Which do you prefer: pancakes or waffles? How you answer that question may depend on where you live. You see, there are two great houses in American breakfast: There's Waffle House, and there's the International House of Pancakes (why isn't there a Chateau de French Toast, you might ask? Because this is America, that's why).
And if you haven't noticed, the two famous breakfast chains occupy distinct geographic niches in the United States. Waffle House dominates in the South, especially in the Atlanta area. IHOP, meanwhile, can be found just about everywhere else. I mapped the locations of each using crowd-sourced data from poi-factory.com, a site for GPS enthusiasts. Take a look.
Waffle House's distinctly Southern roots are a point of pride in the region. The chain took root in the suburbs of Georgia in 1955. To get a sense of just how incredibly concentrated Waffle Houses are in Georgia, check out this map by geographer Nik Freeman. In 2012, by his count, there were at least 177 locations in the Georgia area alone.
Every Waffle House restaurant is open 24/7, and the company takes great pride in only closing a location in the most dire of circumstances. This has led the Federal Emergency Management Administration to develop an informal "Waffle House Index" to measure the severity of natural disasters in the South. "If you get there and the Waffle House is closed?" FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate once said. "That's really bad. That's where you go to work."
The fact that Waffle Houses are concentrated in the South — particularly along the Gulf Coast, on the I-10 corridor, as the map above shows — makes them something of a bellwether for hurricane severity in the region.
IHOPs, on the other hand, are pretty much everywhere. There are plenty in the South, too, but they're completely overwhelmed by the number of Waffle Houses in the region. Despite their broader geographic distribution, there are roughly similar numbers of both IHOPs and Waffle Houses in this country. The data I got from poi-finder shows 1,783 Waffle House locations, and about 1,400 IHOPs.
The two companies are all too happy to stoke the fires of breakfast rivalry. Last year, Waffle House reminded its Facebook fans that "pancakes are the enemy." The company has been known to publicly shame guests who ask for pancakes. IHOP, for its part, makes no bones about offering waffles at its locations — a clear act of provocation if there ever was one.
Given that pancakes and waffles are both delicious, it doesn't seem right that we should have to choose one over the other. And right-thinking people everywhere know that there's only one truly meaningful divide when it comes to waffles and pancakes, and that's what you put on them: real maple syrup, or the fake stuff?
But just for the sake of argument: If you had to pick only one, what would it be?