that time when i worked at a ham store

Happy [belated] Easter, one and all. On Sunday as I gorged on a lovely Easter meal with all of the trimmings in the company of a lovely bunch of people, I started thinking about what people usually eat for Easter. Of course, the answer is often good ol’ fashioned bone-in ham. And that was it. That’s all it took to trigger a locked-away, repressed memory of the several occasions in which I found myself employed by the HoneyBaked Ham Company.

I used to come home for holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter) during college and would feel the need to find a job for the two weeks I was home (I have a difficult time relaxing). Pretty much the only job that called for this sort of availability was one that required high-demand labor in the five days leading up to Christmas, or the day before Thanksgiving, etc. And pretty much the only job with these characteristics is that of a seasonal HoneyBaked Ham employee due to the fact that the only days that HoneyBaked Ham Co. does any business is ~13 days of the year.

Now, do not underestimate this business strategy as I can allow you to know firsthand that during these 13 days of the year, the HoneyBaked Ham store swells with either (A) desperate individuals trying to throw together their family Christmas parties at the last minute and saw that they had received HBH coupon in the mail or (B) somewhat pathetic individuals who have awaited 365 days to FINALLY pick up their beloved HoneyBaked Ham that they have every holiday since they were born and the day has FINALLY arrived in which they bring their entire family to carry on the tradition of picking out the ham.  It is these people that begin queuing in lines hours before we open. Before I even step into work I am greeted with 50% of the crowd cursing their wife’s name for making them come stand in line for 3 hours in the cold to pick up the ham and 50% of the crowd basically taking photos of their family standing in line on this monumental day of the year. The bottom line is that the HBH is actually a cash cow.

BTW, the honey-baked ham is actually not slow-roasting over a fire for hours with the occasional tender-loving glazing of sweet honey and cinnamon as you are led to believe. This is a facade. The hams are actually just your typical hams and each are glazed in about 2 minutes with a blowtorch.


this is a honeybaked ham, a ham in which people are live under the delusion that it is anything special

There are 3 potential positions that could be assigned to you on a daily basis as a seasonal HBH employee. Everyday when you walk into work, you are check-in with another seasonal HBH employee that is (to your bewilderment) infinitely more important with you. The degree of power hunger that this individual possesses is somewhat obscene and they are fully aware of the fact that the fate of your happiness for the day is in their hands. The following are the 3 duties taken on that could be assigned to you during the two minutes of desperation in which you look longingly with puppy-dog eyes that beg the senior seasonal employee to spare you for the day:

1)The behind-the-counter ham seller: This is the position that you are most likely to be assigned. It is the job in which you stand behind the counter and in front of a row of refrigerators stuffed with hams. As the customers barrel in like a pack of wild dogs, you  showcase a series of hams to the customers so they can pick out their perfect ham for their family. The job entails you lifting hams from 5-14 pounds from the fridge shelf and placing it on the counter. The ham (either in the form of a butt or a shank) is wrapped in gold foil and you have to open it up for them so they feel like they know what they are looking for and can feel justified for paying $90 for a ham.  Like I said before, there is a colorful range of people that come in through the store, all in a variety of different moods. The following are classic, common conversations had between the behind-the-counter ham seller and the customer:

The Clueless Husband
Customer: “I need a ham!”
You: “Well, you’ve come to the right place!” [This horrible joke is told about 95 times throughout the day]
Customer: “My wife sent me! I have no idea what I am doing!”
You: “Allow me to direct you to our chart that explains to you what size ham to get based on the number of people you will be serving. Since you are having 10 people I would suggest getting the 7-8 pound ham.”
[Customer ponders for about 5 minutes and proceeds to call wife at home to make sure he is getting the right thing. Argument ensues regarding how she told him a million times what to get and then evolves into a heated discussion over the number of leftovers that he wants and she doesn’t want.]
10 minutes later…
Customer: “I’ll take the 7-8 pound ham!”

The Customer with the Dreaded Coupon who Doesn’t Pick up on the Scam
Customer: “Hi, we are having about 6 people.”
You: “Okay, well let me suggest a 5 pound ham. That should be plenty plus some leftovers!”
Customer: “Oh, well I have this coupon that says my ham has to be at least 8 lbs.”
[Go to fridge and shove through dozens of hams looking for an 8lb. ham. You only find a 9lb. ham, as they are by far the most common, so you bring it to them.]
You:”I could only find a 9lb. ham. I hope this is okay.”
Customer: “THAT IS WAY TOO MUCH HAM! WE WILL NEVER EAT ALL THAT!! Can’t you keep looking?”
[This is the moment in which you realize the scam of the HBH company in which they make people buy way more ham then they need so they can use the $10-off coupon. This is also the moment you realize how much of a gem finding an 8lb. ham in the fridge is, as everyone has their stupid coupon.. Therefore an 8lb. ham is the most coveted product in the entire store and you curse your fellow employee if they find an 8lb. ham in the fridge before you do.]
You: “Sorry, ma’am but there are no more 8lb. hams.”
Customer: “How come that guy next to me just got an 8lb. ham? It looked like the perfect size!”
[Continue to search as your triceps nearly go out on you as you shove through more hams and finally you find the Holy Grail. A 8.03lb. ham.]
You: “I found one!”
Customer: [With absolutely no gratitude over the amount of physical labor you just went through] “Okay, I guess that will do.” [Huffs off to the checkout counter]

