The Top 10 Things I Learned While Serving Beer and Chicken Wings

So, the Hooter’s marketing peeps want to feature me in an upcoming magazine to show me a little “Orange Pride”. They needed me to write about the things I learned while working there (many ions ago) and how those skills later benefitted me in my career path, and eventually to becoming an entreprenuer. I thought for a bit, and this is what I came up with. The funny thing is that all of it is true. 🙂

I moved to Greensboro, NC with my cousin in the summer of 1995, exactly one month after I graduated high school. We had another cousin who was attending college there and strategically devised a plan to shack up with her until she graduated, then we were to happily relocate to New York City where we would find the most amazing jobs ever, and all of our dreams would come true. It was really a simple plan for a trio of naïve young girls with zero perspicacity and barely enough street smarts to navigate our way onto the New Jersey Turnpike.

So, without further ado, my other cousin and myself (who relocated from California to join me on the East coast), ventured on a road trip to North Carolina, and before we knew it, all three of us girls were shacked up in a one-bedroom apartment in Greensboro.

We had barely been there one full week and I totaled my cousin’s car (My car’s engine had blown right before we moved). So the 3 of us were suddenly forced to share one crappy car. This was rather tedious since we were all working random jobs waiting tables and the hours were all over the board.

Every day that I drove (or was driven) to my place of employment (a high-end restaurant where I was required to wear a tuxedo with an apron), I would pass by this fabulously orange neon sign emblazoned with the delightfully tacky, yet unrefined words: HOOTERS. I had never stepped foot in a Hooter’s before, although I did remember my dad and uncle always venturing off to visit the fine establishment when we took family trips to Myrtle Beach.

One afternoon, I got off work early and was waiting for my cousin to pick me up. I sat outside, swinging my legs over the brick partition and sweating my ass off from the blazing sun (remember I was wearing a tuxedo for Christ’s sake). I squinted across the street at the Hooter’s logo, shining brightly in the middle of the day. I looked down at my unexposed chest, fully cloaked with a starched white shirt and shiny black buttons. I swallowed hard only to be reminded of the polyester bowtie that constricted my airway, and thought, “what the hell?”

My cousin pulled up and I ripped the bowtie off with one hand as I jumped in the passenger seat.

“Let’s go to Hooter’s.” I said, nonchalantly.

“What?” she asked, pulling her Ray Bans down to the tip of her nose, to expose the disbelief in her eyes.

“I wanna check it out. Besides, it’s hotter than hell down here, and I need a job that doesn’t require neckties and cumberbuns.”

She shrugged and pulled into the parking lot. Little did I know, my life was about to change drastically.

I walked up to the bar and asked a bouncy little blonde thing if I could get an application.

“Sure thing, hun!” she responded in a bubbly, sweet voice and handed me a sheet of paper from behind the bar. “You can fill it out here. I’ll get a manager for you!” she flashed me a toothy grin and disappeared behind a pair of swinging wooden doors that led to the back of the house.

I hiked myself up on the orange cushioned stool and took a look around. Cute girls wearing cleavage-bearing tank tops and daisy dukes that were made of what appeared to be orange spandex ran around delivering platefuls of wings and pitcher’s of beer to tables of drooling men. A large jukebox was blaring old 60’s tunes, and hula hoops were at every waitress station. The “kitchen” was openly exposed, as if watching frat boys throw wings in the air were a part of the dining experience.

“Order IN!” one of the Hooter’s girls shrieked at the top of her lungs. Then she swung her arm through the air so fiercely, it was as if she was perched atop the pitcher’s mound at Yankee’s Stadium.

Just then, a tiny piece of paper affixed to a shiny metal clip ripped through the air and slammed loudly above the head of one of the main cooks, who was holding a basket of fresh, bubbling chicken wings.

“GOT IT!” he yelled, and he ripped the paper down from an invisible wire of some sort, then propelled the empty clip right back to her.

My God, I thought, the kitchen gets the customers orders delivered to them by way of a greasy wire cable. This place was fascinating. I simply had to work here.

Thankfully, the manager on-duty agreed and before I could say, “Hot or mild?”, I was donning a pair of those little orange shorts.

Now some of you may be wondering, “Sure, the place is cute and all, but how did working at Hooter’s give you any kind of real training for the future, especially working in the corporate world and eventually running your own business?”

First of all, I’d like to state that I met my best friends in the whole wide world working at Hooter’s. I am still best friends with all these girls to this day, and I honestly don’t think I’d be where I am today if it wasn’t for the support they’ve given me over the years. Not to mention what beautiful bridesmaids I had in my wedding. Both times.

The amazing friendships aside, I also gained an impressive list of surprisingly fundamental skills from working there. These are things they don’t teach you in college…you know, “street smarts” if you will. So here it is, ladies and gentlemen, the top 10 skills I picked up while working at Hooter’s (drum roll please):

10. “Learn to pick your battles.” When 45 girls are all working together in the same place (this also means they are probably on the same monthly cycle), you quickly learn that being catty will not serve any purpose other than decreasing productivity. You can argue about whose turn it is to carry an overflowing bus tub to the back, or you can just do it yourself and get back to what you are there for: waiting tables and making money. You might get frustrated, but you can’t force someone to be un-lazy. So choose to fight about the more substantial things in life, like who is going to get stuck working the patio on a Saturday night.

