Murder on the Dancefloor: Tales from Late-Stage Hospitality—The Retiree

She lingered on that final word. Every part of the restaurant felt like it was screaming at her: “Experience me!”

Four oil pastel drinks in various glasses, one green and the rest red, before a blue background.

Early retirement, Lisa Dougherty decided, was completely joyless. Her husband, Michael, picked at his lapel, and looked wistfully at a rapidly diminishing glass of pinot noir, as though he were trying to preserve it. The restaurant they sat in was too dim for her to see without her new glasses, which she had bought for her trial shift at Mangue last week. In searching for some form of validation, upon coming home with the glasses, Lisa told Michael that she “looked like Badger from that old Wind in the Willows movie”. Her husband had glanced at her and snorted, before returning to his computer. Lisa promptly took them off.

While Michael swirled his wine and pretended to sniff it for the umpteenth time, Lisa glanced at the wall, where a neon pink sign bearing the words “girls just wanna have fun” glared accusingly at her. Was she having fun? Lisa sipped her overly sweet cocktail, reaching for a prawn with her chopsticks. Michael’s phone buzzed, inches from his hand. His fingers visibly twitched as he restrained himself from checking it. She sat before her bowl of “wagyu” mapo, watching the fat congeal and the meat turn rigid.

“What do you think, darl?” Michael said. Lisa gathered what seemed like a battalion of strength to force a smile.

“It’s good, love. Cocktail is a bit sweet, but I think that’s what the kids like.”

“You should have got the savvy b. Much more reasonable price, too.”

“I wanted to try something new,” Lisa replied. A mint sprig hung limply from the rim of the glass.

“I always like the old faithful. Can’t go past a good pinot. Almost every restaurant in Melbourne stocks a good one nowadays,” Michael said. He polished off the wine, smacking his lips. “Remind me, I have to go to Mangue. Hermann said they do a ripper wine list. I heard it’s like this place, isn’t it?”

Lisa was looking at a young couple across the restaurant holding hands on the table.

“What is?” she asked.

“Mangue. Bit like this, wasn’t it?”

“Oh. Yeah, South-East Asian fusion. Something like this.”

“You should have a look at another place. You’ve still got a few more years left. Gotta keep working, keep the mind occupied.”

“Yeah,” Lisa replied. She stood up. “Love, I’m just going to the ladies’.”


Lisa recalled her shift at Mangue. It was a desperate move and she knew it, but her daughter, Hannah, was ringing from London every couple of weeks to ask for more money, and her son, James, never rang home at all: employment, she reasoned, would get her out of their home’s confines. She had worked hospitality back in the day when the kids first started school, and she assumed that it would all come back to her, and if not, she could learn quickly.

From the moment the tired-looking assistant manager gave her a second-hand men’s t-shirt with the restaurant’s logo stencilled in gold above the breast pocket, Lisa knew the industry had changed beyond recognition. She served oysters drenched in a watery-looking nahm jim, whole snappers piled with fried shallots and tough-looking ribeyes.  She spent hours trying to think over too-loud music, recalling which customer had which allergy, and rushing across the vast floor. Lisa didn’t remember restaurants being quite this big. Her knees ached as badly as they had after her netball injury fifteen years ago.

“How did you think your shift went?” the twenty-six-year-old floor manager (the next oldest staff member) asked her at the end of her shift. Lisa felt her fingers shaking.

“How do you think it went?” she replied.


“How was everything? How was the experience?” the host asked them as Michael pushed his credit card ahead of Lisa’s. She lingered on that final word. Every part of the restaurant felt like it was screaming at her: “Experience me!” Like at Mangue, she felt impatient to leave.

“It was excellent, thank you,” Michael replied without looking at the host. Lisa exited the restaurant with her husband. He fiddled with his wallet, and they made their way back to the car silently.

You may be interested in...
A graphic with the words "Summerfest" above the words "O-week Expo", with the SSAF logo below the wo

Our Summerfest O-Week Schedule!

?? Hello hello! Summerfest is right upon us, and we'll be around for the following events on the following dates this week of February 21st-Read Article

Creative Arts album cover

Welcome to 2022

Hello hello and welcome to 2022! We're excited about the year ahead and what we are all going to create. Please visit our blog to keep up toRead Article