The Restaurant General Manager | Conversations on the Train

The restaurant manager
The restaurant manager

I’m on the 7pm from Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads. It’s the first off-peak train of the evening. On a Friday, it’s often so busy that if you don’t have a reserved seat, you’ll be standing until Reading where the commuters get off. It‘s these factors which lead to my standing next to a rather talkative Dutchman. He tells me about a corporate event he’s been catering at. For Coca-cola. He mumbles something about rotting teeth. I tell him I’ve never liked fizzy drinks.

“I’m temping at the moment, while I’m between jobs,” he says.

“And what were you doing?” I ask.

“I was general manager at a restaurant.”

“A big restaurant?”

“Yeah, about 90 seats. Had a butcher shop out the front. It was called the Butcher and Grill… in Wimbledon.”

“Is it shut now?”

“No, I just moved on.”

“And now you’re temping… Are you going to become general manager of somewhere else?”

“I hope so, got a few things in the pipeline. Was talking to Heston Blumenthal’s manager yesterday. You know, the Fat Duck, the three star Michelin restaurant?”

I nod.

“It’s outside of London though, in Maidenhead. I don’t want to be out of London again. I opened a restaurant outside of London once. Moved to Ireland for a bit. Want to be here for a while now.”

“A lot of people go to Ireland for food-related work,” I say.

“Yeah well I ran away from it, left my marriage, left the country. Although there are bits of the country I love.”

“Did you marry an Irish lady?” I ask.

“Yeah, and her family….”

“Did you have a kid?”

“Yeah, six years old.”

“So the six year-old lives in Ireland?”

“Yeah – we talk a lot on Skype.”

“Do you never go there?”

“Every ten weeks or so…”

We talk about where we’re both going now. He’s off to see his girlfriend, I’m going to a friend’s kid’s first birthday.

“It’s important isn’t it, to the parents?” I say.

“Well, if you’re not the parents you probably don’t give a monkeys but the funny thing is when you have kids yourself, you realise how important these things are. In hospitality I’ve had to deal with a lot of kids.”

“Especially when they throw stuff on the floor?” I ask. I’ve worked in cafés before.

“Gosh yes – in the restaurant you had very city-wise aspirational parents and they didn’t seem to know how to bring up kids any more. There’s a marked difference in how kids behave now in relation to how they behaved when I was general managing ten years ago.”

“Really?” I say.

“Huge. I mean I’m not trying to say they should be kept on some ball and chain but just you know, the parents are sitting there gloshing wine – not all of them but more than before – and the kids are just running amock and you know, someone could drop a hot dish on them and then all hell would break loose.”

“Has that ever happened?”

“I have seen it happen once, yeah. The worst thing is when the kids get upset but the parents don’t actually do anything. That’s when I think, ‘had you actually considered what being a parent would mean or is it just something you were told to do?’”

“Do a lot of people bring kids in the evenings?” I ask.

“Mainly the daytime and weekends.”

“Is there a regular amount of temping work?”

“Loads of it, London is just so engulfed with corporate functions. It’s not as well paid as it used to be – five, six years ago it was ten pounds an hour – now its gone right back down to minimum wage. There are just so many people lining up to work in London. Every time I go to the agencies there are just queues of people waiting to register.”

“I wouldn’t want to work in catering. Aside from anything else I’d drop the plates,” I say.

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