Turning Tables

( 31 )


Erin Edwards is an up-and-coming marketing exec who frequents New York’s hippest eateries—until the tables are turned. Now, newly unemployed, Erin only has days to transform herself into a first-class server at Roulette, one of Manhattan’s top restaurants. Can she make it in a world where survival is all about . . .

But life behind the apron is even worse than Erin imagined—within days she finds herself in hot water with Roulette’s egomaniacal...

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Turning Tables

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Erin Edwards is an up-and-coming marketing exec who frequents New York’s hippest eateries—until the tables are turned. Now, newly unemployed, Erin only has days to transform herself into a first-class server at Roulette, one of Manhattan’s top restaurants. Can she make it in a world where survival is all about . . .

But life behind the apron is even worse than Erin imagined—within days she finds herself in hot water with Roulette’s egomaniacal celebrity chef and the owner’s outrageous wife. And then there’s the surly, dismissive clientele—all but Daniel Fratelli, the flirtatious TV news producer who may just be as nice as he seems. Determined not to crack under pressure, Erin sets out to master the art of waitressing—becoming part shrink, part slave, and part foie gras pusher. It seems like she’ll be hustling for that twenty percent for the rest of her life, until her quirky best friend comes up with the perfect recipe for success—or a second course of disaster.

In this smart, sexy, and wickedly observant novel, identical twins and onetime real-life waitresses Heather and Rose MacDowell bring a deliciously tart verisimilitude to this story of a young woman’s adventures at Manhattan’s most exclusive new haunt.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Turning Tables is tons of fun! Heather and Rose MacDowell’s twin voices blend seamlessly to create a delectable fusion of humor, heart, hope and keen observation—peppered liberally with some great waitress horror stories.” –Claire Cook, author of Life's a Beach and Must Love Dogs

"Turning Tables is like a top chef's tasting menu, offering one delight after another with plenty of delicious surprises along the way."—Claire LaZebnik, author of Knitting Under the Influence and Same as it Never Was

"Heather and Rose MacDowell's debut novel, Turning Tables, is a hilarious read which rings true. It's the perfect book for anyone who's ever been forced to take orders..." —Leanne Shear and Tracey Toomey, authors of The Perfect Manhattan and Cocktail Therapy

“A spirited debut…. The setting sparkles.”—Kirkus Reviews

“This page-turner ... is tons of fun, especially for those who've done time in the service industry.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

Turning Tables is full of factual insights for curious foodies.”—Sacramento Bee

“A hilarious read that rings true. It’s the perfect book for anyone who’s ever been forced to take orders.” —Leanne Shear and Tracey Toomey, authors of Lipstick Therapy

“Entertaining . . . ought to be required reading for restaurant reviewers and lousy tippers.” —Boston Globe

Publishers Weekly

Penned by twins who've paid their dues in the restaurant biz, this whip-smart debut chronicles a brief slice of the life of Erin Edwards, a marketing manager who loses her job and cashes in family favors to snag a wait-staff position at Roulette, a top-flight New York City restaurant. Erin, devoid of waitressing experience, has a disastrous first day and comes under the scrutiny of Steve, the restaurant's grouchy owner, and chef Carl, who's as charming as he is terrifying. Luckily for Erin, seasoned waiter Cato Poole offers to mentor her. With Cato's help and friendship, Erin learns the ropes. Though Steve and Carl make it clear that they've got their eye on her, Erin manages to canoodle with a co-worker and a powerful television producer customer. This page-turner reads like recent restaurant-linked memoirs, with accounts of unrealistic expectations, slippery tactics, critic- and rival-driven anxieties and general kitchen mayhem. Chick lit standards like gossipy scenes with the best friend are mercifully short, and though the novel ends on a cheesy note, the rest of the ride is tons of fun, especially for those who've done time in the service industry. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
School Library Journal

The authors, identical twins, have drawn on their joint experiences waiting tables to write a novel about the struggles of one waitress to make it in an upscale Manhattan restaurant. After losing her job at a marketing firm, Erin goes to work waiting tables at Roulette. She knows nothing about the intimidating restaurant business, but sheer determination and a little help from her friends get her through the harrowing ordeal of managing difficult customers, dealing with an ornery chef, and just trying to stay upright. Erin struggles with not only the job for which she is completely unqualified, but also a blooming relationship with Daniel, one of Roulette's customers. The novel touts a rather out-of-date message, that you are not your job and that you can date anyone you want, even if you're just a waitress. Often painful and sometimes funny, it will appeal to readers of Sophie Kinsella's "Shopaholic" series and other chick-lit tales of New York singles. Recommended for large popular fiction collections.
—Anika Fajardo

