Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter

( 13 )

Overview

Warning: May contain material offensive to vegans, pharmaceutical lobbyists, and those on a low-sodium diet. Animals were harmed during the writing of this book.

While Phoebe Damrosch was waiting for life to happen, she supported herself by working as a waitress. Before long she was the only female captain at the four-star New York City restaurant Per Se during its first year. Service Included is the story of her obsession with food, her love affair with a sommelier, and her ...

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Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter

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Overview

Warning: May contain material offensive to vegans, pharmaceutical lobbyists, and those on a low-sodium diet. Animals were harmed during the writing of this book.

While Phoebe Damrosch was waiting for life to happen, she supported herself by working as a waitress. Before long she was the only female captain at the four-star New York City restaurant Per Se during its first year. Service Included is the story of her obsession with food, her love affair with a sommelier, and her amusing, eye-opening, and sometimes shocking experiences in the fascinating, frenetic, highly competitive world of fine dining.

Sitting down at a restaurant table will never be the same.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

A charming debut by a former waiter at the New York City restaurant Per Se slips in some high-end tricks of the trade. Vermont-bred foodie Damrosch was a few years out of Barnard College when she landed a job at chef Thomas Keller's Per Se. Fast-talking and prone to do her homework, in this case assiduously absorbing Keller's French Laundry Cookbook, Damrosch starts as a backserver, and her training is intensive: attending food seminars, memorizing the acreage of Central Park and learning how not to interrupt dining couples holding hands. In a few months, she's elevated to captain (a rare job for a woman), which entails navigating guests through the elaborate menus and essentially learning the subtleties of putting the guest at ease. Anticipating desire becomes Damrosch's role, as well as making sure New York Times food critic Frank Bruni has the best meal of his life. (Indeed, the place receives four stars.) She begins a romance with Andre the sommelier. Much of the latter half of this youthful, exuberant memoir is overtaken by their burgeoning affair, although the most delightful chapter, "I Can Hear You," is full of vignettes of Damrosch's real-life waiting, i.e., the delivery of the Fabergé egg as a marriage proposal, and the parade of celebrities she meets along the way. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Cautioning readers that it may be offensive to "Republicans, vegans, pharmaceutical lobbyists, those on a low-sodium diet [and that] animals were harmed during the writing of this book," former waiter Damrosch tells of her 18-month span at chef Thomas Keller's New York restaurant Per Se. Those expecting a tell-all, name-dropping book, however, will be mightily disappointed; most of it is filled with Damrosch's love affair with a coworker. The book's appeal lies in the tips sprinkled throughout the text, e.g., "a diner's bill of rights," which includes the right to have water and enough light to read one's menu, and dining tips like avoiding making faces or gagging noises. Recommended for those interested in the inner workings of an upscale restaurant, but not an essential purchase.
—Nicole Mitchell

Kirkus Reviews
An insider's look at the first two years of Per Se, Thomas Keller's New York complement to his legendary Napa Valley restaurant, French Laundry. "The secret to service is not servitude, but anticipating desire," Damrosch learned. She was a novice when she scored a pre-opening interview with Chef Keller and landed a job as backserver, pouring water, serving bread, setting and clearing for each course, among other things. Soon she was on the fast track and in 2004 became Per Se's first female captain, the person who greets diners, takes their orders, sells and serves the wine and presents the check at the end of the meal. Damrosch acknowledges that the delights she chronicles are not for the budget-conscious: Per Se's tasting menus start at $250 per person, and at one point she mentions two brothers spending "their usual $20,000 on a few bottles." In some justification of the steep cost, she notes that if four guests at one table each have different menus, this could mean 20 or so courses and close to 80 different dishes, and that Per Se's menu and attention to detail have made it one of only five four-star restaurants in New York City. Mouthwatering descriptions of the exotic fare may persuade skeptics that it's worth the money. Of the custard course, Damrosch writes, "My favorite, the deviled egg with a truffle ‘Pop-Tart,' looked exactly like the picnic food and toaster treat except that the pastry was filled with a marmalade of Perigord truffles and drizzled with truffle frosting." Other topics include the author's romance with a sexy sommelier and the staff's downtime activities: a late-night excursion to find the city's best bone marrow, for instance, or a weekend spent at a Vermontdairy farm learning about cheese in order to better serve their customers. Well-written and fascinating, though its appeal may be limited to the terminally food-obsessed. Agent: Molly Friedrich/The Friedrich Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061228155
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/7/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 778,472
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Phoebe Damrosch is a graduate of Barnard College at Columbia University and holds an M.F.A. from Sarah Lawrence College. She lives in New York City and no longer waits on tables.

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Read an Excerpt

Service Included
Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter

Chapter One

The art of the day job

Eventually I had to accept that I wasn't working in restaurants to support my art like most of my coworkers; I was posing as an artist to justify my work as a waiter. The small café where I worked in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, employed artists as if there were quotas to be met: a drummer, a filmmaker, an actor, a dancer, a photographer, a designer, and myself—who at that point fancied herself a writer. Every so often someone would go on tour, decide to move back to some small town in some small state, or simply leave out of frustration with what he or she wasn't getting to do. It's a dangerous combination, this dichotomy of artist/waiter, one that often leads to listless service and half-finished Margaritas forgotten behind the computer.

