Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan
Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan is a national bestseller and one of the most catching novels from his collection. I was attracted to this book by the author’s style of writing, since he captivates the reader into the story by describing details such that one feels like they are part of the story. The story is about the last day of work at the Red Lobster located inside a busy mall in Torrington, Connecticut in New Britain. As I read the book I was convinced that employers were wrong to lay off workers, since there are other ways of salvaging a business than shutting down. This essay will reflect the importance of senior staff creating good relationships with junior one, the challenges that employees go through when they are terminated from their long term employment, as well as the character’s ability to cope with challenges at work and move on after such a termination.
Despite the announcement by the owners of the Darden restaurant chain that runs the lobster to close it down, Manny, the manager could avoid opening the place one last time. All his adult life he has devoted himself into ensuring that the restaurant produces fair performance. The story began as Manny drove his beat-up vehicle into the parking lot. He meets his ex-girlfriend, Jacque, and could not help but feel nostalgia at the thought that by the end of that night he would lose the two most important things of his adult life. These were ‘his lobster’ as he affectionately called it and the love of his life Jacque. He still loved them both and only his strong will to move on would propel him into the future. His mind took him back to good moments that he had shared with Jacque. Suddenly he was jolted into the present when he remembered that it was only five days to Christmas and yet he had not bought his pregnant girlfriend a gift. Although he had a strong will to move on, the past few days had not been good for him as he had lost grandmother who was his only guardian, his true love Jacque and his now pregnant girlfriend was pressuring him to marry her despite the fact that he was about to lose his long term lobster. The author uses this first scene in his book to show the readers the past events in Manny’s life and his commitment to the lobster. Even with the knowledge that he was about to lose his current job, he arrived in time to open the restaurant for the last time. Some of his staff members have agreed to work with him for the last time even though most of them have been laid off. They do this out of loyalty to Manny who was a helpful manager rather than due to love for the job. This brings the idea of motivating workers so that they can be loyal even during difficult moments. This first part of the book also brings out the idea of dissolution that occurs on committed workers when their employers decide to cut costs by lying off.
The author drew my attention to the importance of senior staff, like mangers creating good working relationships with their subordinates. Manny had managed to win the affection and loyalty of his staff members due to his commitment and dedication to them. He finally went into the lobster. He realized he had lesser staff members as even the ones who had pledged to come had failed to show up due to the snow storm that was building up by the hour. Those who had showed up could not stop complaining and wondering aloud why they had been staying for so long in such a bad working place. Manny offered to help in the kitchen and also with the serving as he always led through his example. However, that alone could not help the fact that the store had insufficient supplies. That was surely going to be a difficult day for Manny since many customers coming to shop for Christmas in the mall were expected to come for lunch at the restaurant. Nevertheless, Manny prepared his staff for the day ahead. The morning hours had few customers as the restaurant was almost empty. Some of their first customers included a couple with a very unsettled child. He made tantrums and in the process vomits all the food on the restaurant’s carpet. Manny was forced to wipe these off him due to the shortage of staff. The customer numbers continued to build up with the same temple as the storm and the snow outside. A group of Chinese travelers suddenly showed up at the restaurant seeking for better services than the ones they had left elsewhere. Manny was immediately pressured to impress them. This group was particularly fascinated by the spacious men’s room. Manny runs back and forth between helping in the kitchen and serving customers. Their supplies were fast running out as Jacque served out baskets of shrimp in large quantities that customers were not able to eat all. At one point tension in the kitchen built up between disgruntled employees and a fight breaks out. Through his managerial skills, Manny was able to calm them down and get them back to work.
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The author also reflected importance of remaining calm when challenging situations arise at work as well as how to overcome such challenges and turn them into pleasant situations. A group of fifteen staff members of one of the offices neighboring the restaurant show up without a prior notice. They wanted food and drinks to celebrate retirement of one of their own. This is contrary to what the employees at the lobster were going through as they were not excited about their lay off. Manny felt more pressured since supplies were particularly very low and tempers were flaring among his staff. They managed to serve this group enough food and drink although the bartender almost ruined the moment when he mixed up their drinks. An old friend of Manny also showed up for lunch at that time. This was his good old high school wrestling coach. He was a jovial man who spoke loudly and fearlessly. He manages to lighten Manny’s spirit, which was now at an all-time low. This is because the day had turned out reverse to what he had expected. Although he knew this was his last day as the manager of the Red Lobster, he had hoped that he would give an amazing experience for all his customers. He kept wondering what he had not done right or what he could have done better to impress his customers and his bosses during his tenure. He therefore was counting so much on this last day to give him the answer to these questions and give him the pride and satisfaction that he had done a good job with the lobster. This, he knew, was not possible, yet he put too much pressure on himself to succeed in this last shift as manager.
Stewart O’Nan reflected how individuals could move on after termination of work or personal relationships. During his break, Manny rushes to the Zales jewelry store that was around the corner to select a ‘romantic’ Christmas gift as Deena, his current pregnant girlfriend, had directed him. While at the jewelry store, Manny could not help but remember how he and Jacque had received news of Jacque’s pregnancy. He had been overjoyed at the thought of having a baby with his true love and girlfriend. However, Jacque had decided to get rid of the pregnancy saying that she was not ready to be a mother. This marked the onset of their arguments and their relationship had ended up falling apart. Now he could not help but wonder if he could have held on to Jacque as he still had feelings for him. Now he was torn between his responsibilities to Deena for her pregnancy and his true feelings for Jacque. He knew too well that Jacque had also moved on to another relationship but he could not hide to himself the fact that he wanted so much to ask her to go with him tonight. At this time, darkness was crawling in as it was already evening. The strong storm was also making the evening look even darker due to the grey clouds that had not covered the entire sky. Manny knew that the end was fast approaching. He headed back to the restaurant with Deena’s gift in his hands and Jacques memories on his mind.
When he arrived at the restaurant one of the staff members announced that they were experiencing a blackout. Many immediately realized that this meant they would use candles to light the place. The kitchen was going to be a mess as everyone would be forced to work manually since the few machines that they had would no longer run. As the night wore on and customers trickled in and out of the restaurant, Manny’s mind kept racing back and forth into the past and the future. He was among the few lucky ones who were offered chance to work at the Olive Restaurant. He knew he would have less power as the assistant manager and he would take orders from his manager. This would not be difficult as he was good at taking instructions and following them. His eyes wondered around the restaurant and he was amazed by the glow of candle light on the windows and on the faces of customers dining at the lobster. This was a magical sight that made him very happy. The customer’s started trickling out one at a time. Their last clients were an old couple who get arguing with each other at the table. Manny held on tightly to the hope that they would at least thank him for a great meal and service. He imagined the man shaking his hand and congratulating him for doing a good job under the tough conditions. This however remained just an imagination as the couple wobbled out of the restaurant arguing about their journey to Massachusetts. The story ended at the parking lot where Manny sits a while in his car with thoughts on his mind. After a long, quiet silence, he decided to head home and avoid going to his favorite joint for spiced chicken as he realized that he was already too fat. He was determined to move on to his next job and improve his health as well as accept Deena’s proposal to get married.
Thus, the ideas that I gathered from reading this book included the importance of appreciating workers. This not only builds their morale but also makes them loyal to the employers. When faced with difficult conditions at work, it is important to remain calm and work as a team so as to overcome the challenges. During unexpected termination such as the one witnessed by the employees of the Red Lobster, it is important to be devoted to your work up to the last shift. It is also vital for such employees to accept their new status and move on.