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Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter Hardcover – September 25, 2007

3.0 out of 5 stars 93 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From 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.)
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From Booklist

Damrosch details her brief, yet remarkably fulfilling, career as a waiter and lays bare for readers the intimate workings of restaurant table service. Damrosch's ascent through the ranks at chef Thomas Keller's Midtown Manhattan's Per Se offered her a unique glimpse into high-end dining. Demystifying the hierarchy of captains, waiters, and busboys, Damrosch gives the uninitiated a crash course in those management and organizational issues that keep food streaming in perfect synchronization from kitchen to table. Although maintaining perfect service is a good restaurant's habit, success flows equally from good publicity. So Damrosch describes the frenzy produced in the kitchen by every sighting of a critic in the dining room. Without naming names, Damrosch also offers tales of overbearing, self-involved celebrities and their dining foibles. Tips on how to earn a waiter's respect (don't be a no-show; don't send back an entrée that you've nearly finished) pepper the text. Knoblauch, Mark

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1 edition (September 25, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061228141
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061228148
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (93 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #921,314 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jessica Lux on January 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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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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By KW on January 3, 2011
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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