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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 creation of master chef Thomas Keller.

Service Included is the story of her experiences there: her obsession with food, her love affair with a sommelier, and her observations of the highly competitive and frenetic world of fine dining.

She also provides the following dining tips:

Please do not ask your waiter what else he or she does.

Please do not steal your waiter's pen.

Please do not say you're allergic when you don't like something.

Please do not send something back after eating most of it.

Please do not make faces or gagging noises when hearing the specials—someone else at the table might like to order one of them.

After reading this book, diners will never sit down at a restaurant table the same way again.

Topics: Gastronomy, City Life, Chefs, Artisans, Wry, Dating, New York City, Brooklyn, and Creative Nonfiction

Published: HarperCollins on
ISBN: 9780061833786
List price: $10.99
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High-class restaurant waiter/captain's memoir is very readable but undecided whether to be about the food or about the love affairs. The parts about the food are pretty good, but it's not all that well-written, in my opinion. More tedious than riveting.more
Really enjoyed the tips, food descriptions, and the behind-the-scenes peek into all the effort involved in making a four-star restaurant's service perfection for customers & critics. It fizzled out a little bit after the brief Puerto Rican vacation though. Left me feeling like I was served a really nice dinner, but only got one bite of pie for dessert. Still a very enjoyable read.more
Summary: Phoebe Damrosch worked as a waiter to support herself, until she realized that she wasn't there until she could find something better, she was there because she loved the food and the restaurant life. Before long, she was working as a waiter in Thomas Keller's new four-star NYC restaurant, Per Se. Damrosch provides readers with a look behind the scenes of fine dining, how restaurants prepare for opening, and for the visit of important critics, and provides tips for diners. She also talks about her love affair with good food, her love affair with the restaurant, and her love affair with a sommelier from her restaurant.Review: Kitchen Confidential was the book that convinced me that I didn't hate memoirs, so I picked up this book looking for more of the same: a behind-the-scenes look at what's really going on when I dine out, only from a front-of-the-house perspective instead of from a chef's perspective. And, I'm pleased to say, that's mostly what I got! Damrosch's writing is easily accessible, and while she doesn't quite have Bourdain's level of snark, the book is still quite funny, and generally fun to read.The parts that I thought were most successful were - no surprises here - the parts in which Damrosch is dishing about what really goes on in restaurants that diners either don't see, or don't recognize. Reading about the involved preparation that went into opening Per Se, the whole section on preparing for and serving a visiting restaurant critic, the occasional bits about what's really going on during waiters' minds during service, and what's going on before the diners get there and after they go home, all of these were the parts of the book that I found the most interesting. Of course, the foodie in me also loved the description of the Per Se menu, and the discussion of the thought that went into its ingredients and its dishes. Given that even the most modest Per Se meal is probably beyond my price range at the moment, I definitely enjoyed Damrosch's ability in bringing the dining experience there to life (although I must admit it was enjoyment mixed with a twinge or two of jealousy). I was less interested in the sections of the book involving Damrosch's personal life. They weren't bad, or poorly written, or even particularly intrusive or anything; they just weren't why I was there. But the book as a whole is light and enjoyable and quick-moving enough that by the time I would start thinking "yeah, yeah, get back to the restaurant," she would. 4 out of 5 stars.Recommendation: Fans of Kitchen Confidential and similar books are the most obvious recommendation, but I think anyone who likes to read about food and/or enjoys day-in-the-life style memoirs should have a good time with this one.more
I will admit to sometimes judging books by their covers. I picked up this book because it looked interesting, without reading anything about it. I was delighted to find out that this woman worked at Per Se, Thomas Keller's New York restaurant. (My dream vacation involves his restaurant French Laundry.) A great look at what goes into making a four star restaurant. Impossible to put down!more
I love food writing, so I was excited about this book. There is some interesting material about working at Per Se, and the care and attention that goes into the food there. However, I didn't care for all the anecdotes about the author's personal life - it felt like they should have been part of a different memoir. Worth reading if you're very interested in the world of upscale dining.more
She needs an editor; the bits about her personal life and the relationship with wine guy Andre were distracting and really, not that interesting. I don't care why you became a waiter honey, I want to know more about how Per Se works, and the cooking, and the food, and everything else.more
Reviews here and elsewhere have been mixed, but I thought this was one of the better tales of the food industry that I've read. It discussed service in a high-end restaurant more, say, than Waiter Rant, and was far less self-absorbed than books like The Saucier's Apprentice. The beginning is stronger than the end, and it's not in the sexy "tell-all" category. Still, it's better than many, and worth a read.more
Damrosch gets a job as a server at Thomas Keller’s Per Se in Manhattan, one of the world’s best regarded and expensive restaurants. She tells the story of needing to serve with absolute perfection, including getting every utensil in the same spot down to the millimeter and wine glasses turned so the etched label faces each guest. Servers have to know how each dish is made and must learn the idiosyncracies of regulars. In the process, if she’s good, she stands to make huge tips off meals costing well over $1000. She forms relationships with guests, recognizes food critics, and falls in love. Reviewed by:Mark Janda Social Studies Teachermore
I quite enjoyed this book. The author's voice was clear without getting too bogged into the details. It hit on the highlights of the Per Se opening, as well as the other challenges faced in her job.more
The writing style can be a little precious, but for the untutored it's an enjoyably idiosyncratic view of operations at an elite restaurant -- and perhaps a nicely dishy view (pun intended) for those already in the know. Would make a good double feature with "Garlic and Sapphires."more
I have worked in the hospitality industry for over 20 years. In all that time the hardest job I ever had was serving in a restaurant. I appreciated the chapters on opening Per Se, the service training, the menu training and the standards. I laughed out loud several times. It is fun book for insiders to read. I enjoyed the New York Times critics visits.The book would make a fantastic beach or vacation read. I started and finished in one day. The author's personal life and relationships seemed to get in the way towards the end of the book. I wanted to hear more about the restaurant......more
fascinating and funny and full of interesting detail about food and peoplemore
Damrosch details her brief, yet remarkably fulfilling, career as a waiter and describes the intimate workings of restaurant table service at chef Thomas Keller's Midtown Manhattan's Per Se. Entertaining but ultimately thin. I was left wanting more out of the prose and the story.more
An interesting inside look at the restaurant biz. The author is an English major with nothing to write when she starts into waitressing.more
Review for HarperCollins:Being a big fan of food and the restaurant experience in general, I was excited to read Service Included by Phoebe Damrosch, and I have to say, it didn’t disappoint. She makes clear the effort that goes into opening a world-class restaurant, and the reader shares her apprehensiveness when food critics come into the restaurant. Damrosch paints a vivid picture of what being a waiter is really like, but what is really exceptional is that she manages to keep it interesting. Though at times I did find my attention lagging, she always managed to reel me back in with some small story, some anecdote that kept the story going. The mix of personal narrative and tales of being a waiter were a bit awkward at times, but generally it works well. My favorite parts of the book were the tips provided by the author at the end of each chapter. I found myself looking forward to these, excited to see what the next tip would be. While some were unnecessary (“Always tip at least 20 percent”), most were witty and well-placed and enough to make me crack a smile, if not a chuckle. Overall, the book is a quick, light read that is a satisfying look into the inner workings of opening and working at a top restaurant.more
This was a fun memoir of a woman who took off some time from getting a Masters degree to work in a four star restaurant in NYC. A wonderful look into a world many of us will never experience.more
A short (200+ pages), quick (conversational; high-energy) memoir describing the culinary creativity and exemplary service that combine to make New York City's Per Se a 4-star restaurant.However, there's nothing exemplary here literary-wise, and I wanted to read more, more, more about the workings of the restaurant and its patrons ... and less about the author's romance.more
Foodie memoir which includes a series of commandments for diners at a four-star establishment. It's an insider look similar to Kitchen Confidential, Heat, or Garlic and Sapphires.more
Its 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 add to it, but they sure can ruin it without hardly trying at all.

