Phoebe Damrosch,
Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter
(William Morrow, 2007)

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 8- to 10-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 in the elite circle of NYC's 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. This allows her to provide the reader with reservations at the best seat in the house for their vicarious experience at Per Se.

However, 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.

review by
Jessica Lux-Baumann

6 June 2009

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new