9. “Never judge a book by its cover.” As an amateur Hooter’s girl, you might feel inclined to stereotype your customers the second they sit down at your table. You will promptly learn (usually the hard way), that just because a guy wears a suit and tie, is doused in expensive cologne, and has a white tan line on his left ring finger, doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to tip you better than the dirty construction guys who just ordered a pitcher of beer…at 10am. In fact, quite the opposite. Now that I run a business, each potential colleague/customer/partner gets the same treatment from me, regardless of the way they look. Or smell.

8. “The more you work, the more opportunities arise.” You are sick as hell and want to go home early, but another girl gets the green light to leave before you (she also happens to be the bratty one who doesn’t do her sidework, takes constant smoke breaks, complains to management, and shows up late 9 times out of 10). This enrages you and makes you want to stomp out the door in a whiney frenzy, but that is something she would do, not you. Besides, the next table you get could very well be a couple of German guys who are in town on business, and decide to leave you $500 tip. (true story). So suck it up and work a little harder than the rest…it will pay off one day.

7. “Winners look people directly in the eye.” When I first started entering bikini contests, I would shyly scuffle across the stage. My eyes would shoot past the judges and into the vast audience. After doing two contests and not even receiving a nifty “Runners-Up”, I realized that the lustful, inebriated audience was going to cheer no matter what, and the judges were the ones I needed to impress. So, the next contest, I strutted onto that stage with confidence, and looked directly at the judges. I smiled and made eye contact with each one of them. Guess what? I got first place, and continued to win bikini contests the rest of the summer. Looking people in the eye communicates assertiveness and confidence, both of which are paramount traits in business.

6. “To steal a little, is the same thing as stealing a lot.” We used to have a regular customer that would come to our establishment and order the same thing every single day. What did he get? A large Dr. Pepper. That’s it. Every single day. Since I usually worked behind the bar, he would prop down at the end of the bar and I would constantly refill his gigantic jumbo soda until he would finally leave a 5-dollar bill and float out the door. I never thought anything about it, and would simply toss the 5 bucks into my tip jar without batting an eye. One day, the GM sat me down and asked me if I ever rang up that Dr. Pepper.

“Um, no…why?”

“He drinks a lot of soda, and by you not ringing it up, we are losing money on this customer.” He proceeded to explain that a $2 soda, 5 days/week, amounts to $520/year. “Julie, even though it seems insignificant, we could be gaining a bit of revenue off of this customer. In essence, it is stealing from the company.”

My eyes widened and I gulped loudly. Me? Steal??? I wouldn’t even take a straw home without asking first, so this really cut me to the core. I had never really thought of it from the managers perspective…it was something so trivial to me. There were months when we would be so close to hitting our goal, but maybe only a couple hundred dollars away from it. If I had been ringing up that damn Dr. Pepper, maybe we would’ve hit those numbers.

He knew I would never intentionally steal from the company, but he wanted to convey to me that every dollar counts.

Now that I’m a business owner, I keep a tight reign on my inventory, and make sure that every single thing is accounted for. I also hold high standards for my employees, and relate to them the importance of consistent revenue, no matter how trivial it may appear.

 

5. “The devil’s in the details.” I used to hate cleaning out the iced tea urns. They were big, bulky, and sticky. I would rush through cleaning them in order to get the job done, and sometimes that meant not always removing the black spout and soaking it in hot water. One morning, the restaurant inspection mafia decided to drop by unannounced and when they took off one of those spouts, they noticed it wasn’t as squeaky clean as it should be, and we lost a couple points. A couple of points might not seem like a big deal, but when you are already on the radar for having a staff of girls that aren’t adorned in aprons and hair nets, a few points could mean locking the doors. Being detail-oriented is not only necessary to run a successful business, it is vital.

 

4. “Fraternization between employees is never good.” I dated one of the cooks one time. Bad idea.

 

3. “Treat customers with the same respect you would want yourself.” Look, it’s been over a decade since I worked at Hooter’s, but the customers I used to wait on back in the day still remember me. One of those customers put me in contact with someone who would, many years later, come to be one of my trusted manufacturers. The customer you wait on today might be the person you need a favor from tomorrow. Treat everyone with respect, and karma just kinda works itself out.

 

2. “Successful companies use the color orange.” After my Hooter’s days, I went on to later work as a marketing director for a little company called Harley-Davidson. Apparently, orange is an attractive color to a potential consumer, especially when it’s emblazoned on a leather jacket, or stretched tightly across the butt cheeks of hot young girls. I chose red and black when designing the Hot Rawks logo, but my next product will surely flaunt some orange on it. I would be veering from my roots if it didn’t.

 

  1. “Sex sells.” Need I say more?

 

So, there you have it. All the wonderful reasons why Hooter’s was a pretty damn good place for me to work. You never know what road you might end up on later in life, but you might as well start your journey at a sign that says, “Dangerous Curves Ahead.”

 

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