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Reviews
Twins Heather and Rose pair up in a spirited debut novel about a down-and-out New Yorker who takes a job waiting tables at one of the city's best restaurants. Erin Edwards was a marketing executive on the rise-until she was fired. Her rent money quickly drying up, her father uses his connections to secure her a waitressing job at Roulette, a Manhattan hot spot where terrifying chef Carl Corbett reigns supreme. A co-worker, Cato, gives Erin a crash course in upscale waitressing, but both Carl and the restaurant's owner do everything they can to get her to quit, including saddling her in a harness to dust the chandelier and making her stay late to clean the kitchen of chicken blood. Erin is a rather boring protagonist, but other, outrageous characters, like Cato, an out-of-work gay actor, and Gina, the owner's wife, who races through the pages screaming in Italian-accented English, add life to the story. Despite constant abuse and the fact that her skills improve only minimally, Erin refuses to quit. Things turn steamy during a brief love affair with a handsome line cook, and grow complicated when Erin finds herself falling for a wealthy-and unavailable-patron. This love story, and other scenes that take place outside of Roulette, are a snooze, but the action within the restaurant is worthwhile. Descriptions of fickle diners and mouthwatering dishes balance out the sitcom-like dialogue and certain ridiculous plot points, such as Erin's foray into the world of pet adoption. The setting sparkles, but the writing does not. Agent: Kim Witherspoon/Inkwell Management
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385338554
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/24/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Heather and Rose MacDowell are identical twins who have waited tables in some of the best (and worst) restaurants in Manhattan, Nantucket, and San Francisco. Today they live on opposite coasts and write by email and phone. They dine out frequently and are big tippers.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I’m going to kill Harold.

While I’m at it, maybe I’ll kill my father, too. They’re the ones who got me into this mess. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be standing in a swank twenty-table dining room, wondering if the wineglasses are going to shatter.

“Whoever puts wilted flowers on a table is crazy! Should go to an asylum!”

My new boss, Gina, paces back and forth in stilettos and tight jeans, waving a limp white bloom. “How many languages I have to tell you in?” she shouts in a heavy Italian accent. “What did I do to deserve this?”

I stand frozen in a line of waiters, asking myself the same thing. What exactly did I do? Oh, that’s right. Four months after being laid off, I let Harold, my father’s golf buddy and one of the biggest liquor distributors in the state, talk me into taking a job at a “hot spot” called Roulette. “The owners are customers of mine, real sweethearts. And your dad tells me you can practically run a restaurant single-handedly.”

Single-handedly? Did my father really think that I, a former marketing manager, could wait tables at one of the best restaurants in Manhattan? Did he honestly believe that a college summer serving chowder prepared me for this?

“Answer me!” Gina shrieks.

I jump. Somebody answer her. Please.

“The florist has really been slipping lately,” says Cato, the waiter who’s been assigned to train me. He has a spiky blond crew cut and wears a T-shirt that says Queen for a Day.

“I don’t care! Is your job to choose what goes on the table!”

“It won’t happen again, we promise,” says Ron. His deeply lined face and humble manner say “waiter for life.”

Gina tosses the flower onto the scrolled carpeting. “I can’t run a business with promises. In my country, is different. A waiter spends his own money before he gives dead plants to a guest. I turn my back for one lousy minute and what happens? Everything goes to shit!”

I step closer to Cato, hoping to make myself invisible, but catch Gina’s attention instead. “Ah,” she says, leaning forward to get a look at me. She’s older than I thought, probably in her early forties. “You must be the new girl. The one Harold sent us.”

“Erin Edwards,” I say, my voice shaking. “Nice to meet you.”

She smiles and extends a skeletal hand. “Gina Runyan. You know Harold and Brenda a long time, I hear.”

