 to 20 more minutes. Smells of butter and bacon waft through the small diner, testing my willpower. A procession of plates line the wooden counter, mostly stacked with pancakes, but a few topped with eggs or chicken fingers; there’s nothing green in sight. I peer over the counter to the grill, which is covered with CD-sized circles of batter.

Subconsciously shooting dirty looks at the groups called before us, I need my pancakes, but I notice waitresses scramble to refill waters and wipe down tables. Poor Mindy has been working eight hours straight, with just a short break to slip away to the bathroom, while my one class that day inconveniently disrupted my day-long break. I feel guilty even thinking about complaining. Two of my friends, still tipsy from a beer and wine appreciation class that evening, keep the rest of us entertained.

At last, Mark calls our group and seats us at a tiny booth by the door. Our waitress, Tracey, hurries over and, without looking up from her flip pad, takes our order. Waters and short stacks all around. Tracey reminds us that while the pancakes are free today, IHOP appreciates any donations to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals we can afford on our way out.

Just as Hallmark invented Valentine’s Day, I presumed IHOP conceived National Pancake Day. But in reality, the god-send of a holiday dates back centuries. Synonymous with Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, many Christians feast as a last-ditch attempt on pancakes and other sweets before the fasting season of Lent begins.

And feast we did. The pancakes came almost as quickly as they disappeared. I wondered whether the anticipation, the blank receipt, the sugary syrup, or the guilty pleasure of eating breakfast for dinner made them taste so good. Regardless, we stuffed our faces, dropped some singles in the donation bowl, and made room for the next car in the lot.