Customer Reviews: Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter
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on January 21, 2008
Phoebe Damrosch is an impeccably educated English major who fancied herself an artist and loathed the thought of taking a job as a drone in a publishing industry to ensure a steady paycheck. She writes, "eventually I had to accept that I wasn't working in restaurants to support my art like most of my co-workers; I was posing as an artist to justify my work as a waiter." When she failed to find solid work utilizing her degree, Damrosch joined a hellish underground bootcamp to score a job in one of New York's most elite restaurants (a place at which a party could easily drop $20,000 on dinner, and the service captains made six digit salaries).

During her year working at Per Se, Damrosch memorized the life stories of the ingredients in every dish in the restaurant, became well-versed on the architecture visible from the restaurant's windows, and learned to anticipate the needs of her guests before the guests themselves voiced them. She worked eight to ten hour shifts on her feet, juggling the needs of her tables and the whims of her guests while appearing calm and composed. She was one of the only female captains the elite circle of NYC 4-star restaurants.

Service Included is a secret window into the world of ultra-high-end hospitality, and a foodie's delight. It is not, however, an "eavesdropping" tale. Damrosch would have done well to title her memoir more accurately, because it stands on its own as a glimpse inside an unusual and elite profession. Her memoir is also unique among restaurant confessionals, because she's reporting from the front of the house, not the kitchen. The allows her to provide the reader reservations at the best seat in the house for their vicarious experience at Per Se.

Service Included suffers from a lack of clear direction. For the most part, it is a "year inside a restaurant," with a twist of romance, but in one strange passage, the author launches into a diatribe against "gun-toting, pro-life, pro-death, gas-guzzling, warmongering, monolingual, homophobic, wiretapped, Bible-thumping, genetic-engineering, stem-cell-harboring, abstinent creationist" fans of President Bush. This occurs out of context in the middle of an otherwise excellent passage about the family connections among a restaurant's wait staff, and never again does Damrosch discuss politics at length.

The cynical reader might even suspect that Damrosh selected "a year in high-end hospitality" as her first professional writing exercise. She certainly joined and left the industry as if it were an experiment, a chapter in her life accomplished. With fodder for her first book deal, Damrosch submitted her resignation and walked away from her restaurant reputation.
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on November 13, 2007
The author is apparently a trustfunder dabbling in various "careers." While the descriptions of the intracacies of working at Per Se were interesting, I kept waiting for more interesting tidbits, such as outlandish celebrity behaviors. The author teases us a little, with comments about how many people throw up in the restaurant, but she refuses to really "dish." She does, however, come up with a truly disgusting story one of her regulars told her. It seemed weird and out of place, like she realized the book was getting dull and decided to shake things up. It was very bizarre.

The food descriptions were good, but the relationship with the sommalier was truly tedious to read about.

I love books about the restaurant industry, but I would advise skipping this one. The one question she never answered was how she managed to pay the student loans her pricey education must have incurred, while meandering from job to job. Yes, I know Per Se probably pays well, but Brooklyn barista jobs do not.

I also would have liked a little more information on how Keller's new policy of paying the servers a straight hourly wage rather than tips worked out. Was she the only one who left? This is a huge issue for servers (and the people who tip them),yet she barely addressed it other than to say it was instituted. The author may have thought we were more interested in her personal relationships. I, for one, was not.
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on January 23, 2008
I can see how this got published, it's a great idea for a book - in theory. Unfortunately, it's derivative and boring. There's barely any more about Per Se or Thomas Keller than you already know from reviews and magazine articles. There's more about the author's relationship (also boring) than anything else and even that narrative lacks an original voice. By parts, it's a poor imitation of most of the recent food-related bestsellers. If you do decide to read this book, you'll be reminded of why you liked Ruth Reichl, Anthony Bourdain, and yes, even Amanda Hesser better. For a much more interesting treatment of the same subject, try Shaw's 'Turning Tables'.
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on December 18, 2007
Another annoyingly overrated memoir, about as badly written (and in some cases very similar to) Gael Greene's "insatiable," but from the other side of the table. The only reason to read this book is for a handful of interesting details about the food and service at Per Se; otherwise, this "tell all" tells nothing. The story of the relationship with her sommelier is beyond boring, and she's impenetrably "discreet" with her recollections of customers and the other staff at Per Se -- she doesn't have the courage or wit to name, spill, or dish. (Oh Truman, where are you when we need you?). The "tips" for diners at the end of each chapter are just ridiculous (Do customers at Per Se really "make faces" when the server recites the evening's specials?): If you want truly useful dining-out tips, read the engaging and informative "Turning the Tables" by Steven Shaw instead.
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on January 3, 2011
Oddly written with awkward transitions and no actual "eavesdropping secrets". And I could really have done without the patronizing "tips" for diners, particularly the last few pages of the book.
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on February 3, 2009
I'm not usually inclined to go write a review about something I bought, but since Service Included requires a decent amount of time to read, I figured I could save some people some time by writing this brief blurb.

