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Book Review: Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter by Phoebe Damrosch

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First came the television cooking personalities, then the Food Channel, then the “chef” reality shows; now finally Webster itself has succumbed to popular opinion by putting an entry in the dictionary recognizing the “foodie.” Undeniably, food culture has leftovers in contemporary society. In some fine restaurants food is not only a staple, it is a sacrament, and if you burn the steaks you might as well have burned a flag.

If you’ve ever been perplexed about the four-star restaurant experience, or are a beauty of a foodie, then grab a table d’haute couture and get served by Phoebe Damrosch in her waitress tell-all, Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter. With regard to the “Eavesdropping” part of the title, is the book fiction or nonfiction? The author admits the names and places might have been changed, but the recipes are all real; so I guess that makes it 2% fiction. Here she goes: “As to the slippery subject of nonfiction, all I can say is that the book contains the truth according to my memory, with the following exceptions: consolidation of conversations, time, and two characters.”

Everything else is gravy. And by gravy I mean a deliciously fattening sauce chock full of foodie culture, restaurant culture, and numerous dinners with Andr&eacute – André being Phoebe’s sweetie-pie. Phoebe is the narrator/protagonist of the story, who phases into serving tables because the arrival of her writing career was (at first) playing out more like Waiting for Godot than Happy Days. Necessity gives birth to invention, and Phoebe reinvents herself into a backserver at one of the snazziest restaurants in all of New York city.

Along with the epicurean epic, Ms. Damrosch cuts the crêpe and infuses some “tips” about café etiquette. “When you don’t like something, don’t get mad at your waiter. He didn’t make it.”

Service Included is a smart à la carte that comes with more heart than haggis and a hip garnish. If that weren’t enough, she has a website, which will have to do, as the wait time for the book is another month.

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