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Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter

3.42  ·  Rating details ·  3,686 ratings  ·  493 reviews

Kitchen Confidential meets Sex and the City in this delicious, behind-the-scenes memoir from the first female captain at one of New York City's most prestigious restaurants

While Phoebe Damrosch was figuring out what to do with her life, she supported herself by working as a waiter. Before long she was a captain at the New York City four-star restaurant Per Se, the culinary
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published September 25th 2007 by William Morrow
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3.42  · 
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 ·  3,686 ratings  ·  493 reviews

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Petal Eggs
It's a strange concept, to go to a restaurant and be told that the menu prices cover the cost of the seat, the clean napery, the cover and the food, but you must pay up to 20% more for the food to be served and the dirty plates removed.

This rests on the fake construct that if you really enjoyed your meal it was down to the wait staff and you should voluntarily pay for that. Fake because if they do the job they are employed for quietly and efficiently you will enjoy the meal, they don't really a
Jun 27, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: waiters
Shelves: food, memoir
Phoebe Damrosch has a perfectly pleasant prose style and a fairly charming way with a story. Unfortunately, this book will probably appeal mainly to those (like myself) who have actually waited tables.

Rather than being a front-of-the-house Kitchen Confidential, it comes across more as the usual self-pitying waiters' after-work bitch session, down to the snarky tips for diners that end each chapter. Sure, all of us in the profession wish that people were nicer to us, and had more realistic expec
Feb 10, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: trash-bin
Usually I eat up this sort of foodie porn: fires in the kitchen, romances among the staff, restaurant reviewers disguised in wigs. "Service Included" has all the right ingredients, but in the end--actually, less than half way through--it falls flat. Can't say that I care to know whether Andre the manager finally dumps his on-again-off-again girlfriend for Phoebe (our hero, the table captain at a chic New York restaurant). Whether Phoebe also succeeds at properly placing each and every sauce spoo ...more
Oct 16, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
Phoebe Damrosch had only been waiting tables for a short time when she landed a plum job at the newly opening Per Se restaurant, the New York project of famed French Laundry Chef Thomas Keller. In this memoir, Damrosch details her time at Per Se, from her extensive training to her nerve-wracking start as a backserver to her rapid promotion to table captain (waiter).

I've waited tables in fine dining restaurants myself (albeit not quite THAT fine) and have never had more than 2 days of training, s
Chris "Stu"
Dec 19, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2009
This book is quite frankly terrible, and if it weren't such an easy read, I definitely wouldn't have finished it. Damrosch is bitchy, gossipy, and utterly convinced of her own superiority. The book is basically filled with a bunch of anecdotes about things she found funny or things that showed how awesome she is. The anecdote that most sums up her writing is an anecdote about a customer at Per Se crying because she thought Damrosch was going to go out for burgers with her after dinner.

When she's
Jan 25, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: foodies, ex-waiters
Shelves: 2009, food
As a former waiter (not in a four-star!) and a person with interest in fine dining and ridiculous food, I tore through this book at a break-neck pace. I ignored silly things, like switching over the laundry and checking my email. I read Phoebe Damrosch's experiences as a captain at a four-star restaurant in NYC for all the self-indulgent guilt and glee that foodie porn can bring. Truffles truffles truffles truffles and truffle oil! This would have been insufferable if I still worked in a restaur ...more
Apr 03, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: food
Every time I read from this book, I had to put it down and make something to eat.

The memoirs of a waiter at Thomas Keller's Per Se in New York, Phoebe Damrosch does an admirable job of letting us see into a world that we may experience as a customer, but rarely experience from the other side. I certainly never understood the full extent of preparation that goes into the high end dining experience. I have a greater respect for the professional server and for the cost of the meal since reading th
Dec 25, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book was not at all what I thought it would be… probably because the title of the book led me to believe that the author would be sharing some interesting tidbits she overheard (by eavesdropping) while waiting tables. Not so! I got treated to a couple of them, but they felt like an afterthought. I thought this book was more an homage to Chef Keller and his restaurant Per Se than anything else.

(view spoiler)
Oct 09, 2011 rated it did not like it
The title of this book is misleading. Early on, it keeps true to the promise of being a behind the scenes story of a four-star restaurant, but it veers swiftly off course after the opening of the restaurant. The author uses the restaurant experience as an excuse to talk about herself and her relationships, which I didn't sign up for - or feel particularly interested in reading about. Especially because my opinion of her fell after each chapter. For example, while I applaud her critique of fast f ...more
Dec 31, 2007 rated it it was ok
Service Included is an interesting behind-the-scenes look at service at a top restaurant. However, that's where my interest in the book ended.