“Most of my life. I used to house-sit for them when I was younger.” I don’t mention that their cat ate Cheetos on my watch or that I hosted a three-day party for my senior class while Harold and his wife bicycled around County Clare.

“For other people we make two interviews and a background check, but Harold brought us Ramon, our best prep cook, and he says we’ll be happy with you the same way.”

“He does?”

Gina tilts her head and her waist-length dark hair swings out to one side. “What size you are?”

“Uh . . . six, usually.”

“You look more like eight to me. We give you a nice uniform. I hope it fits.”

Eight? “I’ll try to squeeze into it.”

“Is not easy being a woman, I know.” Gina gestures to Cato. “This shirt you wear. You have a mirror at home? Purple is no good on you.”

Cato’s expression is calm and flat. “You’re right. I look better in earth tones.”

Everyone waits in silence while Gina moves from table to table, scrutinizing each centerpiece. Finally allowing myself to breathe, I glance around the dining room and take in my surroundings for the first time: cathedral ceiling, huge multi-colored chandelier, red velvet banquettes, walls covered in striped silver silk. It looks like three different designers ran wild and went way over budget.

“Mama!” Gina sets down the last crystal vase as a frail little boy runs into the dining room. He wears a navy blue school uniform and carries an overstuffed backpack.

“Nino!” she says, throwing out her arms. “How was your kindergarten today?”

He drops the backpack and flings himself against her narrow thighs. “Okay.”

“Just okay? We pay a lot to get you in that school. You must like it.” She turns his head with her hands. “Say hello to Erin. She starts working tonight.”

“Hi,” he says in a small voice.

“Hello there. How are you?”

He studies me with suspicious brown eyes. “Daddy says boys make more money than girls.”

“Hush now!” Gina snaps. She gives me an apologetic smile. “He doesn’t know what he says. Come on, Nino. You want a soda and some ice cream?” She takes his hand and pulls him toward a lounge filled with smoky glass tables and black leather club chairs.

“What, I don’t get any ice cream?” Derek says when she’s out of earshot. He has a wrestler’s build and a deep, penetrating voice. One of his pant legs is rolled up, revealing a calf streaked with bicycle grease.

Jane, the only woman on the crew, grabs the wilted flower off the floor. “That’s it. Feed the kid sugar so he’s too wired to notice that Mom’s psycho.”

“Welcome to the family, Erin,” Cato says. “Come on. Let’s get you that uniform.”

I trot to keep up as he leads me to the back of the dining room and down a slate-floored hallway. “So, what do you know about Roulette?” he says over his shoulder.

“Not much. Just what Harold told me.” He doesn’t need to know about the two anxious hours I spent digging up information I found on Google last night:

Roulette’s chef was first in his class at CIA, and cut his teeth at Le Bernardin under the late Gilbert Le Coze. . . . He combines French technique, a modernist edge, and an endless imagination, making New American food new again. . . . The wine cellar includes such treasures as a 1971 Pétrus Pomerol that orbited Earth on the Soyuz spacecraft. . . .

“We’re one of the top-five reservations in the city right now,” Cato says. “That means no slow nights and no empty tables. I hope you’re ready to work.”

With a tower of bills sitting on my coffee table? “Absolutely. As much as I can.” Anything to hang on to the rent-stabilized one bedroom I used to take for granted.

“That’s what I like to hear.”

He pushes open a pair of swinging doors and we step into the kitchen. “This,” he says, “is the center of our little universe.” I stop, momentarily stunned by acres of glittering white tile and stainless steel. The room throbs with the metal-on-metal clang of pots hitting burners, the drone of exhaust fans, and the loud voices of cooks. At least a dozen of them work at massive, steaming stoves; racks of well-scrubbed pans dangle from the ceiling.

“Guys, I want you to meet Erin,” Cato shouts.

They glance over and I give them a little wave that I instantly regret. “Hi.”

Cato starts reeling off names and positions, as if words like garde-manger and poissonier were actually in my vocabulary. I try to make up sayings in my head so I won’t forget anybody, but give up after “Lorenzo the sauce guy” and “hope-he’s-single Phil,” a grill cook with thick, bristly brown hair and blue eyes. Strange that I never thought of white double-breasted jackets as hot until this very moment.

“Carl won’t be here until the staff meeting at five,” Cato tells me.

“Carl. The chef?”

