Believe it or not, for the last few years, I’ve worked for a little “hot dog stand” in a bar downtown Nashville part-time. I’d make hot dogs, hamburgers, sandwiches, nachos, Frito-chili pies, and other snack items. I’d sell chips, gum, candy, cigarettes and canned sodas. I did this once or twice a week for about three years.
This year, though, I’ve gone to being a back-up employee, filling in when the owner needs to go out of town or has something come up. I made this choice to allow me to focus more on writing and other career goals. However, I have to admit that I HAVE missed many elements of working there regularly.
Saturday night, I filled in while the owner went out of town for the weekend. It was my first time back in the stand in over two months, and I was actually a little nervous! Did I still have the skills to handle a busy Saturday night? (I usually worked the slower week nights.)
You may be wondering: what kind of skills do you really need to make hot dogs? You need several, and they are skills I credit my time at the stand for teaching me.
- The most basic of people skills. You can’t be a wall flower and work in any sort of a service industry. You have to be able to talk to people.
- Figure out how to read people in an instant. Are they drunk? What are they wearing that might tip you off as something to strike up a conversation? Do they have an accent that might help you know they “aren’t from around here?” Are they mad at the world? Are they shy or cocky or open and welcoming to conversation?
- Learn how to BS. Frankly, this isn’t anything I didn’t already know how to do. Having a journalism degree, I always used to joke that I had my BS in BS. This job just taught me how to turn the volume up on it a little. Example: Have I been to NYC? No, but I have friends who have been. Is there anything they told me at some point that I can use to chat up this business man from the Big Apple?
- Counting change back. Face it, these days, most places have a machine that tells someone how much change to give back. In this stand, I had to do it all in my head. Math is not my strong point, so I had to learn fast how to count change back and how to figure a tab on the fly.
- Be the center of attention. When the band promotes the hot dog stand between songs, wave, and smile and maybe make some sort of smart comment to the lead singer to make people laugh. When a customer gets hungry, they’re going to remember you faster that way and, hopefully, feel inclined to come see you.
- Time management and juggling multiple orders at a time. I still struggle with this if my heads not fully in the game. Luckily, last night, I was on my toes and I was able to fill multiple orders at a time and not get a single one wrong. GO ME!
- Tipping is good.Tipping is wise. Tip karma will bite you in the butt.
I made a lot of friends working there, and it was always really nice to be a part of the fabric that makes that bar run. I’m still part of the family, but sometimes when I go back I feel a little disconnected now. But I remind myself it was a choice I made to step back from it.
Sadly, there was a big festival in Nashville on Saturday that I think cut into our customers that night. That along with rain made the Saturday night more like a really good week night. A bummer for the stand because sales were down and a bummer for me because my tip jar just didn’t do as well as sometimes.
But I enjoyed myself and was grateful. I was reminded of things I didn’t miss: sore feet, super late hours, the homeless coming to ask for free food (it kills me to say no…), and coming home smelling like cigarettes and french fries. These things,though, are all minor compared to the fun (c’mon, I get to listen to great music all night and have been known to bust out dancing when things are slow) and satisfaction I have when I do work there.