I lived in a studio apartment upstairs from my high school sweetheart in Williamsburg (recently rated the hippest neighborhood in America—how scientific a study that was, I hardly know). We had broken up three years before and were now pretending to be friends, sharing a computer and sweaters, buying groceries, building bookshelves, and sabotaging each other's love life. That we spent most of our time together in the kitchen was no surprise; food had always been our bond. Between our early experimentations and our reunion years later, we had grown confident in our techniques and ambitious in our undertakings, mastering emulsifications and reductions, the art of kneading, and the importance of letting things rest. He played the chef, and I the visionary, reading recipes out loud from thefloor, my back against the refrigerator door.

When I found myself without a job, my ex-love suggested that I interview at the café where he worked. I would shoot for a busboy position since I had no experience in the business. When the manager asked if I knew how to make a cappuccino, I said in all seriousness that I didn't, but that I drank a lot of them. I have no idea why she hired me.

The café modeled itself after a funny amalgamation of cultures, from its curved mosaic ceiling to the eclectic cuisine, which I called Middleterranean: scrambled eggs with coriander and ginger, lamb shank with currants and pine nuts, salmon on Israeli couscous. Having just escaped my last job on Fifth Avenue with my sanity intact (I'll get to that), I pierced my nose, dyed my new pixie cut a dramatic platinum blond, and took to keeping my corkscrew, or wine key, tucked into knee-high boots. The café was perhaps best known for brunch, when the line ran out the door and we mastered the art of sprinting while balancing three or four coffee cups. Bed-headed hipsters make challenging brunch guests, barely able to utter their Bloody Mary order, let alone abide a wait for their eggs Barbarosa with crawfish and chorizo. Margaritas were essential to survival.

I was the only busboy not named Mohammed. Here, as in many restaurants around the city, any deviation from the distinct class/race hierarchy makes everyone uneasy. In most New York restaurants, the chef is Caucasian, the waiters are starving artists, the busboys are from Bangladesh, and the kitchen workers and dishwashers are from Latin America. I honestly think I was promoted so quickly from busboy to waiter because the chef and the waiters felt uncomfortable asking me to mop up their spills, take out the trash, and clean the windows. I certainly wasn't promoted for my skill or knowledge. When I came to the kitchen to pick up a salad, the cooks took a moment longer to anchor the teetering greens between beet support beams. They knew that when I picked up a bowl of soup the crostini, which was supposed to remain on the rim of the bowl, would be launched like a life raft into turbulent waves of soup. The foam on my soy chai resembled dish suds. I thought Cristal was a china company.

And yet, what better way to begin my career in the business than with a restaurant rife with clichés: roaches in the dry goods, mice everywhere, shady finances, messy love affairs, drugs, theft, basement flooding, and chefs with a penchant for throwing pots, pans, and produce. I lasted more than a year, in which time I saw at least ten waiters and two chefs come and go. We were always out of more than half the wines on the wine list and often couldn't locate the other half. The reservation system was a pile of Post-its.

When the neighborhood really started to boom and became saturated with new restaurants even hipper than ours, business lagged. The owners, whose only restaurant experience had been to piece this one together with duct tape and borrowed money, responded by hiring a real manager. They couldn't afford a seasoned one, so they found a cheap one. Enter Jessica, a smoky twenty-four-year-old with a severe bob and a crafty, brooding look. She fit right into the scene, with her leg warmers and short skirts, her carefully smudged eyeliner, and a tube of red lipstick she used as a bookmark in the new reservation book. Within months, both her drug habit and the fact that she was sleeping with the chef were common knowledge. One day she simply disappeared, leaving behind one black sneaker and a mirror. For a while, I took over many of her responsibilities: ordering wine, scheduling the Mohammeds, and planning private parties. The more involved I became in the business, the shadier I realized it was. We owed money to everyone and paid them off only when we needed to order something else.

I only began working in restaurants after I had exhausted quite a few other nontraditional ways of making a living. I had written a Web page for a Filipino dating service. I had walked a dog. I had consolidated online food reviews (my first and last desk job, lasting a whole six weeks). I had proofread for law firms, babysat for JFK's three grandchildren, and helped organize documentary film viewings at women's prisons. For two years after college, I pretended that I was about to apply to Ph.D. English literature programs, mostly because I had been in school my whole life and couldn't imagine anything else.

Service Included
Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter
. Copyright © by Phoebe Damrosch. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

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( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 15 of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 1, 2009

    DID NOT LIKE AT ALL

    This book was a waste of my time and money.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 4, 2010

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    I Also Recommend:

    Stop Half Way

    I am a fan of Waiter Rant, so I was interested in picking up this book. After being a long time reader of waiterrant.net (and indeed everything I've heard about the food service industry) the description Ms. Damrosch gives of working at Per Se sounds like a service professional's wet dream.

    The first half of the book is interesting. She describes the training process for working at a 5 star restaurant, which was very in depth. The waiters and waitresses had to know everything about what was served, the building they were in, what food pairings went well together, etc. I think it was awful at letting you feel getting to know any of the characters in the book. A lot of focus was put on the author's rather unremarkable love and personal life, which strangely left me not feeling like she had told me anything important about herself at all.

    Perhaps I'm asking for too much, but when I read a book I like to feel like I'm connecting with the author or character on some level, and once the description of the restaurant aspect of the book had come to a close, it was pure pain to finish.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 23, 2009

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    I Also Recommend:

    Food For Thought For Food

    Aside from the irrelevant and rather boring personal romance, the author has provided a nourishing insight into the innards of a top flight restaurant. Always interesting, frequently entertaining, this is a must read for those who are serious about food--particularly if you eat out. Sensational.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2013

    A reasonable read for FOH folks.

    A bit more story than technique.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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