“Chef, commandant, demigod, take your pick. I prefer ‘food fascist,’ but what you call him is totally up to you.”

We start up a steep flight of stairs at the back of the kitchen. Each step is lined with slip-proof tape, and the walls are scuffed and splashed with what looks like dried coffee. “You haven’t met Steve, have you?” Cato asks.

“Not yet.”

“Then get ready. ’Cause you’re about to.” We turn at the top of the stairs and stop at a partially closed door marked “Office.” Cato knocks twice. “Steve?”

A muffled groan comes from inside. “Yup!”

I see a fleshy bare back, followed by a towel-covered rump, hairy legs, and brown loafers. Steve is lying on a massage table, his face pointed at the floor. The masseur, a muscular man in drawstring pants and Birkenstocks, looks irritated. “Can’t it wait? He’s finally starting to relax.”

“Just need to introduce Erin,” Cato says.

Steve raises his head and turns a slack cheek toward me. “Hi,” he says, straining to sound friendly. “I forgot you were coming today. Cato showing you around?”

“Yes,” I say. “Your restaurant is beautiful.”

“Better be. Cost enough to decorate. We have my wife to thank for that.” He slides over an inch and settles down heavily. “I’ll talk to you more in a bit. Right now, I need Alex to work last night’s party of twenty out of my shoulders.”

“Sure. That’s fine.”

Cato takes my elbow and guides me out of the office. “Sorry. I forgot Thursday was massage day.” He takes me to the end of the hall and ducks under a low doorway. “Well, here it is. The last frontier. I keep meaning to bring in some plants to liven up the place, but I’ve been so busy with acting classes and all.”

A row of metal lockers fills one wall of the cramped room, which is made even smaller by a slanted ceiling. Several chairs with blown-out seams sit around an old card table. A dented silver candlestick holds open the only window, letting in humid September air and traffic noise from Madison Avenue. The place reeks of sweat and cigarette smoke.

Cato opens a narrow closet and pulls out a slim black skirt and a white shirt with ruched sides. “Armani,” he says, handing them to me. “Ruin ’em and you’re out six hundred bucks.”

“Six hundred?”

“What’d you expect, J. Crew? I’ve only been here a year and I’m already on shirt number three.” He feels around the top shelf, then tosses me a package of black tights. “Here’s a starter pair. You’ll be putting them through heavy rotation, so you’d better stock up.”

“I will,” I say, planning to quit long before they wear out.

He takes a dark gray suit and lilac silk tie from a locker and drapes them over the back of a chair. “I’ll look the other way if you want,” he says, unzipping his jeans. “Otherwise just go ahead and strip. That’s what the rest of us do.”

We change in awkward silence. Uh-oh. I guess I am a size eight. When I turn around, Cato is no longer a would-be actor with a side job, but a polished, professional waiter. Even his crew cut seems stylish instead of funky. He punches in for both of us, then hesitates, frowning at my ballet flats. “You brought different shoes, I hope.”

I look down. “Why? I’m supposed to wear black ones, right?”

“Yeah, but you know how it is when service starts. Stuff falls all over, the kitchen floor gets slippery . . . If you’re not wearing rubber soles, you get airmailed.”

“I’ve never had a problem with them before, but . . . okay. I’ll wear different shoes tomorrow.”

“Good. See you downstairs.”

After he leaves, I stand in my uniform in front of the smeared full-length mirror. This is not how I pictured myself looking at twenty-eight. The glass is warped, making my small chin disappear and my hazel eyes seem farther apart. Even my hair is different—more red than light brown. Considering what I’m about to do, it seems fitting that I hardly recognize myself.

Maybe this is some kind of karma. My restaurant etiquette was never the best, even when I was earning a lot of money and eating out three nights a week. I made a habit of changing tables, leaving fifteen percent to the penny, and booking multiple reservations before choosing one at the last minute. Though I wouldn’t have admitted it, I felt a little superior to waiters, never dreaming that I’d end up becoming one. I was too smart for restaurant work, too confident that another marketing company would snap me up. I turned down three jobs because the salaries were low and the positions beneath me. That was more than two months ago.

What an idiot I was. It would have been humbling to work as an assistant again, but at least I’d be wearing my own clothes.

“You used to have such promise,” I mutter. “Look at you now.”