So what are we expected to pay for then? Outside of their job description what else is it they contribute? Friendliness, and sometimes in an effort to get a bigger tip, an annoying over-helpfulness - filling your water glass when you've just taken a sip, hovering at your elbow so your private conversation is inhibited. But the friendliness is as fake as the concept of the serving staff contributed to you enjoying your meal.

You want to see friendly? Pay a 20% tip (and if your credit card slip comes with service charge added, you will note there is a blank space for you to add an extra contribution as well, fill it in) and next time you go, your name will be remembered and you will be treated as an honoured guest. Leave less than 10% and you risk having your wait staff turn ugly and tell you what they think of you in sarcastic terms. Leave nothing and feel the blast....

This book, exposes the fakery of their affection for customers, their greed, and often bad relations among the other staff based on whose in the money position. Its thoroughly enjoyable.

I was taught, out of my awkward not-very-tip-friendly UK way to serve like an American by a very cheerful girl who enumerated the many ways to milk a customer of a good tip. It was useful information, but when I became the restaurant manager, I found it wasn't particularly correct. A pretty girl, looking sexy, gets better tips than the most competent and friendly male waiters. Boobs, hair and a trout pout wins every time.

Much later, I was a bar owner and decided to try something different. I paid incremently increasing commission on sales and required my bar staff , male and female, to be genuinely friendly to customers (easy on a small island), whether or not someone tipped. Inside and outside the bar. And guess what, both sales and tips soared. I had people on a waiting list for jobs, people-sharing jobs and the best of those bar staff, ten years on, are still my friends, my closest friends.

