Life’s a shit sandwich for The Manager, and for him it’s always lunchtime. Running a restaurant is a futile task – regardless of the hours you put in, the size of your smile or how hard you try, no one is ever happy. The bosses always want more money, the staff are perpetually sick and the customers complain and complain. It's a situation in which the weak are employed by the greedy to satisfy the thankless, and because of that it's a wonder the dining industry has existed so long.
The Manager mops his brow and wrings his hands. My friend put her kitten in the washing machine once by mistake and when it came out it was dead. He looks like that. Neurotic tension has bent his back and he dresses like the loneliest gimp at Studio 54. After ten years working 80 hours a week, only a husk of the man his late mother knew remains.
As his employee, I hold him in the utmost respect. He’s consistently lovely and does all he can to look after his staff. He grants us days off when we want them, turns a blind eye to our little indiscretions and is gracious and kind. Unfortunately, he is also weak, beaten down and has been bullied by avaricious owners for far too long.
"Looking happy all the time" has never been The Manager’s strong point. He tries his best to channel the Von Trapp family, but the only sound in his hills are the reverberations in the chasm where his dreams used to be. In classic Freudian transference, he spends most of his time flapping as if Armageddon approaches, telling everyone else they need to calm down.
With a puff of smoke, the owners arrive, sweeping The Manager into the office and closing the door. They demand to know who was responsible for a terrible thing that has made its way to the restaurant's page on TripAdvisor (you might find TripAdvisor to be a useful, informative service, but to us sacks in the industry it's a fucking narc). The Manager insists the problem is dealt with and won’t give the culprit up. They go for him, surprisingly dated insults like "moron" and "stubborn old fool" flying through the woodwork. They're words that wouldn't nick the egos of us younger service staff gathered the other side of the door, but they're eviscerating The Manager, squeezing painful half-splutters of protestation from his guts, playing him like shitty bagpipes.
At our pre-dinner briefing, The Manager tells us that tonight will be his last night. He’s sorry to let us all down, but he just doesn’t care any more.
Service kicks off and The Manager glides through the restaurant like a swallow on the breeze. Relieved of his stress and fear of the superiors, he spreads his wings and flies, drifting and floating from table to table, charming birds on every branch.
Out of nowhere, there’s a "yelp" from the corner. A drunken customer’s been sick. Vomit runs across the bar, all over the till and down the front of the livid barmaid. The Manager must have heard the retch and comes flying down the stairs. He looks a deranged mixture of happy and irate. “How can you do this?” he rages at the vomiter, a weird smirk smearing itself across his face. “You’re disgusting. GET OUT!”
The barmaid cleans up the mess and all is forgotten. The Manager beams, taking his newfound confidence behind the bar and pouring himself a drink.
I deliver some chicken to the last table and turn to walk away. A woman grabs my sleeve, stands up and starts to shout. “I ordered chicken, not salmonella! This isn't even cooked!” I apologise and whisk it away, telling her there’s another one coming and it won’t be on the bill.
Alas, this isn’t enough. “Get me the manager!” she wails. I explain that he’s very busy and reiterate that a fresh plate of chicken is coming and, of course, it is free. “Look, you little shit,” she sneers, “I said: 'Get. Me. The Manager.'” Pointing him out, I suggest she approach with caution as he’s a nice man, but not his usual self tonight.
She snatches her plate from my hand and storms toward him. Pushing her way through the crowd, she thrusts the chicken under his nose. “Madam,” he says, “I heard your waiter telling you that we’re getting you another one and we’ll take it off the bill. What more do you want? Now, take a seat and wait for your food.”
The woman is appalled. “Who do you think you are?” she says in disbelief, seeing what she thinks is indifference and mistaking it for inferiority. “You can’t be the manager. Get me someone more important.”
Her wrath stokes his fire and the flames leap high. The Manager rises like a viper, shit-eating grin working its way across his face again as he climbs from his stool and turns his back on the woman, shakily pouring himself a brandy. “So, you want to see the manager, do you?” he asks, hands jangling the keys in his pockets. "You want to see the manager?"
“Yeah!” the woman cries. He turns around, grabbing his dick through the front of his trousers like Michael Jackson. Wagging his finger in her face, he points at his cock and screams: “Well, here it is, you fucking bitch. Here’s The Fucking Manager.”
He stands straight at last, glowing like Adonis, pulsing with vigour and life. He tears his terrible shirt open at the neck like the Incredible Hulk and, Damascene moment dispensed, slams back his drink and strides free out into the darkness.
To this day, it was the most amazing thing I've ever seen in a restaurant, maybe anywhere.
Follow Max on Twitter: @lunchluncheon
Illustration by Thomas Slater.