Thursday, July 29, 2010

Review: Service Included

Service Included:  Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter
by Phoebe Damrosch
Published by William Morrow (imprint of HarperCollins)
copyright:  2007
rating:  4 out of 5

I have a confession to make.  I secretly read People magazine.

I is sad, but true.  There is something about reading the lives of the rich and famous that I find intriguing.  I think it is because it is a lifestyle that I will NEVER experience (this coming from someone whose mantra is "never say never") and I almost feel as if I am transported into a fairy tale existence in the midst of my real, mundane, incredibly ordinary world (and sometimes it is good to know that the affluent have problems too - just not the same problems that I am faced with)

Another confession, although not nearly as embarrassing, is that my default television channel is the Food Network.  I watch very little television, but if I want something on while surfing the net or reading the blogs, it is the Food Network.  I distinctly remember videotaping every episode of Master Chefs when it was aired on PBS in the 80s.  This was the closest thing to the Food Network at that time and I would savor every chef - every recipe - every culinary tip.  I think if I were ever to live my life differently, I would have pursued a baking profession.

So now that you know my two deep, dark secrets - you will understand why I enjoyed this gossipy book of the food service industry.  The author becomes the captain at one of New York's 4 star restaurants, Per Se, which is owned by the famed restaurateur and chef, Thomas Keller, who also owns the French Laundry, lauded as one of the top restaurants in the United States.  I had not heard of this particular restaurant (in my NYC days the most lauded restaurants included La Cote Basque and The Four Seasons ), so I decided to do a little google search.  The menu changes daily - but on this particular search I found the Chef's Tasting Menu listed for the prix fixe of $275 per person.  This does NOT include wine (which can range upwards of $3,000 a bottle), but it does include gratuity.  On more than one occasion the author mentioned the total bill of a guest at $20,000.  This is obviously NOT my demographic group.

And yet....I found myself captivated by the behind-the-scenes details of servicing a clientele that can afford such a meal.  The attitude of "the customer is always right" and the willingness to cater to any culinary whim of said customer - whether it be a food allergy, an aversion to a particular food group, or just a personal quirk - is somehow satisfying to me.

I would think it would be rather easy for the writing of this subject matter to come across as pompous or condescending (and perhaps for some other readers it does), but I found that the author's wit and humorous outlook on life, coupled with her eloquent writing style that is so descriptive I felt as though I was sitting in the restaurant with her, riveted me to want to read more. 

The book not only gives the reader a glimpse into the restaurant life - but also into the lives of those who frequent such restaurants (there are numerous mentions of catering to the under 12 years old age group - which in my wildest dreams I cannot imagine them appreciating the cost of such culinary delicacies).  There is also an auto-biographical narrative that is infused throughout the book that held my interest as well.  The author is actually a graduate of the MFA program of Sarah Lawrence University, and I was incredibly pleased to discover on her website that her love-interest in the book actually becomes a happily ever after story with the two of them finding an apartment together and giving birth to their first child.  

While many of the dishes I will never taste (like beef bone marrow - of which they actually organized their own sample tasting of three distinguished New York restaurants), I did find myself longing to savor the shaving of a single truffle.  

Yes, my tastes definitely lie more in line with Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives (we actually plan to drive to Omaha this weekend to visit one of his recommendations) - bud I did find this book very interesting and I look forward to reading more of this author's works.


  1. Wow! This sounds like an intriguing read! I would also like to delve into the behind-the-scenes perspectives of those who service the high-end clientele. I can't imagine having to deal with this every day, and willingly. And I'm with you -- I'm not going to ever touch the beef bone marrow, either. But, of course, I'm a vegetarian, so that's an easy one for me to skip!

  2. I have this waiting in TBR Purgatory - I read an excerpt from it via and was intrigued. I'm really glad to know you liked it, Molly!

  3. This does sound fascinating and almost sinful at the same time. For me, it's rather sad that some people spend $20,000 on a meal while so many people go hungry.

  4. I have a confession to make too. I read People AND US magazines! I also love the Food Network. Me and my sweetie love the Diners, Drive-ins and Dive show. We've been to one of his recommendations in San Francisco. This book sounds really great and would definitely one that I would enjoy. Oh, and I watch Top Chef on Bravo too!

  5. First thing I thought of was, wow, the tips must be GREAT! My confession is very similar to yours, Molly, except that I prefer Hello! (Canadian version) to People and US, because I prefer rose-colored glasses while reading about celebrity lives and there's not nearly as much snark in Hello magazine. I love the Food Network, too - we try to buy as many of the DVD collections of shows we like as we can!

    This book sounds like a great read. I always like reading about how the really wealthy live - it's just so fascinating!

  6. Waiters like hairdressers, learn so much gossip. People just poor their hearts out sometimes....sounds like a good one Molly

  7. Now this is a book I would love to read! I think it would be fascinating to learn more about upscale restaurants (especially in a gossipy manner, lol)....I'm going to buy this one it sounds like such fun. :)

  8. I'm with you Molly. I love the gossip and a peek at what other people eat. This one is going on my list.

  9. Too much fun. I would love to read this! I hope you don't mind that I'm linking this post to Weekend Cooking.

  10. I reviewed this book awhile back..and while I thought it was a great idea, I thought the book fell short.

    Now I have Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw here, which I have great hope for, because we all love a look behind the scene.

  11. We watch Food Network all the time and love the next Food Network Star show. This must be the day for revealing secrets! Lol, loved your post, Molly.

  12. I have this book (Mr. Jenners read it already) and now I'm more excited to read it. If you like books about restaurants, be sure to look at this post:

    Mr. Jenners has a thing about restaurant books so we have quite a lot of them. You should also check out "Spiced."


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