To be successful, memoirs need to be more than the story of one person's experience. The must reach out and touch readers in a way in which a broad audience can relate. The author, in my opinion, falls in this aspect. Her story works when it focuses on her training to be a service captain and on the idiosyncracies of the patrons at the restaurant. When sh
Sep 12, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction-bio
I'm just not a foodie. I think you have to have a streak of foodie in you to appreciate this book. Damrosch worked in an ultra-high scale restaurant "Per Se." This book chronicles her experience there as well as her love life during the time.

I guess I was hoping for more restaurant dirt that I could connect to my own dining-out experiences. I will never eat at a restaurant like Per Se, so all the details appealed to me less. (Although I did find it amusing to imagine part of the wait-staff's tra
Oct 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book is hard to rate because parts of it were SO great and other parts were SO dull! So I'll split my review.

Five stars to any parts of the book that are about the author's job, Per Se, or Thomas Keller. These chapters were fascinating and smartly written. This is not a memoir where a waiter rants about the profession--this is a well-crafted exploration of the world of fine dining. It's as close as some people will come to a restaurant of this caliber, and she explains everything so lovingl
I had a very difficult time understanding Damrosch’s passion for food, until I recast it in terms I could relate to. Damrosch has a passion for food. I have a passion for books. Damrosch has lists of restaurants she wants to visit. I have three pages of books I want to read. Damrosch doesn’t think it odd to sit for six hours and eat seventeen courses. I’ve been known to devour a series of books one after the other for twice that amount of time. Damrosch drools over the foods showcased in the Fre ...more
Mar 09, 2009 rated it did not like it
My husband picked up this book a while ago. As a restaurateur he was interested in learning Chef Thomas Keller’s four-star secrets. Who wouldn’t be? To prepare for our April meal at French Laundry, I decided to give this book a try, even though my husband had warned me: its cheesy.

Service Included was way beyond cheesy. The first few chapters where we learn a bit about the intense training and preparation that goes into opening a 3-Michelin star restaurant really are quite interesting. Beyond th
Jun 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoirs
I checked out this book because I thought it would be fun to read about a restaurant worker's crazy stories about her patrons. Unfortunately, there was only one chapter devoted to this particular topic; the rest was a relatively uninteresting culinary memoir of self-discovery, akin to Julie & Julia or The Sharper Your Knife The Less You Cry, but with sporadic political diatribes. Also, this book reaffirms that I have little to no interest in French fine dining.
I wish there were pictures included. There are pictures of "Per Se" (the restaurant where Phoebe Damrosch worked) and some of its dishes online; that helped me imagine what the author was writing about.
Teresa Dicentra
I feel like this book was more about her love life than eavesdroping on anyone. Interesting and quick read, just not what i was expecting.
Be warned: Don't be without food while reading this book.

Not only I thoroughly enjoyed myself while reading this book, I also learnt a great deal about working in a restaurant, chefs, menus and food as well as picked up a lot of new vocabulary. Expect to be completely immersed in fine dining for a few days while you read it. For me, after I Served the King of England by Bohumil Hrabal and Zaklete rewiry by Henryk Worcell, two quirky and fun books about the life of waiters in posh restaurants and
Brooke Shirts
Apr 01, 2008 rated it really liked it
What job requires you to memorize nine kinds of salt, know the breeds of cows, AND perfect the art of an 18th-century minuet? Why, being a waiter at a four-star restaurant, of course!

Damrosch's funny memoir chronicles her years spent as a backserver and then captain at Per Se, one of the big-time fancy restaurants in New York City. (Really big-time: it wasn't uncommon for a party to blow through $20,000 at one meal, egads.) She chronicles everything: from dealing with eccentric patrons (such as
Shea Ivy
Oct 31, 2007 rated it it was ok
I *wanted* to like this book. I did. As someone who's worked in various customer service/retail positions, I thought that I would find common ground with the author as she related her experiences working with the most finicky of finicky people ever...those who spend the thousands of dollars necessary to eat at gourmet restaurants like Per Se in the Time Warner center (the same center I work in, though not at Per Se).

