I was fifteen when I got my first job as a trainee waiter in a posh German owned hotel on the west coast of Ireland. One day the owner’s grandson turned up. The owner insisted that family members who wanted to join the business had to learn the ropes by spending time in every department. Marcus was the same age as us so we took him under our wing, and we quickly became great friends. He was tall and gangling and only spoke basic school-book English. But he was so eager to learn that he buzzed around like a lunatic wasp, sometime falling over himself in his hurry.
Anyway, one evening a crowd of English businessmen converged on the dining room and it was all hands on deck. Wine flowed and the banter was loud, and we were so busy taking orders and serving the food we didn’t have time to look out for each other. But Marcus seemed to be holding his own amongst the melee.
Suddenly he rushed up to me in the kitchen. He was all red in the face and anxiety dripped off him. Apparently one of the guests kept clicking his fingers at him and he had no idea what it meant.
‘Well,’ I said without really thinking it through properly. ‘It means that he is very important and you must show him extra respect.’
Marcus swallowed nervously, his Adam’s apple bouncing like a yo-yo around the inside of his collar. ‘How do I do this?’
‘Very simple. You go over to him, give a respectful bow and pat your back pocket. Then say: as I am your dog tonight, bite this.’
Unfortunately before I could tell Marcus that I was only joking he took off like a racing snake. And I watched in horror as he gave the bow, patted his back pocket and gave the sweetest smile. And I cringed as the enormous guest slowly rose to his feet, wiping his mouth with his napkin.
And he gave such a loud laugh that the glasses shook on the table in front of him. He gave Marcus what looked like a man-hug, clapped him on the back and sat down again. And Marcus had one of the greatest nights of his career as the guests joked and fussed over him.
And, you know, he never thanked me for that advice.