Why do the Red Lobster restaurants fail

Stewart O'Nan

A city. A book.

Text: Helmut Schneider Photo: Stefan Joham

For 16 years, echo medienhaus has distributed no less than 100,000 books to Viennese free of charge. The worldwide unique book campaign brings Stewart O’Nan's “Last Night” this year. In the book, the branch manager of a fish restaurant unlocks the restaurant for the last time. The restaurant is too unprofitable for the corporate management.

pre-magazine: “Last Night” is a novel about a working class man. Was it your intention to write about people who don't normally appear in novels?

O’Nan: Yes, but I think that is true of a lot of my books. I asked myself the question: How can I write about work and phrase it in such a way that it's not just about the job? And then I just came across a newspaper article about a “Red Lobster” restaurant that had to close. Somehow, in the back of my mind, I started thinking about it. I asked myself who would the restaurant closure really affect emotionally? Eventually I got the idea to write about someone who is proud to do their job. Because that's fascinating: Although Manny could of course never own a restaurant like Red Lobster, he almost feels like a place that belongs to him. “Last Night” is therefore primarily a novel about pride in doing your job - even if it certainly doesn't make you rich.

Did you do a lot of research?

Yes, I had to know every little detail because Manny sees everything so sharply because he knows he's going to lose the restaurant. Somehow he wants to preserve this world, wants to hold onto it. For the decision-makers in the group, these are all just cost factors - for him, however, they are emotions. Nobody has ever cared about this restaurant as much as he - and I think that gives this drama the emotional pressure it needs. My wife and I went to Red Lobster restaurants and we pretended it was my wife's birthday. When you introduce yourself as a writer, many people will give you answers to all of your questions. So I kept asking waiters, bartenders and managers: “What is your job? How is your work? What are your responsibilities? Tell me about your shift. What do you have to do when the restaurant opens and what do you have to do when it closes? "

And did you answer all of your questions?

Yes, they answered everything! It was great. And I spoke directly to waiters about what needs to be in the book about their everyday lives. And they told me about mothers who have no control over their children, who then - filled with Coke and all - throw up the restaurant. And I promised to tell you ...

Was “Last Night” a successful book?

Yes, very successful! And it was completely unexpected because the publisher didn't want the book at all at first. It was widely discussed in the New York Times and continues to sell well - even many school classes read it. Because it takes a week at most, and because key issues such as the failure of the traditional American economy are addressed - plus the conflict between workers and management. I think the success of “Last Night” also had something to do with the fact that I grew up in Pittsburgh. A lot of jobs were lost there when I was just becoming a teenager. Most of the city's residents worked in steel production. And suddenly that was taken away from us. And nobody knew what to do about it. We felt kind of abandoned.