Some of the parts of this book were very amusing (my personal favorites were the
Sep 29, 2007 rated it really liked it
Delicious! This is exactly the light, frothy, tidbit-laden nonfiction I enjoy most. I love reading about food, and I love bits and pieces of information. Meanwhile, the greater message found in the narrator's insistence that we CARE about our food, that we eat well, and in full awareness of it's value, reminded me forcefully of Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle. Of course many of the ingredients she lavishes with attention are not at all local, but she also expounds on the locavore message t ...more
Dec 14, 2008 rated it did not like it
I detested this book. First of all, it does not live up to the blurb on the back. The person who wrote the blurb should have written the book. There is no eavesdropping fun in this book. I've been a waitress - I know there are great things that can be eavesdropped. I would much rather have read another book just about the restaurant industry, about Thomas Keller, not some silly little tramp in New York who feels compelled to bore us with her lukewarm love-life when we're really reading the book ...more
Sep 08, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: food-and-cooking
I picked this up in Portland because I thought it might be interesting; it's the memoir of a woman who worked as a waiter in a four-star restaurant in New York for a year. It was okay, idk. Her prose was fairly engaging, but tbh, maybe because she only worked there for a year, it was fairly shallow. It looked like it might talk about gender a bit, but she didn't seem to really care or reflect on misogyny in the restaurant business. Too much of the book was taken up with her affair with this two- ...more
Apr 16, 2009 rated it liked it
Not much eavesdropping going on here...this is more of a behind the scenes look at the four star restaurant business. While not a "foodie" myself I did like the book and was amazed by everything that goes into creating the "perfect" dining experience for the Per Se guest. I do wish the author would have shared less of her love life and more of her love affair with food. I found her boyfriend smarmy (he continued to live with his ex-girlfriend while dating her among others) and not the least bit ...more
Oct 18, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, foodie
This was a nostalgic book for me in many ways. I shared her wonder of TKRG. For me it was falling in love with food and realizing that it can be an art form. The attention to detail is always fascinating and inspires me to be more detail orientated. I really enjoyed the food and restaurant aspects of the book. However, I was getting a little sick of the Andre and Phoebe part of the book. A little too much drama and not enough finesse. This part of the book was a somewhat unwelcome part of the bo ...more
Huma Rashid
Nov 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
This was interesting mainly because I had no idea that so much went into the dining experience at a four star restaurant. However, the book itself - the telling of the story - is bland, with occasional moments of interest. It's got a Julia & Julia vibe, with the author offering up a too-hearty dose of her personal life, with stories about the guys she has dated/is dating, random excursions to cheese farms that don't pertain to the actual restaurant story (even though you'd think they would), ...more
David Ward
Aug 23, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: cooking, non-fiction
Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter by Phoebe Damrosch (William Morrow 2007)(647.95092) is a fascinating look into the world of four and five star restaurants with a waiter as our guide. This is the world of $20000.00 wine bills and several-hundred-dollar prix fixe meals, of the French Laundry (West Coast) and Per Se (New York) restaurants where waiters often earn $700.00 or more per night in tips. This is not the typical dining establishment story. My rating: 7/10, fi ...more
Nov 27, 2007 rated it really liked it
I understand the dynamics of the restaurant business a bit better now and although I probably won't be dining in too many 4 star restaurants, I now know why they charge what they charge for their meals. Service is a very important part of dining out and just like everything else, you get what you pay for. I was distressed to learn that in many restaurants the cooks and chefs make less than the waitstaff because of tips. When I dine out, my food is almost always great--the service not so much. So ...more
Karen Pirrung
Nov 07, 2008 rated it liked it
I really wanted to like this book--and this author. But what started out with promise fell flat into heap of 'who cares about your personal relationship with the sommelier?'.

The service "tips" are the best part of the book. I enjoyed the first third of the book, but then the author "changes lanes without signaling". The writing slows to a snails pace. I wanted the food, the wine, the interesting stories of the diners that were promised on the back cover. What I ended up with was a slow and unint
Mar 11, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Foodies and restaurant enthusiasts
A interesting picture of all the effort required to make a highly acclaimed New York restaurant run properly from a waiter's point of view. It certainly makes you look at the dining out experience in a whole new light. I like the commentaries on some of the dining regulars. I also enjoyed the author's thoughts on the value of fine ingredients and food. Who is to say that a pair of cashmere socks, designer handbag, exorbitant concert tickets or a ritzy dining experience are necessary? Then again, ...more
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Phoebe Damrosch is a writer living in Brooklyn. Her first book, Service Included, was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 2007.

She has written for the New York Times, Food and Wine, the Daily News, and has been featured in the Financial Times, Entertainment Weekly, Elle, American Way, Eating Well, the New York Post, and Slate.
“Our restaurant fostered a sense of camaraderie in a number of ways besides sharing the same nickname of 'chef.' Initially, we bonded through training. Once we opened, we worked in teams each night, meaning that we not only knew our colleagues well, we depended on them. Most importantly, we all had 'family meal' together every night, just like President Bush recommended to all families so that their children would have good values and grow up to be gun-toting, pro-life, pro-death, gas-guzzling, warmongering, monolingual, homophobic, wiretapped, Bible-thumping, genetically engineered, stem-cell harboring, abstinent creationists. Oops, I think I just lost all of my red state readers. To make up for it, I'll let you lose my ballot.” 4 likes
“Cafés overflowed anytime but early mornings, for there were few commuters in the neighborhood at that time. After noon, the self-employed, or unemployed, hipsters set up their laptops, soy milk lattes by their side, and proceeded to create ironic and subversive works of art, pausing every so often to brood.” 3 likes
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