Butterball was founded in June of 1940 when Ada Walker of Wyoming, Ohio, applied for a patent for her way of making turkey. Today, Butterball is one of the leading producers of turkeys in the US. (The company sells more than 1 billion pounds of turkey meat each year.)
The Butterball Turkey Talk-Line service began in 1981 when six home-economists worked the phones during the holiday season to answer (what turned out to be) 11,000 turkey-related questions on their new “800” (free call) number.
Currently, nearly 50 people are employed on this line; the all-female crew has been expanded to include males and Spanish-speaking employees. During the holiday season (the months of November and December), the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line now receives nearly 100,000 calls from the United States and Canada.
Today, we’re interviewing Carol Miller, a 36-year supervisor on the Line. Hello, Carol! Before I ask you some questions, please set up the scene for the reader.
We’re all in one large room, in a suburb of Chicago!
Tell me why you (and your co-workers) wanted to take this job?
Many of us have worked in the food industry – dieticians, chefs…… We’re all independent contractors…some are retired or have part-time jobs…. Some used to take their vacations during Thanksgiving week.
What kind of training do you receive?
We attend what we call “Butterball U(niversity)” for a few days in October. We receive advance training. We learn about new air fryers, etc. We do technical training; remind ourselves how to find data and login. Don’t forget: we haven’t done it since the previous December.
We also do training for “freshmen” – each one has to make a turkey and we look at the turkey and the drippings, taste their turkey. This year we had seven new employees…………
Why would you want to do this work?
This is my kind of Thanksgiving – to be on a talk line for 8-10 hours/day to help people. I have a degree in Home Economics. I was able to use that when I walked into this. It just worked in my life and I could work this into my work schedule.
We’re a really good crew; these are good souls who want to do a good job. (People) Who want to help that new cook or teenager with that Thanksgiving turkey. Also, you do not have to have a Butterball turkey to get our help. This is a dedicated group of people. We are a family; it’s fun because we’ve watched our kids grow up; talk about (what’s new) weddings….
What do you call yourselves?
Turkey Talkers… Turkey Experts.
Don’t you miss out on having a traditional Thanksgiving experience?
I (get to) have three Thanksgivings. One with my family the weekend after Thanksgiving; one with my family here, and then I get to sit and take calls from people from coast to coast – I feel a part of their Thanksgiving.
You know, it’s noisy there (on the phone)! You can hear chaos from families…. With that kitchen full of people waiting to hear that the turkey is ready. Once in a while, I’ve done a split shift (on Thanksgiving). I couldn’t drink wine, but I could make it work!
Why do we, as Americans, care so much about getting the turkey right?
We try to recreate what the designated turkey roaster – grandma or mother – used to create (in whatever methods they used). Every family wants to recreate their past experiences. But, that is changing in some ways; I see that through the passing of generations.
Now, the new Millennials are in the back yard using air fryers or smoking their turkeys. Family, friends, fun, and feasting. There are all kinds of Thanksgivings and all kinds of making turkeys the way you like.
Do you see yourself as a therapist, food service worker or just being a customer service rep?
When I get someone I know is stressed, it usually ends up not being a big deal. I tell them to take a deep breath. I can hear them go, “aaaaahhhhh.’ If it’s where they need to get a new turkey, I tell them something that I’ve done. (She goes on to relate how, years ago, she “incinerated” her first turkey with her new-in-laws.)
I’m not an expert; I’m human, and I (too) can get in a jam. One year, I put it on a cookie sheet…… Every family needs a good turkey disaster story…something for the rest of your life. I don’t tell them what to do. I give them several different options to get out of their situation.
With so many people calling at the same time, do you get log-jams or people on hold?
Last year, we got Alexa involved. They took 20 of the top questions but with experts answering the information…This year, we have a new call-back feature, so callers will get a callback and won’t lose their place in line.
They say you help more than 100,000 people during this holiday season.
(Cumulatively it’s probably) In the millions, if you count all the media which has covered this, and all the people who read or hear about us….
What if someone has a turkey-related question during another time of year?
They can call our Consumer Affairs Department, which is armed with related data.
What’s the most touching call you’ve received?
It’s been a while. It was during Hurricane Andrew. It was pretty close to Thanksgiving. I had a woman who had been relocated to a trailer; her house had been blown away. She was so emotionally thankful that she had her family and pets alive and could celebrate together. She had her hotplate and microwave. We figured out how to have her cook it (using those methods). It warmed my heart and reminded me that life is good.
How much longer do you think you’ll be doing this work?
I’m a Baby Boomer, but it’s so much fun! It gets my brain going… it’s so much fun! (When I leave) It will be lonely around Thanksgiving.
What one tip do you want to leave the readers with today?
I just want to make sure that everyone knows how easy it is to access us. Log on to Butterball.com or call us. What’s really cool is the “how-to” videos (from Butterball)… There are quite a few great recipes online. The directions for cooking the basic turkey. Text us. Email. Call us. There are options to listen to taped messages. If you can’t get through, you have options. We try as hard as we can to help as many people as we can.
Any last words?
Happy Thanksgiving. No question is silly! (laughs)
Did You Know?
- 46 million turkeys are cooked annually on Thanksgiving.
- The first turkey was pardoned in 1989 by President George H.W. Bush.
- According to a 2015 Harris poll, nearly 8 out of 10 Americans prefer next day leftovers to Thanksgiving Day turkey.
- Historians are unclear whether Colonists and Native Americans ate turkey at their original feast. However, they did eat lobster, swan and other delectables including venison.
- While Presidents were instructed to declare Thanksgiving a holiday, President Thomas Jefferson refused to do so, presumably because of his stance on separation of church and state.
For more info, call 1-800-BUTTERBALL (1-800-288-8372) or text 844-877-3456.