The Customer who Thinks they Know Everything about Hams and Enjoys Other People’s Anguish
Customer: “We are having a party for 12 people.”
You: “Okay a 9lb. ham will probably do.”
Customer: “Make sure you show it to me beforehand. Last year they gave me one with way too much fat!”
[You bring out the ham and before you are given a chance to open up the ham, she starts to open it herself]
You: “I’m sorry ma’am but I am going to have to ask you to not touch the foil or the ham in case you do not purchase it.”
Customer: “Uggh, can you open it up a little more? I mean this one is just full of fat! I told you to get me one with no fat!”
You: “Sorry ma’am, it is impossible for me to see the ham before I open it so I do not know which ones are fatty until I open it in front of you.”
[Customer proceeds to stick her big head and face all up close and personal with the ham to get another look at it and to be passive aggressive regarding my request for her to not touch the ham.]
Customer: “No, this one will not do. Bring me another one!”
[The above scenario repeats until you have showed the lady ~12 hams and you have jammed your fingers about 3 different times and no longer have any upper body strength to hold your body upright. All your backbreaking work goes unacknowledged as each ham you show is still allegedly adorned with too much fat. You try to convince her that all hams have a little bit of fat, but to no avail.]
Customer: “Oh, but the ham we had last year was just perfect!” [Nearly breaks out into tears]
You: “Okay, let me keep looking.”
[You, for your own sick pleasure, grab the original ham that you showed her to begin with and open it back up on the counter.]
Customer: “Oh, it’s perfect!!!!!! I always know my pickiness will pay off!”

And…my personal favorite:

The Customer who Knows Entirely too Much about Ham
Customer: “I need a 14 pound butt!!”
You: “I’m sorry sir, we don’t have butts that big. The largest butt we have is about 10  pounds. We have shanks that are about 14 lbs.”
Customer: “I only like butts! The only good meat is on the butt!! Last year we got a big butt!!”
You: “I’m really sorry sir, but this year [always] we only have 10 lb. butts. So I can either get you a 10 lb. butt or 14. lb. shank.”

Although aforementioned scenarios seem slightly unbearable, the assigned duty of behind-the-counter ham seller can have its perks (or so it seems) because you get to work with other behind-the-counter ham sellers who are in the same home-from-college-for-the-holidays-and -need-a-job position and most are pretty cool. It’s always kind of interesting when you come back the next year. You never know who you are going to see again from the previous year. There’s just that unforgettable feeling in walking back into work for the first time since a year ago and breathing a sigh of relief knowing that there are others who have not yet moved on with their life either.

However, this bonding friendship becomes only temporary, as the crazed HBH supervisor has managed to find a way to remove all sources of happiness and joy from your working experience and sets up a cut-throat competition between your fellow employees. You are ordered in the morning to sell as many as turkeys and side dishes (in addition to the overrated, despised beloved honey-baked ham, the store also sells a series of side dishes and turkeys. I know, the whole turkey thing is just as confusing as it is to you as it is to me and anyone who walks into the store) as you can and keep track of them on this stupid little chart throughout the day. Whoever sells the most at the end of the day gets….$10!!!!  This sets up a social construct that then forces you to view every person you are working with as an archenemies  That new guy who invited everyone over for beer later? SCREW THAT some lady just bought six dishes scalloped potatoes and two pumpkin pies!!!!

2) The fridge-stocker: This is, without question, the best job to get. However, at first you think it is going to be the worst job of all time because you literally sit in the refrigerator the entire day. Your job is to restock the fridge with hams as the people in the front sell them and the ham-blow-torchers in the back glaze the hams. This turns out the be the greatest job of all time because it actually looks like you are doing really hard work when you are actually doing virtually nothing and get to hang out with another person in the back and just dick around until the fridge needs restocked which just simply involves exchanging an empty cart of hams with a full cart of hams and pushing them forward as they get taken. This position is very difficult to actually get once you realize how amazing it is. This is because the supervisor lives under a delusion that the people working in the fridge are so good at what she thinks is intensive labor that she just permanently keeps them on this job. My brother always managed to weasel his way into this position. The amount of compliments he received from the supervisor was incredibly nauseating.

3) The sample person: This position is the bane of existence and all humanity. And the worst part is, you think it is the best position to get so you actually have your hopes shattered into a billion pieces an hour into the shift. The sample person sits at the front of the store allowing people to sample the side dishes as they wait in line to buy their ham. It may seem like a great job because you feel like you can just gorge yourself with side dish samples the entire day. THINK AGAIN!!!!! If there is one thing the supervisor enjoys doing, it is moderating the sample person. If you even think about sneaking one little macaroni and cheese noodle, you better reconsider. In addition to living under the scrutiny of someone who thinks there job serves some sort of importance, you are forced to set up your table right next to the door. Now remember this is December in Ohio and it is frigid. So you actually spend your entire day suffering in misery. The worst part is, is that you are talking all the customers into buying the side dishes, but get absolutely no tally marks next to your name. It’s ruthless.

After you finish up the few days of working there, you question yourself if any of this agony was actually worth it. Yet, for some reason or another, when the HBH postcard comes in the mail for you the next year asking you to work again, you find yourself entering the doors of the wretched place once again. Or your mom sent it in for you without your discretion.

The irony in all of this is that over the course of the 3 years that I worked at the HBH store, I was a vegan. I have never once tried a piece of honey-baked ham.

One thought on “that time when i worked at a ham store

  1. The last line made me laugh into my coffee as I am headed into the crazy world of HBH. There is one down the street from me and I’ve never had it — because of the crazy people and lines and your aforementioned customers! I was thinking of tackling it this year, just to get the experience! Thanks for painting the picture for me. That was awesome!

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