I'd still be in the bar business, making good money, rather than the bookselling one which doesn't pay, but I lost the bar to drugs. The landlord of the premises was involved in a rather big international operation. But that's another story. Involved a lot more money than tips as well.

2 May 2011more
Read all 21 reviews

Reviews

High-class restaurant waiter/captain's memoir is very readable but undecided whether to be about the food or about the love affairs. The parts about the food are pretty good, but it's not all that well-written, in my opinion. More tedious than riveting.more
Really enjoyed the tips, food descriptions, and the behind-the-scenes peek into all the effort involved in making a four-star restaurant's service perfection for customers & critics. It fizzled out a little bit after the brief Puerto Rican vacation though. Left me feeling like I was served a really nice dinner, but only got one bite of pie for dessert. Still a very enjoyable read.more
Summary: Phoebe Damrosch worked as a waiter to support herself, until she realized that she wasn't there until she could find something better, she was there because she loved the food and the restaurant life. Before long, she was working as a waiter in Thomas Keller's new four-star NYC restaurant, Per Se. Damrosch provides readers with a look behind the scenes of fine dining, how restaurants prepare for opening, and for the visit of important critics, and provides tips for diners. She also talks about her love affair with good food, her love affair with the restaurant, and her love affair with a sommelier from her restaurant.Review: Kitchen Confidential was the book that convinced me that I didn't hate memoirs, so I picked up this book looking for more of the same: a behind-the-scenes look at what's really going on when I dine out, only from a front-of-the-house perspective instead of from a chef's perspective. And, I'm pleased to say, that's mostly what I got! Damrosch's writing is easily accessible, and while she doesn't quite have Bourdain's level of snark, the book is still quite funny, and generally fun to read.The parts that I thought were most successful were - no surprises here - the parts in which Damrosch is dishing about what really goes on in restaurants that diners either don't see, or don't recognize. Reading about the involved preparation that went into opening Per Se, the whole section on preparing for and serving a visiting restaurant critic, the occasional bits about what's really going on during waiters' minds during service, and what's going on before the diners get there and after they go home, all of these were the parts of the book that I found the most interesting. Of course, the foodie in me also loved the description of the Per Se menu, and the discussion of the thought that went into its ingredients and its dishes. Given that even the most modest Per Se meal is probably beyond my price range at the moment, I definitely enjoyed Damrosch's ability in bringing the dining experience there to life (although I must admit it was enjoyment mixed with a twinge or two of jealousy). I was less interested in the sections of the book involving Damrosch's personal life. They weren't bad, or poorly written, or even particularly intrusive or anything; they just weren't why I was there. But the book as a whole is light and enjoyable and quick-moving enough that by the time I would start thinking "yeah, yeah, get back to the restaurant," she would. 4 out of 5 stars.Recommendation: Fans of Kitchen Confidential and similar books are the most obvious recommendation, but I think anyone who likes to read about food and/or enjoys day-in-the-life style memoirs should have a good time with this one.more
I will admit to sometimes judging books by their covers. I picked up this book because it looked interesting, without reading anything about it. I was delighted to find out that this woman worked at Per Se, Thomas Keller's New York restaurant. (My dream vacation involves his restaurant French Laundry.) A great look at what goes into making a four star restaurant. Impossible to put down!more
I love food writing, so I was excited about this book. There is some interesting material about working at Per Se, and the care and attention that goes into the food there. However, I didn't care for all the anecdotes about the author's personal life - it felt like they should have been part of a different memoir. Worth reading if you're very interested in the world of upscale dining.more
She needs an editor; the bits about her personal life and the relationship with wine guy Andre were distracting and really, not that interesting. I don't care why you became a waiter honey, I want to know more about how Per Se works, and the cooking, and the food, and everything else.more
Reviews here and elsewhere have been mixed, but I thought this was one of the better tales of the food industry that I've read. It discussed service in a high-end restaurant more, say, than Waiter Rant, and was far less self-absorbed than books like The Saucier's Apprentice. The beginning is stronger than the end, and it's not in the sexy "tell-all" category. Still, it's better than many, and worth a read.more
Damrosch gets a job as a server at Thomas Keller’s Per Se in Manhattan, one of the world’s best regarded and expensive restaurants. She tells the story of needing to serve with absolute perfection, including getting every utensil in the same spot down to the millimeter and wine glasses turned so the etched label faces each guest. Servers have to know how each dish is made and must learn the idiosyncracies of regulars. In the process, if she’s good, she stands to make huge tips off meals costing well over $1000. She forms relationships with guests, recognizes food critics, and falls in love. Reviewed by:Mark Janda Social Studies Teachermore
I quite enjoyed this book. The author's voice was clear without getting too bogged into the details. It hit on the highlights of the Per Se opening, as well as the other challenges faced in her job.more
The writing style can be a little precious, but for the untutored it's an enjoyably idiosyncratic view of operations at an elite restaurant -- and perhaps a nicely dishy view (pun intended) for those already in the know. Would make a good double feature with "Garlic and Sapphires."more
I have worked in the hospitality industry for over 20 years. In all that time the hardest job I ever had was serving in a restaurant. I appreciated the chapters on opening Per Se, the service training, the menu training and the standards. I laughed out loud several times. It is fun book for insiders to read. I enjoyed the New York Times critics visits.The book would make a fantastic beach or vacation read. I started and finished in one day. The author's personal life and relationships seemed to get in the way towards the end of the book. I wanted to hear more about the restaurant......more
fascinating and funny and full of interesting detail about food and peoplemore
Damrosch details her brief, yet remarkably fulfilling, career as a waiter and describes the intimate workings of restaurant table service at chef Thomas Keller's Midtown Manhattan's Per Se. Entertaining but ultimately thin. I was left wanting more out of the prose and the story.more
An interesting inside look at the restaurant biz. The author is an English major with nothing to write when she starts into waitressing.more
Review for HarperCollins:Being a big fan of food and the restaurant experience in general, I was excited to read Service Included by Phoebe Damrosch, and I have to say, it didn’t disappoint. She makes clear the effort that goes into opening a world-class restaurant, and the reader shares her apprehensiveness when food critics come into the restaurant. Damrosch paints a vivid picture of what being a waiter is really like, but what is really exceptional is that she manages to keep it interesting. Though at times I did find my attention lagging, she always managed to reel me back in with some small story, some anecdote that kept the story going. The mix of personal narrative and tales of being a waiter were a bit awkward at times, but generally it works well. My favorite parts of the book were the tips provided by the author at the end of each chapter. I found myself looking forward to these, excited to see what the next tip would be. While some were unnecessary (“Always tip at least 20 percent”), most were witty and well-placed and enough to make me crack a smile, if not a chuckle. Overall, the book is a quick, light read that is a satisfying look into the inner workings of opening and working at a top restaurant.more
This was a fun memoir of a woman who took off some time from getting a Masters degree to work in a four star restaurant in NYC. A wonderful look into a world many of us will never experience.more
A short (200+ pages), quick (conversational; high-energy) memoir describing the culinary creativity and exemplary service that combine to make New York City's Per Se a 4-star restaurant.However, there's nothing exemplary here literary-wise, and I wanted to read more, more, more about the workings of the restaurant and its patrons ... and less about the author's romance.more
Foodie memoir which includes a series of commandments for diners at a four-star establishment. It's an insider look similar to Kitchen Confidential, Heat, or Garlic and Sapphires.more
Its 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 add to it, but they sure can ruin it without hardly trying at all.