Fold corners to center line . . . turn over and rotate one-quarter turn . . .

After forty-five minutes of polishing silverware, scrubbing baseboards, and steaming wineglasses with a portable humidifier, I’m folding napkins into peaked shapes called bishop’s mitres. Despite Cato’s detailed lesson, I’ve produced some very unholy results. How could I have eaten out so many times and never noticed the napkins? Have they always been this complicated? If I can’t even fold napkins, how will I ever learn to wait tables?

. . . bring bottom edge up to top edge . . .

I slowly work through a mound of linen while the other waiters triple-check their sections. They squint at the tables from every possible angle, micro-adjusting spoons and sliding wineglasses a millimeter to the left. Ron stares at a red-and-white abstract painting, closes one eye, then taps on the upper corner. “There. That’s better.”

Six napkins down, dozens and dozens to go. “They were fighting earlier,” Jane says behind me. “Gina wants her mother to come live with them, but he won’t budge.”

Cato snickers. “Ten bucks she moves in by October.”

“Think they’ll end up getting divorced?”

“Gina wouldn’t dare offend the pope.”

“Knock it off,” Ron says. “Their personal life is none of our business.”

“I know. That’s why it’s so interesting,” Cato answers.

I hear a faint ring and glance up to see Derek pulling a cell phone from his trouser pocket. He snaps it open and ducks into the hallway. “Gimme a break,” he says. “Maybe if I get two more jobs and sell a kidney I’ll be able to afford commercial space in Manhattan. Try again.”

“That guy’s insane,” Jane says. She has blunt, eye-skimming bangs and skin that looks like it’s never seen the sun.

“He’s the only waiter I know who’s dumb enough to want to open a restaurant and stubborn enough to make it happen,” Cato says. He leans over my shoulder and surveys my progress. “Better pick it up or you’ll be folding napkins until you hit menopause. Here, pass me some of those.”

I push a pile of linen in his direction and shift from foot to foot. After only an hour on the job, my arches are throbbing. I start to lower myself into one of the velvet-cushioned chairs, but Cato reaches out and swoops me back up to a standing position. “Uh-uh. We don’t sit down when Gina’s here. Ever.”

“No leaning, either, unless you’re off the clock,” Ron adds, grabbing some napkins and heading for the lounge.

As we fold, Cato points out various employees and describes their functions and personalities. “Omar, head busboy, sends all his money back to Veracruz. . . . Kimberly, also known as Stepford Hostess. Answers to ‘Mario Testino at table two.’ . . . Alain, our French lady-killer bartender. He’s the fantasy of half the women on the East Side, single, married, or status unknown. . . . Chen and Luis, our food runners. Chen taught economics in China. Luis has the worst temper this side of the Pecos. . . . The guy with the little black glasses is Geoffrey, our sommelier. He has a genius IQ and can give you vintage statistics for the past hundred years. The cocktail waitress gets here at six. The lounge is her turf, so watch out or she’ll steal your chardonnay.”

“I could use help leveling tables in here,” Ron calls.

“Sorry, man, I’m trying to get a wicked stain out of the rug,” Derek says from under the front window.

Cato rolls his eyes. “This place would fall apart without me. Think you can finish the napkins on your own, Erin?”

I tell him what any waiter burdened with the new kid wants to hear: “I can handle it.”

“Great. Stick them in the cabinet under the wait station and meet us in the kitchen for the staff meeting in ten minutes. Whatever you do, don’t be late.”

“I won’t be.” But as soon as he’s out of sight, I start to wonder if I’ll be done by morning. The napkins seem to multiply as I fold them, and for every good one there are two that are lopsided or deformed. Bring the corners together, tuck one into the other . . . damn bishops. I glance at my watch. Approximately thirty napkins divided by seven minutes is . . . impossible. I’ll have to go faster.

One by one the waiters leave the dining room and walk toward the kitchen. I fold as if the place is on fire, and with only ninety seconds to spare I scoop the napkins into my arms and look around wildly for a mahogany hutch. It was near the kitchen, wasn’t it? I run into the hallway, pinning the hats with my chin. Maybe it’s behind that door. I stumble inside and find Steve, wearing a white terry-cloth robe and plastic sandals. He’s sitting in what appears to be a private dining room, a balloon glass of red wine and the Robb Report on the table in front of him. “What the hell are you doing?” he asks.

