On this Saturday night I’m stepping behind the counter at the Loews Palisades Center in West Nyack, N.Y., to scoop, pour, and otherwise convince moviegoers that whatever they order just isn’t enough.
>> 6:10 p.m. I’m briefed by a Loews trainer: The cheese dip is a ”mildly zesty blend.” It’s not butter; it’s a ”low-cholesterol, soy-based topping.” I also learn to always ”sell up,” asking customers if they want a bigger size for a bit more. To encourage gluttony, we get a 6 percent commission on our shift’s sales.
>> 6:15 p.m. A middle-aged man who radiates thirst asks for a regular Coke, but I tell him about our Super Combo, wherein ”when you buy a large popcorn and large soda, you’re actually saving a dollar!” (I earn 10 cents for every $7.29 Combo I sell.) Unfortunately, I nervously stammer and my ”bargain” is nixed.
>> 7:25 p.m. Guilt. I feel the urge to whisper ”I’m sorry” when I charge $6.11 for two bottles of Nestea. But no matter how audacious the price, customers never walk away; they just look defeated and pull out their wallets.
>> 9:10 p.m. Maybe it’s the mildly zesty cheese fumes, but I experience a ”hawker’s high.” A family gathers around my station. Whenever I hand one item to the beleaguered dad, I look down at the kids and say, ”How about M&M’s, too?” and wait for the screams and Dad’s acquiescence. It’s a cheap shot, but cheap lost all meaning an hour ago.
>> 9:50 p.m. My back is aching, I have popcorn shrapnel under my nails, but all is forgotten every time I see a customer’s knees buckle under the weight of his tray of soda, popcorn shrimp, and pretzel bites.
>> 10:30 p.m. My register is closed, and I get my tally: I sold $508.36 of product, with an average sale of $6.86 per customer. My more experienced coworkers were landing in the $7 range. My take? A commission of just over $30 (plus my $6-an-hour wage). I feel good, but then realize I’d feel twice as good if everyone had spent just 25 cents more.