It's a wonderful afternoon. You're sitting in one of Babe's Chicken Dinner House's many North Texas locations. A mannequin sits in the chair next to you. Quirky signs depicting John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe line the wall.
A young woman asks you if you've been there before. Yes, you say, you'll have the fried chicken and double the mashed potatoes. A few minutes later, a giant plate full of chicken and bowls upon bowls of vegetables appear on your table. You say silently to yourself, "Is this heaven?"
Before you can mull it over, something startling happens. "The Hokey Pokey" starts playing, and soon, the waitress who delivered your beloved fried chicken wings is telling you this is what it's all about.
It's unclear why Babe's requires its servers to halfheartedly do "The Hokey Pokey" at regular intervals throughout the day. Calls to the restaurant and corporate office led only to several games of phone tag and unreturned messages. But if you search for "Babe's Hokey Pokey" on Twitter, you learn that you're not alone in your distaste for the oh-so-awkward dance.
Some, however, enjoy it.
But if you had a suspicion that the servers hate doing it, you're not far off. Amy Lumpkins, who worked at the Garland location, says when they knew it was coming, the waitresses had a plan to avoid it.
"Well, for starters, every time we saw the manager go to turn off the jukebox, we knew that meant 'Hokey Pokey' time because he had to put a CD in for it," she says. "When we saw this, we would have what we called 'freezer meetings.' We'd hide out in the freezer and eat cherries they kept in there until we heard 'and that's what it's all about.'"
Stephanie Dugan, another waitress who worked at the Garland location, is a little more nostalgic for the song and dance number. For the most part, she says, the waitresses dread the moment when the song comes on, but occasionally, they would have fun with it.
"The general manager also made it more fun when he started working at Babe’s," she says. "There’s something about seeing that goofy old man shaking his hips and backside that makes you want to join him in the fun while also making you worry he’s going to throw out a hip and hurt himself. The 'Hokey Pokey' is a huge part of the Babe’s culture, and after working there for seven years, the song will always bring back great memories for me."
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But do the customers enjoy it? It seems when it's happening, a sense of dread envelopes the restaurant. We know the waitresses don't like it, and most of the time, few — if any — customers join in. Bill Johndrow, a longtime customer of Babe's, says "The Hokey Pokey" is an unnecessary part of the experience.
"I love the restaurant, the atmosphere, the food, and the service is great," he says. "And I love the Old West-looking town it's in, but 'The Hokey Pokey' is just a really awkward and disruptive shindig they feel the need to do during people's meals.
"As an introvert, it's not the most enjoyable part of my day," Johndrow says. "Same for when they find out it's someone's birthday. They really know how to make the place cringe."
Is "The Hokey Pokey" really what it's all about, Babe's? We may never know.