“Trying to find the wait station,” I say, horrified.

“You went right by it.” His voice is tinged with irritation. “It’s ten steps to your left.”

“Thanks. Sorry.”

“Close the door on your way out.”

I free one arm and shut the door too hard, nearly dropping my entire load. Racing back the way I came, I see Cato, Jane, and Ron striding into the kitchen with Derek on their heels. I locate the hutch, yank open the cabinet, and start madly piling in napkins. Maybe it’s the fact that half of them have collapsed, but they’re not stacking well. At all.

“Come on, come on,” I mutter, abandoning hope and stuffing them in pell-mell. I push the cabinet closed, get to my feet, and sprint toward the kitchen. As I round the corner I look back and see a crushed bishop’s mitre lying on its side in the middle of the hallway, where Steve is sure to find it. But there’s nothing I can do about it now.

I shove open the swinging doors and burst into the kitchen, arriving out of breath and—oh shit. Late.

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Interviews & Essays

Rose’s Worst Restaurant Menu – Ever

The worst menu I’ve ever served (or eaten) consisted of animals usually found in a zoo or on safari. I was working at a ski resort in a hotel restaurant, where the entrées included kangaroo, alligator, caribou, and fallow deer. Unusual and interesting though the menu sounded, it resulted in endless questions and many returned orders. I could hardly blame our poor diners – the alligator tasted like spoiled fish and had the texture of chicken, and it was impossible not to imagine the kangaroo hopping off the plate or the caribou growing antlers on its way to the table. Though the menu initially drew in crowds looking for a new experience, the fascination didn’t last long – by the next winter, the most exotic thing on the menu was a pork chop.

Rose’s Five Best Restaurant Experiences

1. After a party of twelve paid their enormous check one evening, I realized that they’d accidentally added twenty percent to the hefty service charge already included in the bill. When I asked the manager what I should do, he said, “Is it your fault they can’t add? Keep it.”

2. One night, while working at a pricy French restaurant, I was distributing ice water to a large party of insurance brokers in town for a conference. When I leaned over to set a glass on the table, the tray tipped, sending ice and frigid water cascading down the back of a man wearing a suit and tie. Instead of getting angry, he turned around and said, “Can I sell you some insurance?” causing everyone at the table – and me – to erupt into laughter.

3. I’ve worked with many bartenders, but one in particular made waiting tables much easier for me. Whenever I was frazzled or in a bad mood, he would put two shots of our best vodka on ice and wait for me to come to the bar to pick up drinks. After looking around to make sure the restaurant’s owner wasn’t looking, he would hand me a cold shot, tap his glass against mine, and say, “Rose, you’re the best.”

4. Of all the restaurants where I’ve worked, only one had a kitchen staff that genuinely liked those of us who worked the front of the house. Several waiters and busboys had the day off one weekend, so the sous chef decided to make it memorable for us. He packed us all into his small boat, loaded up coolers filled with lobsters and beer, and took us to a tiny island off Nantucket, where we dug for clams, made a spectacular dinner over a gas stove, and camped out on the beach under a full moon.

5. One regular diner always requested the best table in the house, but the restaurant’s owner decided she wasn’t important or wealthy enough for an ocean view. In spite of this treatment, she was friendly and tipped well, and I tried to make her feel like a VIP by being attentive and asking the cooks to be particularly careful with her order. I wasn’t sure if she noticed my effort until her last lunch of the summer, when she brought me a gift-wrapped silk scarf as a thank you. Years later, I still wear it.

Heather’s Five Worst Restaurant Experiences

1. One busy Saturday night, the kitchen was running behind, leaving an hour gap between the appetizer and main course. The restaurant owner asked me to appease a table of wealthy regulars by bringing them free champagne, so I took a mid-priced bottle to the table and unwrapped the foil. As soon as I removed the wire cage, the cork exploded into the air with such force that the bottle flew out of my hands and spun across the floor of the dining room, spraying champagne everywhere. My six starving diners stared at it, wide-eyed, as the busboys came running to mop up the mess. Luckily, no one was hurt, although a few people got wet.