That is to say, you should pass on this book. Perhaps the first half will hold your interest as thats where the bulk of the info on Per Se is - and that's what anyone who buys this book is looking for. But gradually the book becomes about the life of this random author with a NYC life as anonymous and ordinary as those lived by the "suits" walking into office buildings on Madison Avenue - the very people she loves to jab presumably for being so boring. The story devolves into a journey of personal discovery in her love life with some guy, who seems, by my measure, to be an arrogant tool. I kept on thinking, "who cares?" Love of this variety happens every night in bars all over this town.

In the end, you close the book and feel like the author just sat you down to talk about herself; the story about the restaurant, Keller, food, hospitality, is a mere detail in her self-absorbed mellow drama. Fine for a diary, painful for a book marketed to the public.

Recommendation is 1) not to get this 2) if youve already purchased it, read the first quarter, maybe the first half, and move on to another book.
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on February 11, 2008
The premise of this book seems to be a Kitchen Confidential for the front of the house- the polish and precision of a multiple starred restaurant set against the foil of real people- the employees, the filthy rich public and foodies. The story starts off promising with lots of detail about the insane dedication of the staff and their training gives glimpses into why some people eat to live and others live to eat, and that Per Se is a restaurant for the latter crowd. Phoebe Damarosch's writing is agile enough, and this a quick read with some fun and interesting talking points that will likely stick with the reader for a long time to come: how to woo a food critic, a job in the service industry can be a satisfying and well-paid career choice and you won't be the first or last guest to throw up on the polished bronze floor at Per Se. The story looses it's way in the last half of the book with a tag-along on the author's romance that doesn't reach a conclusion- did they stay together, is he really just a cheating bastard, did they move to a larger apartment, did they get a dachshund or a bulldog? The Famous Chef himself makes only a cameo appearance, and the anecdotes about the clientele are limp- man celebrating his 80th birthday falls asleep at the table, an engagement ring with a Faberge Egg, a couple that snorts cocaine in between courses, Per Se groupies that want to hang out with the wait staff. The best dishy comments come when you least expect it and make you wish for more- Thomas Keller's own food philosophy.
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on March 31, 2012
To be 100% honest, I did not finish this book. I tried twice, but I found the writer too full of herself and there were no especially interesting insights into the restaurant world. And I have to say that when I have something that is light reading, I am not especially interested in political feelings. It was a bargain bin book, my tip is avoid this dreck.
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on March 15, 2009
Don't make the same mistake I did. Read these reviews first. I was under the impression that this would be a book mostly about the experience of working at Per Se. Unfortunately, only about 30% of the book is that. and while that 30% is good, the rest is so bad, it really isn't worth the money.

For some reason, the author goes out of her way on a few occasions to rip republicans. Which seems odd, given that it's always completely unrelated to the topic at hand. Amusingly, she also warns readers never to ask a waiter "what else do you do?" assuring us that waiters live full lives in their chosen profession. She then spends the next 200 pages proving herself wrong, as we're treated to all of the details of her shallow life.

Strange book. She's a pretty good writer. I just can't imagine why anyone cares to hear about her affair when she clearly had a much more interesting topic at hand. Oh well.

I made a mistake. But you've been warned.
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on September 30, 2008
Billed as a front of the house "kitchen confidential" but sadly it was not at all. Mildy interesting but without any of the juice that was promised. Not recommended by me.
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