So what are we expected to pay for then? Outside of their job description what else is it they contribute? Friendliness, and sometimes in an effort to get a bigger tip, an annoying over-helpfulness - filling your water glass when you've just taken a sip, hovering at your elbow so your private conversation is inhibited. But the friendliness is as fake as the concept of the serving staff contributed to you enjoying your meal.

You want to see friendly? Pay a 20% tip (and if your credit card slip comes with service charge added, you will note there is a blank space for you to add an extra contribution as well, fill it in) and next time you go, your name will be remembered and you will be treated as an honoured guest. Leave less than 10% and you risk having your wait staff turn ugly and tell you what they think of you in sarcastic terms. Leave nothing and feel the blast....

This book, exposes the fakery of their affection for customers, their greed, and often bad relations among the other staff based on whose in the money position. Its thoroughly enjoyable.

I was taught, out of my awkward not-very-tip-friendly UK way to serve like an American by a very cheerful girl who enumerated the many ways to milk a customer of a good tip. It was useful information, but when I became the restaurant manager, I found it wasn't particularly correct. A pretty girl, looking sexy, gets better tips than the most competent and friendly male waiters. Boobs, hair and a trout pout wins every time.

Much later, I was a bar owner and decided to try something different. I paid incremently increasing commission on sales and required my bar staff , male and female, to be genuinely friendly to customers (easy on a small island), whether or not someone tipped. Inside and outside the bar. And guess what, both sales and tips soared. I had people on a waiting list for jobs, people-sharing jobs and the best of those bar staff, ten years on, are still my friends, my closest friends.

I'd still be in the bar business, making good money, rather than the bookselling one which doesn't pay, but I lost the bar to drugs. The landlord of the premises was involved in a rather big international operation. But that's another story. Involved a lot more money than tips as well.

2 May 2011more
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