2. Having spurned the advances of the very mean and very married head chef, I found myself universally disliked by the kitchen staff. One morning, I noticed flies circling the bicycle I usually rode to and from the restaurant, and discovered an expensive ahi tuna filet tied with twine under my bicycle seat. Livid, I went to work that night and demanded to know who was responsible. No one, of course, stood up.

3. What started as a routine table of four couples soon turned chaotic when they ignored their menus and ordered several rounds of double martinis. Each time I tried to turn their attention to dinner, they ignored me and ordered more drinks. Finally, one of the women threw up at the table, and her husband gestured at me from across the room, calling, “Waitress! We have a martini casualty over here!”

4. After taking an order for the restaurant owner and his wife, I not only forgot what they wanted, I forgot that I’d taken their order at all. Fifteen minutes later, when I asked them if they’d decided on dinner, they looked at me with a combination of concern and pity, and had the manager take me up to the office, where he instructed me to “slow down” and “relax.”

5. An older woman at one of my tables made the mistake of biting into the ornamental hot pepper that came with the steak, and began to choke and cough, to the horror of her dinner companions. I apologized profusely and brought more water, but this wasn’t enough for the woman sitting next to her. “The chef should be taken out and shot!” she cried.

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Reading Group Guide

The delicious story of a down-and-out marketing executive who finds herself waiting tables at one of Manhattan’s trendiest restaurants, Turning Tables dishes up a smart, sexy take on food, fulfillment, and finding the right man. When Erin Edwards is downsized from the corporate world, her father uses his connections to get her a job at Roulette, a top restaurant where only the city’s very best cooks, sommeliers, and wait staff have a chance of getting hired. Entrusted with her new $600 Armani uniform, Erin does her best to bluff her way through a dizzying array of protocols. Between dodging the owner’s outrageous wife and finessing the art of selling haute cuisine, she hardly has time to look for love, until two very different men come looking for her. Blending saucy wit with the madcap workplace hijinks of The Devil Wears Prada, this is a rollicking ride from two real-life veterans of the restaurant world.

The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Heather and Rose MacDowell’s Turning Tables. We hope they will enrich your experience of this wickedly fun debut novel.

1. How has Turning Tables changed your perception of fine dining and celebrity chefs? Describe the most extravagant meal you’ve ever eaten. How did it compare to a night at Roulette?

2. What keeps Erin from quitting sooner? Is it just the money that motivates her to endure the job longer than so many other new hires have in the past? How long would you have lasted as an employee at Roulette?

3. How do the power structures at Roulette compare to those at most workplaces? How is status achieved in the restaurant’s kitchen, versus in the “front of the house?”

4. What is Rocket’s role in Erin’s life? What traits and life experiences do she and her dog share? In what ways do Fritz and Rocket play matchmaker, expressing what Erin and Daniel aren’t able to tell each other?

5. What was Erin hoping to get out of her semi-relationship with Phil? What were the plusses and minuses of sleeping with him? How did your opinion of him shift throughout the novel, especially after he proved to be a cranky restaurant customer?

6. Discuss the power of publicity captured in the scenes featuring Evelyn Harker. What does it take for anything–a restaurant, a clothing line, a vacation spot–to become trendy? When does the tipping point occur? How do critics such as Harker rise to the top of their game and develop the ability to decide the fate of a product, or a person?

7. Did Erin’s upbringing prepare her for Roulette? How did she feel about her family before and after their visit to Roulette? Did her father do the right thing by helping her snag such a lucrative waitressing job?

8. What did Cato teach you about the art of persuasion? How could his approach to waiting tables apply to other aspects of life that call for assertiveness and an in-depth understanding of the “audience?”

9. Discuss the food and wine described throughout the novel. Which selections sounded sublime? Which ingredients seemed outrageous? Does the hyper-competitive world of haute cuisine enhance or overwhelm America’s palate?

10. Were you surprised by the amount of money Erin and the other servers made in a night? Would their strategies for taking control of the ordering process seduce you into running up a bigger tab?

11. How would you characterize Daniel? What makes him a special guy? Why did he tolerate Sonia? What was at the heart of Erin’s anger after Daniel took her to the ill-fated party?

12. How do Erin’s college friend Rachel and restaurant friend Cato complement each other? What is the dynamic in each of those friendships? In what way are they different?

