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By Steven G. Mehta

Steve Mehta

I recently came across a wonderful story of negotiations in Esquire that I thought I would share with you.  It has a lot of great negotiating tips — what to do and what not to do — presented in a charming style.  I hope you like it.

Buying a hot dog is an essential, unquestionable transaction, the lowest common denominator of American commerce. The sale of a hot dog delivers about the same amount of marginal satisfaction to the buyer, who gets — by my reckoning — about 40 cents worth of food, heated and assembled nicely for $1.75, and to the vendor, who makes something like $1.35 for three moves — unfolding a bun, tonging a hot dog, and splashing on some relish. No sales, no specials, no markdowns. Day in, day out, clear and glorious. No one screws anyone. The emptor is plenty caveat.

That’s why I wanted a deal.

I’ve always understood that certain transactions are designed to be pushed back and forth, made with the expectation of counteroffer, laid on the table in order to be hashed out for weeks or bickered over for mere minutes in the halo of a streetlight. I like getting my price, something that acknowledges my end, makes me feel my business is appreciated. In my time I’ve struck deals with landlords, car mechanics, electricians, house painters, cable guys, real estate agents, drug dealers, with bullies, bosses, pimps, pit bosses, and local politicians. These people expect no less; negotiation is their creed. But I wanted to test myself.

What if I opened every transaction to a haggle? What if I made my own bid on a TiVo? A counteroffer on dry cleaning? What if I treated the list price for a dress shirt as merely a suggestion? Could I insert myself into every transaction so that price wasn’t so much of an absolute? I wanted to know. For three months, I would haggle everything that came my way, insisting to everyone who would listen that price was a fluid force, a matter of argument.

And I started with a hot dog.

The vendor was working a cart on the corner of Forty-seventh and Broadway, across from the Edison Hotel in Manhattan. I stood in a nearby Starbucks and watched as he rolled the cart into place and laid out his garnishes before I approached.
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