13. What motivates Erin to make such a bold move in the closing scenes? By the end of the novel, how has she changed? Would you have taken the job with Design Refined, stayed with Roulette, or opened your own business?

14. Between them, the authors have almost fifteen years of experience waiting tables. How do you think their background made writing the novel easier than it would have been for those less seasoned? How would it make it harder?

15. Describe the worst boss and the worst job you ever had. Is it true that a boss must be as demanding as Carl in order to earn respect? Is there any job you would not take, no matter how precarious your financial situation became?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 31 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 31 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 6, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    This is an engaging Manhattan chick lit tale

    Erin Edwards loses her job as a New York marketing manager. Needing work, she pleads with family and friends until her dad and his golf pal Harold use their connections to obtain her a job waiting tables at Manhattan's exclusive Roulette restaurant in spite of having never worked as a waitress in her life and the owner having doubts higher than the Empire State Building.

    Chef Carl Corbett wants the marketer out of his restaurant as does Steve the owner; they plan to make her life as a waitress miserable. Gay waiter Cato the wannabe actor gives her tips while steady customer Daniel the television show producer is attracted to her. Erin takes her new position one day at a time as she considers becoming a mass murderer starting with dad and Harold while wondering whether she will survive the attacks by the chef and the owner.

    This is an engaging Manhattan chick lit tale that is at its best when the action is inside the restaurant because of the support cast either working there or dining there. The story line is fun due to secondary players like hyperactive Gina, commandant chef Corbett, and kindhearted Cato wrapped in purple. Erin is obstinate, but obviously is unsuited to work at Roulette; so her travesties there add to the fun. However, when she (and readers) steps outside the restaurant, the story line loses its humorous look at glitz and gourmet turning somewhat inane. Still turning pets aside, The MacDowell sisters write an amusing tale of life inside a top Manhattan restaurant.

    Harriet Klausner

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2012


    It was pretty good and i wanted to read it but not in the way that you are like upset if you dont read it. Its kinda good if you need to waste time.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 13, 2010

    Turning Tables Turns Head!

    From the first page I was hooked! It was funny and entertaining. I have never worked in the restaurant business before, and this story was an eye opener! I will never think waiters have an easy job ever again. I loved Cato's character the most and would love to read a story from his POV.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2010

    Easy Fun Reading

    I enjoyed this book during my lunch hours. It is light, easy, entertaining reading. I don't think you need to work in the restaurant industry to enjoy this book. I got this book on clearance, so I can't complain about the price.

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  • Posted August 4, 2010

    Wanted More

    I thought this book was OK. I really liked the main character and the story behind her - having lost her job, she is forced to work as a waitress. I thought that part of the story was really good and the incidents that happen at the restaurant were really cute/funny. The other half of the story, her love life, left me not so excited. The first guy was a jerk; I was not a fan. The second guy was much better, but then they get into a huge fight. I thought the fight was anti-climatic, I didn't understand why she was upset (I had to reread that part). Then she makes a decision (in regards to that relationship) at the end that seems to come out of nowhere which didn't make any sense to me. Overall, the book was well-written but left me wanting more insight into the character and better choices for the men she was in relationships with.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2010

    Entertaining Read

    I found this book very entertaining. It is not going to win a Pulitzer, but it is perfect for a lazy day on the beach. I would recommend to anyone that is looking for a good read.

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  • Posted April 29, 2010

    great book. great read! really enjoyed it.

    great light read. it was a breeze to go through. very enjoyable, especially if you work in the service industry. i thought this was an entertaining book. It is not about to win any awards but I did find myself not wanting to put it down. it is especially enjoyable for anyone who has worked in the restaurant industry. if you go into the book expecting entertainment value only, you will love this one. A fun read. took me like 2 days to finish. i am looking foward to readinf more books like this!!!

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  • Posted June 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A little slow

    This book was a little slow moving but worth reading. I have read better but I have also read worse.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2008

    Light Read

    I think if that is what you are looking for then this will do.. I was not overly excitied about the book or the ending. It was a pick up last minute.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2008

    Fantastic Story!

    I just finished an advance copy of this book, which I found a great read. It's filled with biting humor, social commentary, romance, and fun plot twists.

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    Posted March 24, 2010

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 31 Customer Reviews

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